Take time to express gratitude: It's good for you

As we enter 2021, it's easy to get lost in all the bad of the last year. But it's vitally important for your health and well-being to reflect on the good as well.

Gratitude boosts your mood

Countless studies have shown the positive effects of expressing gratitude. That simple process of saying thanks to someone in your life or writing down what you're thankful for can give you a more positive attitude about life, lessen depression and anxiety and even improve sleep.

Surprisingly, a study conducted by researchers at Indiana University found that participants benefited by writing gratitude letters whether they sent the letters or not. That same study showed that the benefits of expressing gratitude took time. While the participants assigned to write letters had to write one letter a week for three weeks, they didn't feel the positive effects immediately. It took several weeks for them to feel a beneficial impact. The lesson here is that whatever form of expressing gratitude you choose, make sure to stick with it if you want to see results.

Make it a habit

How you express gratitude is less important than making it a habit. You can buy a pretty journal to write in or download one of the many gratitude-based apps to guide you on your journey. To further boost positivity, some people might find that starting the day with daily meditation or prayer is helpful, while others might benefit from being careful about the types of messages they take in. That could mean taking a break from the news or lessening or unplugging completely from social media for a time.

Taking on a new “task” might seem difficult when you're already feeling overwhelmed but remember even the smallest gestures can make a difference. Why not a friendly word to the checker at the grocery, the mail person or the people who work the fast food windows?

Small gestures mean a lot

During the holidays, two colleagues reached out to me offering hand-wrapped gifts that they thought might lift the spirits of lonely seniors. The gifts were simple — some nice quality costume jewelry and some framed, hand-painted artwork. All our team had to do was play Santa Claus to all the homebound seniors we knew who would be encouraged by these humble gifts. One of my dearest clients, a 75-year-old woman who is living in an assisted living community after a very hard year, shed tears of joy when she received these presents. “You cannot possibly know what this means to me!” she said. Until this year, when she had to put her husband in memory care and suffered her own health problems, she had always been that person helping others. “I never knew until now what it feels like to be on the other side,” she confided.

The encounter made me remember how many things I have to be grateful for these days: health, home, family who has remained unscathed by COVID and, most of all, my work. One cannot help but be blessed when you live your life in service to others.

Lessons learned

The year 2020 had many lessons, good and bad, but I think the one that I learned over and over is about the power of one person to make a difference in the world.

It reminds me of the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

It's a great reminder as you begin your reflections of gratitude this new year. You may feel at times that you have little to be thankful for, but remember, it's the little things that count.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (, a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, Contact her at (312) 788-2640.

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