A genuine and specific thank-you benefits the giver as much as the recipient.
Research shows that expressing gratitude improves one's psychological well-being, physical health and relationships.
For a world emerging from a devastating pandemic, a heightened sense of gratitude may be a step in our collective recovery. To that end, I read dozens of testimonials readers sent in as part of a contest to thank a person who has made a difference in their lives.
They described parents, children, partners, friends, mentors, teachers and co-workers who have changed lives with their kindness. We can model this generosity of spirit for our children through our personal interactions and the ways we show up for one another in small and significant ways.
Families can often take one another's support for granted. That's not the case for Donita Browder of Wellston, Missouri. She has been hit repeatedly with misfortune this year. In February, she got sick and moved her family back in with her mother, Sherri Presberry. Then in May, when Browder and her two children were getting ready to move back to their apartment, it caught on fire.
They lost everything.
"Me and my kids didn't have nothing," Browder said. "My mom worked two jobs. She was paying the bills and still managed to get my kids what they needed."
Days later, the entire family came down with COVID-19. Browder developed blood clots from it. Even when Presberry had COVID, she took care of her daughter and grandchildren. Browder struggled with severe anxiety after getting sick and would wake up in the middle of the night with her heart racing. Her mother got up at 2:30 in the morning and sat with her through her anxiety attacks.
"She's my best friend, mentor, counselor, teacher and my role model," Browder said. Even though her mother lost another daughter eight years ago, and a niece and nephew last month, she doesn't show her pain, and relies on her faith for strength.
"All the obstacles I've been through, she's been there," Browder said. "She is everything."
Presberry's devotion to her adult daughter and grandkids is a reminder of how parents often continue caretaking even after children are grown.
And in other cases, friends step up in ways that even family cannot.
Elizabeth Colbert of Wright City, Missouri, lost her 16-year-old son, Michael, to suicide 10 weeks ago. Her friend Melissa Jepsen showed up immediately. Jepsen asked her what she needed and how she could help.
Colbert was too devastated in her grief to even know, so Jepsen took charge. She cooked meals, organized food trains, coordinated with the school where Colbert teaches, collected donations, made phone calls and looked for other ways to help.
"She came and was by my side initially, and nearly every day for two weeks after," Colbert said. "She was there to anticipate our needs. I could never repay her for what she's given to me."
Jepsen's presence and constant availability made a tremendous difference in the worst days of Colbert's life. Colbert recognizes the time her friend sacrificed away from her own family and business to be there for her.
"There will never be enough words to say what her gift meant to me and my whole family," she said. Colbert described Jepsen as one of those people for whom serving others is just who she is and what she does -- without expectation of thanks or recognition.
"We can all only hope to have someone in our lives that fills that role, and to be that person for someone else," Colbert said.
Giving and expressing our gratitude goes beyond a season when we celebrate these acts.
For some, it's a way of life.