Two Words That Can Change Your Life

When his life hit rock bottom, John Kralik took on an unlikely and unintuitive project: writing thank-you notes day after day. Carol Hefernan shares the miraculous results of John’s year-long mission – and how this simple act of gratitude could change your life too. 

A few years ago, 53-year-old John Kralik was feeling hopeless, frustrated, and unsatisfied with his life. His second marriage had failed, his law firm was going under, and his relationships with his two grown sons were strained at best. It was, as Kralik describes it, an “extreme low place.”

But on January 1, 2008, something happened that propelled his priorities, his outlook – his life – in a new direction.

While on a hike in the mountains outside Los Angeles, Kralik sensed a voice saying:
Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want.”

Kralik couldn’t make sense of the voice, but he couldn’t dismiss it either.

“I felt I wanted and needed a lot of things, and at the time I didn’t think I had a lot to be grateful for,” he says. “I didn’t think I had the worst life on the planet, but I had a life that was very unsatisfactory to me, and I couldn’t understand why it was all turning out that way.”

Then Kralik had an idea. Maybe he could become more grateful by writing more thank-you notes – a practice his grandfather had taught him as a child. Maybe this simple act could jump start the change in perspective he so desperately needed.

So he did what many of us do at the new year: he made a resolution. But his resolution was not a common one. Every day for the next 365 days, he would send a brief handwritten note to express appreciation to the people in his life.

Kralik started with a note to thank his oldest son for a Christmas gift, and that’s when things began to get interesting.

A phone call to ask his son for his mailing address prompted a long overdue visit. Encouraged by this renewed relationship, Karlik went on to send thank-you notes to friends, colleagues, clients – even the server at his favorite coffee shop.

Before long, Kralik sensed an internal shift.

“At first, I noticed that I started answering the question of ‘How are you?’ differently,” says Kralik. “I had been answering with kind of a hangdog look or by saying, ‘I’m hanging in there’ or “Not very well,’ then I’d launch into my latest problem.

“At that point, my life hadn’t really turned around in any major way. But one day I noticed that I was answering the question saying, ‘Well I made payroll last week,’ or ‘My 7-year-old daughter got all As on her report card.’ I was pointing to something good that had happened. Then I began to think, Wow, my outlook has changed.

That was only the beginning. As Kralik more wrote thank-you notes, outstanding loans were repaid, relationships with old friends were rekindled, and day-to-day stresses didn’t seem quite so overwhelming.

In hopes of inspiring others to recognize the good in their own lives, Kralik, now a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, wrote a book about his experience titled 365 Thank You Notes: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.

Gratitude: A Way of Life

When it comes to reaping the benefits of practicing gratitude, Kralik is not alone.

Researchers have found that people who consistently give thanks experience better physical and psychological health. They also tend to be more productive, sociable, and energetic, and less susceptible to depression, anxiety, and anger.

In short, to become happier and healthier, cultivate the virtue of gratitude by focusing more on what you have going for you than what you lack.

Sending thank-you notes, offering sincere words of thanks, giving little gifts, surprising a loved one with a kind gesture – extending gratitude to others – will only serve to strengthen an attitude of appreciation.

Psychologists Robert Emmons of UC Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami discovered that practicing gratitude can increase happiness by around 25 percent. What’s more, those who keep weekly gratitude journals – writing about positive things in everyday life – had fewer aches and pains, exercised more, had a better outlook on life, and were more likely to reach their goals.

Why Not Say Thanks?

So, with all the benefits, what prevents us from being more grateful?

According to Kralik, part of the problem is that we are bombarded by entertainment, information, worries, and pressures. “In our society, we’re always encouraged to want more and more without taking the time to treasure what we already have. “

We also need to be aware of obstacles to our gratitude. Obstacles like stress, paying too much attention to negative news around us, and postponing our thanksgiving until circumstances stabilize or improve (let’s face it, life doesn’t always happen according to plan, so you can’t wait for perfect conditions).

If you’ve ever been stuck in a rut of negativity, blame, or comparison, you know it can be difficult and even irritating to look on the bright side. Yet surprisingly, research shows adversity can actually boost feelings of gratitude, since hard times can alter perspective.

The bottom line is this: Life is full of choices, and while it may seem easier to fall into negativity, cultivating a sense of gratitude leads to a happier, more fulfilling life.

“Assess the good that you have and really notice and treasure it,” Kralik says. “If you do, those parts of your life become richer because you’re appreciating them.”

Reprinted with permission from Vibrant Life Magazine.

Carol Heffernan is a wife and mother who was inspired to write a few thank-you notes of her own after interviewing John Kralik. She writes from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Read “10 Tips For Writing the Perfect Thank-you Note“.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


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Sarah Yoo

Sarah Yoo is the associate director of Life & Health but wears a few dozen hats as other this-and-thats, as is the norm in non-profit work. Her favorite part about working at Life & Health is meeting the people that Life & Health content has helped. Ultimately, Sarah dreams of doing humanitarian work in a developing country with her family.

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