‘A thousand thank yous’
While taking a walk on New Year’s Day, John Kralik heard a voice that would start a worldwide movement
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.
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.
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.
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