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3 ways to express gratitude as our pandemic-era Thanksgiving approaches

Dear readers,

I recently attended a virtual Village Happy Hour, a monthly event sponsored by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village. It brought together Village members to share a virtual drink, social connections and lively conversations. Note, the Village is a nonprofit membership organization to enhance older adults’ opportunities to age in place and stay connected to their community. (Other Villages in our community are the South Bay Village and Westside Pacific Village.)

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the theme was gratitude. Harvard Health Publishing offers a definition: “A thankful appreciation for what an individual receives whether it is tangible or intangible.” That might be a bracelet, book or golf shirt, or experiencing something that is positive or hopeful such as health, security and peace. Those who express gratitude acknowledge what is good about their lives; they see beyond themselves which might be other people, a cause, nature or a higher power.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, about 25 Village members expressed aspects of their lives for which they were grateful. Several of these themes may be familiar to you. They were grateful for the following:

“People who studied Zoom and can do it well.”

  • “My wife who does the cooking.”

  • “Recent news on the vaccine and knowing the pandemic will end.”

  • “That our democracy has survived in an environment that is calmer than we expected.”

  • “Spending time with family and friends and hoping that I remember how to do this when the pandemic ends.”

  • The Irish quote, “Get on your knees and thank the Lord you’re on your feet.”

  • “Happiness, laughter and joy, like the buoyed feeling when playing with a toy.”

  • “Inspiration from those I admire: Let’s be done with this poem, before I expire!”

The benefits from feeling and expressing gratitude are many, supported by research evidence. Here are just a few.

Giving thanks can make you feel happier, increases self-esteem, improves friendships, makes us more optimistic, reduces depressive symptoms and anxiety, reduces blood pressure, improves sleep and one’s overall health.

Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century mystic, wrote, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Here are some ways to express gratitude.

Write a thank-you note: OK, that sounds old-fashioned or outdated. Yet, how do you feel when you receive a personal note in the mail? A text or email sends the message but it doesn’t include the time the writer has taken to choose the stationery, the writing instrument or the type of stamp and very often, the carefully chosen words. If it’s an important note that you want to remember, you can save it. And it won’t be on a sheet of copy paper.

Thank someone personally: That may be more than just a thank you. I will give you a personal example that I finally got to do and not a moment too soon. Two men who influenced my career in aging were James E. Birren, founder of USC’s Andrus Gerontology Center and first dean of the Davis School of Gerontology and David Peterson, the director of the school. Both men are now deceased. Feeling a bit awkward, in separate conversations, I finally expressed to each in their later lives how grateful I was for the opportunities both had given me as I started my career in aging in the mid-1970s. I felt at peace when both passed away.

Count your blessings: Some find a gratitude journal is helpful, making it a habit to write in it each day. Consider selecting a time each week to write your blessings and how you felt when good things happened to you. You also might select a number of daily blessings to write about which might be three, five or more. I know a couple who share their blessings with one another each night before they go to sleep. She is 83 years old and he is age 78.

There is more, such as praying and meditation.

Clearly, the pandemic has impacted us all with older adults being at increased risk. Now more than ever, we need to focus on what we are grateful for; what is working right in an effort to keep perspective and hope.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, have a good one, with gratitude to you — our readers– for your continued readership. Stay well and safe.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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