‘A thou­sand thank yous’

While tak­ing a walk on New Year’s Day, John Kra­lik heard a voice that would start a world­wide move­ment

Spirit and Destiny - - Contents -

Lit­tle did lawyer John Kra­lik re­alise that start­ing to say thank you more of­ten would spark a world­wide move­ment, transforming his own life along the way

‘I wasn’t the type to med­i­tate and send my thanks’

The New Year is a time for tak­ing stock. And on Jan­uary 1st, 2008, I found my­self do­ing just that, walk­ing in the moun­tains above my home in Los An­ge­les.

It felt like I was fail­ing at life. My law firm was los­ing money due to non-pay­ing clients, I was go­ing through a dif­fi­cult di­vorce from the mother of my seven-year-old daugh­ter and liv­ing in a small, stuffy flat.

My two grown-up sons from my first mar­riage felt dis­tant and I was al­most three stone over­weight.

Mired in self-pity, I won­dered why I was so un­lucky. Was I a bad per­son?

As I walked, I lost my bear­ings and be­gan to imag­ine what would hap­pen if I tum­bled into one of the ravines. Would I sur­vive the night?

That was when I heard a voice. It was loud and sounded like it came from some­where greater than my­self.

‘Un­til you learn to be grate­ful for the things you have, you won’t re­ceive the things you want,’ it said.

‘Learn to be grate­ful…?’

A prac­ti­cal per­son, I wasn’t the type to med­i­tate and send my thanks to the uni­verse.

Dis­cov­er­ing grat­i­tude

But, as I thought about it, I re­mem­bered how, back when I was five, my grand­fa­ther had given me a sil­ver dol­lar.

‘If you write to thank me,’ he’d promised. ‘I’ll give you an­other.’

That, he ex­plained, was how thank-you let­ters worked. I’d soon had two sil­ver dol­lars, but as I hadn’t sent a thank-you note for the sec­ond,

I’d never re­ceived a third.

As I sat, an idea formed – what if I tried to find some­one to thank, ev­ery day, for the whole of the com­ing year.

By De­cem­ber 31st I’d have writ­ten 365 thank-you notes. It felt daunt­ing, af­ter all, I didn’t feel I had much to be thank­ful for. How­ever, I de­cided to start straight away, with let­ters for my Christ­mas gifts, which I never nor­mally got around to writ­ing.

My first was to my 22-year-old son, who’d given me a cof­fee ma­chine.

When I called to check his ad­dress, we ended up ar­rang­ing lunch. Amazingly, at that meal, he re­paid me $4,000 I’d for­got­ten I’d loaned him – and paid for lunch!

My thank-you note project was al­ready pay­ing div­i­dends...

Re­al­is­ing how easy it was to for­get who’d bought what, I be­gan a spread­sheet, adding to it with ev­ery note.

Once my Christ­mas notes were done, I looked for other peo­ple to show thanks to.

I started with work con­tacts and col­leagues who were par­tic­u­larly helpful.

Be­ing in­spired

Then I thanked the man­ager of my apart­ment build­ing for fix­ing my loo. When I heard he’d died just a week later, it blew my mind. While in the very end stages of liver cancer, he’d still both­ered to re­spond to my cry for help over a bro­ken toi­let.

Be­fore long, when peo­ple asked, ‘How are you?’ I be­gan re­ply­ing with some­thing I was grate­ful for.

One day, feel­ing low, I couldn’t think of a sin­gle thing to be thank­ful for. Un­til I picked up my daugh­ter for a visit.

I’d soon writ­ten that day’s thank-you note. Thank you for be­ing cheer­ful and fun when I pick you up in the evening. Some­times I don’t have a very fun day but when I see you and we talk about things and have fun, I feel bet­ter. Thank you for be­ing the best daugh­ter, love Dad.

In the months that fol­lowed I car­ried on with my project, thank­ing ev­ery­one from Scott, the

barista in Star­bucks, who was al­ways cheery and had both­ered to learn my name, to an old col­league, Steve, who’d writ­ten a rec­om­men­da­tion for me when I ap­plied to be a judge, a dream of mine.

Al­though the ap­pli­ca­tion had failed, I was still thank­ful for his sup­port.

I wrote to thank my old boss for the shares he’d given me, which I’d sold when my busi­ness was in trou­ble.

At the time I’d felt bit­ter at hav­ing to sell my re­tire­ment nest egg, which I’d dreamt of spend­ing on a boat. In hind­sight, I felt grate­ful. With­out the shares to sell I’d have lost my firm.

Still in the midst of di­vorce ne­go­ti­a­tions, there was a lot of bit­ter­ness, but I wrote to thank my ex for the won­der­ful eighth birth­day party she threw our daugh­ter.

I also wrote to the sur­geon who’d op­er­ated on my esoph­a­gus a decade ear­lier, thank­ing him for 10 pain free years, as well as an­other doc­tor whose warn­ing had prompted me to stop drinking years ear­lier.

By the end of June I’d writ­ten 168 thank-you notes and, in re­turn, I was get­ting more let­ters, emails, phone calls and hugs than ever be­fore!

