The Elms Blog 

An Attitude of Gratitude: Take a Cue from Those at The Elms

Jun 13, 2023

“This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before” …Maya Angelou, Author, poet

You want to get better at playing a musical instrument? Practice!

Want to improve your foreign language skills or learn a new one? Practice!

And if you want to develop a positive, happy, enjoyable and yes, HEALTHY life, practice an attitude of gratitude every single day!

At least that’s what Karen Hawthorn is promoting, teaching, and proving to residents of The Elms who are learning to live with joy every day, the result being more enriched lives with healthier bodies, more alert minds, and an ongoing practice of developing an “attitude of gratitude.”

And you know what? We can emulate them all!

It all began just a few short months ago in late January when Hawthorn, whose title is Resident Services Coordinator, sent each resident of The Elms a notice that said in part, “Did you know that not only does practicing Gratitude help us live more joyful lives, but there is a growing body of evidence in the fields of medicine and social science which shows that the daily practice of Gratitude contributes substantially to our individual feelings of well-being and physical health?”

The Elms already has implemented wellness programs like seated aerobics, yoga, and daily walks, and book groups focusing on local authors, but this was something new, a positivity that would complement anything else these residents were already doing, and that would ultimately lead to a more vibrant lifestyle.

“I choose to be grateful. That gratitude allows me to be happy” …Will Arnett, Canadian actor

This is no Little Mary Sunshine program, no Hallmark Channel movie with so much sugar that it makes your teeth hurt. No, not at all. Hawthorn has made this program simple with her Gratitude Jar and signs in the elevator that change daily. The Gratitude Jar sits right outside the main office along with small slips of paper and pens. She asks people to come by daily and write some small thing for which they are grateful, then put it in the jar.

When the jar is full, it’s emptied, each contribution carefully read and shared with all the residents. Attitude of Gratitude signs line the walls of The Elms’ elevator, giving each rider more than an electronic lift from floor to floor. Best of all, the attendance at Hawthorn’s Saturday morning “On the Wavelength with Karen” meetups have increased exponentially from just a handful to now nearly half the residents of The Elms.

These Wavelength programs are not for the faint at heart. These are serious learning programs that excite, innovate, invigorate, and create great discussion among those who have chosen to attend and keep coming back every week to see what new subject Karen has in store. There have been TED Talks (these are typically videos of less than 20 minutes where the viewer meets scientists, researchers, finance experts, artists, business people, and the like who give a short “parlor talk” on their subject of expertise). This then stimulates and is followed by the residents’ own parlor talks with further learning and conversation long after the film has ended. Also wildly popular has been the groundbreaking work of director, producer, and cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg, a favorite of Karen’s as he is a master of time-lapse photography and has elevated it to a veritable art form. The Elms residents have been completely taken in and motivated by watching the Schwartzberg documentaries as they have with the climate-changing series, “Our Planet, One Planet” narrated by Sir David Attenborough. These explore our planet’s natural beauty and how it has been altered through climate change. It delves into connections within habitats across the globe such as jungles, deserts, seas, frozen worlds, and the like. It brings climate change to these residents as more than just a topical phrase, but a reality with examples to illustrate. And always throughout the TED talks, the documentaries, and short snippets, there is that ever-present theme of Gratitude. “It is not happiness that makes us grateful,” Karen says quoting Brother David Steindl-Rast, “it is gratefulness that ultimately makes us happy.”

The residents who are part of Karen’s “Wavelength” always want more. They not only attend religiously to see what’s happening on any particular week, but they invest themselves in the planning of the programs by giving Karen suggestions of things they’d like to learn about and things in which they have interest.

Yes, they are becoming more and more grateful every day at The Elms. If you haven’t visited The Elms in a while, go take a look and be pleasantly surprised. The old look is gone, and the interiors have been made bright, airy, and sunny in every respect. Contemporary decorating and design makes residents want to come out of their apartments to see what’s going on in the common areas, in the dining room, and the pub. There is more activity that promotes involvement and conversation, there is music and liveliness, and employees who smile and engage you when you walk by. And there is Karen Hawthorn herself who decided that Gratefulness should be a part of every day; that it had nothing whatsoever to do with growing old, but with growing outward and finding a reason each day to celebrate something.

It began less than six months ago with a jar, a few slips of paper, and some pens. Then someone picked up one of those pens, wrote a little message, dropped it in the jar, and soon it was followed by others, then soon buried under an avalanche of slips. Before long, Karen was emptying the jar frequently on her way to the elevator to add more reminders of an Attitude of Gratitude. So on Saturday mornings, the residents open their doors, enjoy breakfast, and then congregate in the pub eager to see where are we “going” today and on what wavelength will we travel? It’s a glorious journey they’re on with no set agenda and no adherence to a map…and loving every minute of whatever it is that’s ahead.

A little dose of gratitude a day just might keep the doctor away!

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new”…Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet

This article originally appeared in the Westerly Sun: 


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