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Alana Walczak: Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

It’s important to me that my daughters are polite. They have learned to say “please” and “thank you.” And although, they’re not always perfect, they are pretty good about it, and that makes me proud.

The other day, we were talking about what it really means to say “thank you” to someone. We decided that it’s much more than being gracious or polite. It’s about expressing gratitude, making sure the other person knows how appreciative you are for what they have done.

At CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), we talk a lot about cultivating gratitude because it helps to foster resilience, especially in an uncertain world. Studies show that our thoughts trigger physiological changes in our body that affect mental and physical health. When we think about why we are grateful, we decrease anxiety and create a sense of peace.

And, when we take time to thank others, we share that sense of peace and well-being with those around us. Compelling research shows that the happiest children are the ones who feel a sense of appreciation for life — regardless of their wealth or personal circumstances. When kids feel grateful, they are more joyful, alert, attentive, optimistic and healthy.

This is an easy time of year to experience gratitude at CALM. Every day, people show up bearing armloads of presents for the families we serve. Our therapists have the great pleasure of delivering those presents to the families they work with.

They know first-hand how those families struggle, and they see how much it means that community members — people they don’t even know — care about them.

I am inspired by the generosity of our donors, and I am astounded by the generosity of our clients. Just last week, a mother and her three sons came in to donate some toys the boys bought with their own money. These boys were recently clients at CALM. They wanted to say “thank you” to CALM by helping others who were struggling.

As much as I don’t like to admit it, gratitude doesn’t always come naturally to me. Of course, I feel it and act on it, but all too often, it’s not my first response. But, I’m working to change my attitude and approach. Colleagues help me to see that gratitude is a choice I can make every day.

I — and I alone — control where I focus my energy each day (each hour, each minute!), and how I approach what comes before me. It takes conscious effort, and for me, it’s definitely a “practice.”

Here are a few things I’ve learned to boost gratitude in my own life:

Conjure Gratitude

I take time each day to think of at least one thing I’m grateful for — a quiet lunch, a successful meeting, or a cozy blanket and cup of tea on the couch. Just a simple moment of “goodness” in my day. If I’m lucky, I write it down so I can remember it. But for me, just focusing my energies on the positive is the important thing.

Model Gratitude

I try to show my girls how much I appreciate them every day. Every night at bedtime, I tell each of them one reason I’m thankful to be their mommy. I’ve noticed that the more I acknowledge them, the more they appreciate me and each other.

Set Limits

I’ve learned that having too much can squelch appreciation. So, rather than give our kids everything they want, we really work on being happy with what we have.

Expose Children to Those Less Fortunate

Our family has participated in CALM’s Adopt a Family program for the past two years. This year, we were matched with a family with a 5-year-old daughter. We spent a lot of time talking about all the fun things she might like to receive, and also what she might really need to receive. It was eye-opening for my girls to realize the best present might be a warm jacket or new socks or a blanket.

Say Thank You

I’ve learned that children who say thank you, have parents who say thank you. Together we create thank-you cards, we text silly thank-you videos to people we love, and we buy little treats for people who matter to us.

All of these thoughts and actions add up to a fairly robust “gratitude practice.” And, as I reflect on 2016, I am grateful for many things — for the honor of leading such an important organization, for doing meaningful work each and every day, and for being the proud momma of two amazing, intelligent, confident, beautiful little girls.

I am thankful to live and work in this great community, filled with talented, giving and supportive people. Although we all ride the ebb and flow of life, there is much goodness in the world and in my little slice of it, and for that I am thankful.

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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