I thanked helpful staff on nights out at the the­atre, in restau­rants or ho­tels. I wrote to my hair­dresser, Amy, who al­ways made me feel good, let­ting her know what a good job she did.

Feel­ing the ef­fects

When the bank­ing cri­sis hit that sum­mer, it af­fected a lot of my clients but partly by thank­ing prompt pay­ers and those who put busi­ness our way, we turned things around. The busi­ness was more sta­ble and able to weather the storm.

When I had to work that Christ­mas, I didn’t com­plain, I took it as a re­minder that my busi­ness was thriv­ing.

Then I got word about my friend Paul, my men­tor from my first le­gal job. He’d al­ready been di­ag­nosed with a brain tu­mour, now doc­tors had found more cancer. De­spite this, he was still run­ning reg­u­larly.

He and my old col­lege room­mate, Neil, an­other run­ner, in­spired me to sign up for a char­ity run for a Leukaemia char­ity.

Chal­lenge ac­cepted

By now my spread sheet con­tained 300 thank-you notes. I had a won­der­ful re­la­tion­ship with my daugh­ter and I’d strength­ened my bond with my older sons. I’d re­con­nected with old friends and was start­ing to get in shape.

The notes had made me re-ex­am­ine my life and see that it was bet­ter than I’d been pre­pared to ac­cept. I was a lucky man.

I man­aged a half-marathon with Paul, who was un­der­go­ing chemo. Then I ran the full marathon. I looked and felt bet­ter than I had in years and I’d raised $5,000 for the Leukaemia and Lym­phoma So­ci­ety.

Thank­ing my spon­sors took me to my 365 let­ter tar­get. In the end it had taken 15 months.

Soon af­ter­wards I was able to buy a house in the moun­tains, close to where I’d first heard the life-chang­ing voice. And in Septem­ber 2009, I achieved my dream – I was ap­pointed to the su­pe­rior court as a judge.

The voice had been right. I’d be­come more grate­ful and got ev­ery­thing I wanted.

I kept on writ­ing thank-you notes. And I turned my jour­ney into a book, which was pub­lished in 2010.

I soon be­gan to get let­ters from read­ers. Many had been through se­ri­ous losses, long-term un­em­ploy­ment or had car­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Some wrote from prison.

These peo­ple were deal­ing with tragedy and

chaos that made me feel like I’d just been a spoilt brat at the start of my jour­ney!

Many had de­cided to write 365 thank-you notes them­selves, mak­ing me one of their first.

Since the book was pub­lished, I’ve re-mar­ried and gained a step-daugh­ter.

I’ve sat on more than 200 jury tri­als as a judge and it’s an enor­mous chal­lenge but it’s also ev­ery­thing I hoped and more.

I still write a lot of thank-you notes. In fact, my spread­sheet now has over 1,300 listed on it.

I write them the most when I’m feel­ing at my worst. And when­ever I feel dis­cour­aged, I look back at my spread­sheet and of­ten find it’s been too long since I last wrote a note.

Spread­ing the word

‘I write them the most when I’m feel­ing at my worst’

Tak­ing a few mo­ments to jot down the things I’m thank­ful for and send­ing them to the peo­ple who’ve done things for me in my life, I never fail to find amaz­ing things that have hap­pened.

So many of the peo­ple who help us each day are un­ap­pre­ci­ated. We all tend to fo­cus on the neg­a­tive things that hap­pen to us. We don’t al­ways no­tice the bless­ings and op­por­tu­ni­ties we have. When do we feel like we have enough?

Be­ing grate­ful makes my mar­riage health­ier. I write my wife thank-you notes all the time so she knows I ap­pre­ci­ate all she does. She writes me thank-you notes too.

With a thank-you note, you’re fo­cus­ing on the other per­son. More than with email. It makes you re­ally think about them. Af­ter Christ­mas they’ve prob­a­bly just re­trieved the credit card bill for your gift from the door mat. So it’s nice if they find a thank-you note there, too.

A lot of the cur­rent think­ing fo­cuses on grat­i­tude jour­nals that you don’t share with oth­ers. But a thank-you note is re­ally an ex­pres­sion of love from one per­son to an­other. It doesn’t just have a re­ac­tion with you. It has an ef­fect on the other per­son. And that per­son then has a re­ac­tion. It goes on and on.

Through my notes I feel more con­nected to peo­ple in my com­mu­nity. One of my thank-you let­ters dur­ing the project was to the dry cleaner who’s cleaned my clothes for 20 years. He showed up at my first book sign­ing!

Peo­ple are al­ways telling me how adopt­ing the same prac­tise has helped them. I know my own life has been healed by the ex­pe­ri­ence. I some­times think I was given that mes­sage up in the moun­tains on New Year’s Day 2008 so I would spread it to oth­ers.

With my wife

My grand­fa­ther, who in­tro­duced to me hank-you notes

My chil­dren, who I am so thank­ful for ev­erysin­gle day

I re­cently got to pre­side over my son’s wed­ding

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