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Here's to smiles all around

I gave an hour-long presentation to a large group of women last weekend, and they provided, in gratitude, a basket of food-related items. It was a really big basket, full of chocolates, wine, cheese, healthful snacks, a candle, colorful cloth napkins and even an apron.

Yes, really, an apron! I love aprons. That might be because I'm a messy cook. But that's another column, another day.

The basket was so large I almost needed help carrying it out to my car. I've never received this kind of gift in response to a presentation. Usually, I get "Thank you!" Don't get me wrong — a well-stated thank you trumps any basket. But with this particular group, I got both!

With Valentine's Day coming, perhaps you're looking for a special way to acknowledge someone you love. Maybe you want to tell them you're happy they're in your life. Big baskets of goodies are certainly an option, but you might try instead (or in addition, if you choose) a simple and uniquely memorable thank you.

I have suggestions about how to do gratitude with flair. These are good suggestions, but don't over-consider my ideas. Be lovingly innovative.

Here's one approach. Craft a tender acknowledgement to the person you care about — remembering that handwritten notes are always preferable.

Be specific about the little things, such as: "I love the way you look at me when I tell a funny story." Or perhaps, "I'm so touched by how frequently you mention my name when we are at a dinner party — even when you don't think I hear you."

It doesn't take much to make a huge impact. Look for what's really true for you — and tell the person (or people) why you love them. For example, "Thank you for not over-reacting when I do (fill in the blank)." "Thank you for always remembering the garbage goes out on Wednesdays."

What do you love about the one you love? Tell him, her "… them.

Perhaps you feel like you know family members so well you don't need to write anything down. OK. I get it. But writing it down preserves it forever, so when the emotion is tested, feelings are already documented — they have "legs" and can walk back a disagreeable situation, clear the air. Trust me, I've seen that happen.

If you don't want to write it down, say it aloud. Practice it in front of a mirror and you may be surprised at how your face changes when you say grateful, loving words. Really. I'm sure about this.

I also believe people who regularly express gratitude look a lot younger. Observational research only — but my sample size is large.

In American Sign Language, "thank you" is communicated by bringing your right hand gently to your chin and then forward softly — sort of like blowing a kiss. It's such a tender way to express gratitude. No words — written or stated — are necessary. When it occurs, it's usually followed by smiles all around — and smiles, of course, have gratitude written all over them.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.