January 1, 2012. By John Kralik contribued to Parade Magazine
This project transformed my life. I saw how much I had been blessed by so many people in different ways, and acknowledging their blessings seemed to make them multiply.
“Knowing that you had to work on Thanksgiving of all days, I thought I’d express my gratitude that you have taken the time and made the effort to learn my name and greet me each day in a way that makes me feel like a person instead of a number. It’s a small thing, but on any given day, it can make all the difference. Thank you!”
About three years ago, I gave a card with these words to a Starbucks barista named Kimber. When I went in the next day, she told me, nearly breaking down, that my note made her realize what she did really counts. It was my 260th thank-you of 2008, the year I vowed to send one to a different person every day. I succeeded—though it took more than 365 days.
I embarked on the endeavor at a time when I felt anything but thankful. On New Year’s Day 2008, I went for a hike, feeling at an all-time low. I was overweight. I owned a law practice, but it was losing money. Entangled in a divorce, I lived in a depressing apartment. The woman I’d been dating had recently ended our relationship.
On my hike, I heard a voice. It said I shouldn’t focus on what I wanted or had lost but should be grateful for what I had. The idea of a year of thank-yous popped into my head.
This project transformed my life. I saw how much I had been blessed by so many people in different ways, and acknowledging their blessings seemed to make them multiply. After I thanked colleagues for directing cases to me, they referred more. When I expressed gratitude to clients for paying promptly, they began doing so even more quickly.
Something more subtle occurred, too. With my thank-you notes, I was trying to tell people how much their kindness meant to me. As they responded, that same message was reflected back.
In 2010, I put out a book about my year of thank-yous, A Simple Act of Gratitude (now in paperback). A few days after its release, I got my first thank-you from a reader. The next week, I received a few more, and then my publisher sent a whole box. My readers showed me how the effects of gratitude continued to ripple out. A nursing home patient who was paralyzed on her right side said she was grateful to be born left-handed and had written notes to the staff. One woman went in person to deliver her message to a former teacher, who read it and wept—she’d been working for 23 years and no one had ever thanked her.
My circumstances have improved immeasurably since that hike. I’m now in great shape—I ran a marathon to benefit leukemia research in part to thank an employee, and then completed two more. I found a small but lovely house, and I was appointed to my dream job, Superior Court judge. Having written my 860th note, I can say I keep learning that gratitude is a path to the peace we all seek.
Recently, a friend whose support led me to write my book passed away. On my desk is a thank-you from him, and I pray that the heartfelt note I’d sent to him did not go unread. At sad times like these, I return to the practice that turned my life around. I sit and think about the people to whom I owe so much. Then I take out my pen and write.
WRITE YOUR OWN: FOUR SIMPLE STEPS
GRAB A PEN AND PAPER.
Refrain from sending an email. Handwritten notes feel special, almost like the person is there with you. I use plain off-white cards that have my name printed on the front and my name and address on the envelope.
Perhaps start by thanking the people who just gave you holiday presents. Open with “Dear So-and-So,” identify the gift (“the red and white tie”), and say one sincere thing about why you like it (“It’s a perfect match for my blue suit”).
DIG INTO THE PAST.
After thanking your close friends and family, write to people who helped you at critical moments. I reached out to the doctor whose operation cured my pain, and to another doctor who told me I needed to stop drinking.
KEEP IT SHORT.
Your message doesn’t need to be long and eloquent—my cards are small, with room for only three or four sentences. By sticking to a few lines, you keep the focus on your thank-you and on the other person’s kindness.