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02/12/2014 10:11 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

What Makes Older People Happy

Bob Thomas via Getty Images

Every year, my husband and I wonder what kind of birthday gift to give his dad, now 86 years old. The newest gadget, which may be admired but almost surely will be put in a drawer? Something much more ordinary, like one of the cardigan sweaters he wears day in and day out?

We know very well what Mel would really enjoy: a weeklong visit with us and our children, with lots of time spent eating out in comfortable restaurants where he doesn’t have to strain to follow the conversation. But that is hard to engineer, since we all live far away.

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