By Kurt Anthony Krug
By the end of 2007, John Kralik was at the low point in his life: he was in the wake of a second divorce; he was on the brink of bankruptcy; his law firm's bottom line was colored in red; the woman he was seeing broke up with him; his relationships with his children were fractured; and he was living in a small apartment that he could barely afford.
Kralik, 56, of Los Angeles, had good reason to be depressed and to be filled with despair. He ached for stability and financial security, desires that were becoming more and more elusive.
Yet, Kralik had an epiphany of sorts on Jan. 1, 2008. He went for a walk in the mountains above Pasadena and returned a changed man--for the better.
"Things were really at a frustrating point," Kralik said. "As I was walking in the mountains, I heard a voice. What does that mean? It was an inner voice; it didn't seem to come from me because it was not a thought I'd really have. It certainly wasn't a thought that flowed logically from the way I was feeling. It said to me: 'Until you learn to be grateful for the things that you have, you will not receive the things that you want.' This really puzzled me, so I needed to figure that out," recalled Kralik, a 1979 University of Michigan Law School alumnus who is a judge in Los Angeles Superior County Court, appointed in 2009 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At his law firm, Kralik & Jacobs in Pasadena, he found some unused note cards that were about to be thrown away. He decided to put them to good use by writing one thank you note per day for a year.
"For some reason, the inspiration was very specific: It would need to be 365 thank you notes," explained Kralik. "I don't recall that being part of this very distinct voice giving me a distinct message, but the inspiration was to definitely write 365. At various points along the way when I felt sad, this was a difficult task to complete. Since things were getting better, I felt I should declare victory and move on. But I didn't because I felt the inspiration was not to write 30 to 40 thank you notes, but to write 365."
This became the impetus for his book, "365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life" (Hyperion $22.99), which eventually landed Kralik on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."
At first, Kralik didn't have anyone to write to and was about to abandon this New Year's resolution on Jan. 3, 2008. Determined to stick it out, Kralik wrote his first note to his eldest son (he has two sons and a daughter, but didn't wish to identify them in his book, nor for this article). He wanted to thank him for giving him a coffee maker for Christmas.
"I realized then I didn't have his address," Kralik said. "Feeling very embarrassed about that, I called him to get his address. He said to me that he needed to come over and take me to lunch, so he did. In the course of that, he repaid a loan to me of $4,000, which I had completely forgotten about. Two things (dawned on me). One was, 'Yikes! This thank you note thing really worked. I write one and get $4,000.' The second thing was to write another thank you note to him because he paid off the loan and showed me he could be true to his word. At that point in time, I really needed the money, so it was a pretty amazing series of events. At each point of the way when I was feeling this was a hard project and wanted to give up, something like this would happen at each juncture, reminding that I needed to write 365 thank you notes."
After Kralik wrote thank you notes to his closest friends, his colleagues, and his family, he then sent letters to his clients, thanking them for paying their bills on time. He also wrote to a Starbucks barista named Scott.
"When I got there in the morning, Scott was there to greet me and said, 'The usual, John?' I realized that I'd never taken the time to get to know his name... I sent a note to Scott the next day and, originally, he thought it was a complaint letter. He was very touched and moved by it. He contacted me after the book came out, so I sent him a copy of the book. He told he had saved that note all this time, along with other remembrances of his Starbucks career. He's now directing plays in Seattle," Kralik said.
Slowly but surely, Kralik's life started to get better. At times, the improvement was almost imperceptible, but he stood the test of time and gutted it out.
"Objectively, my life really has changed. I think I have a better relationship with almost everyone close to me. I certainly have a much more positive outlook on my life because this project reminded what tremendous friends I have because I went back and thanked them. Many of those relationships were renewed. Some of my friends encouraged me to start running again. I've run three marathons and two half-marathons since then, so I'm in a lot better condition physically," he said.
In addition, Kralik is now on solid financial ground. As a judge, his salary is a matter of public record--he makes about $174,000 annually. He moved out of his rundown apartment that he shared with his 11-year-old daughter and moved into a house near the mountains above Pasadena.
"One of the first things I recognized is that I've been gifted with the privilege of raising a really special daughter. She's really a wonderful person in my life. That alone made my life worth living. It made it a good life all by itself. People with multiple houses and boats and planes wrote to me, saying they wished they had a beautiful daughter like I had," he said.
Kralik still writes thank you notes. That has not changed with the publication of his book.
"I've written another 365... I haven't written one every day--more like every other day. I'm way behind. I've given myself permission not to be strictly mathematical about this," he said. "I received so many thank you notes. I got so many beautiful thank you notes... and I'm meaning to write back to those people, but it's been a bit overwhelming. For a person to think that anybody appreciated them much was a little bit of a way I was feeling at the time. I certainly feel a lot differently now."
He continued, "I'm privileged and blessed by the gratitude so many people have showed to me. Many times I'm moved that the people who are writing to me to show appreciation are suffering much greater hardship in their lives than I was. I'm very moved that they'd be inspired by my journey because they're people of greater courage and have suffered much more than I had."
Kralik encourages people to write thank you notes, which he believes have become a lost art. When people do write thank you notes, it's either through e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. He believes it should be of the handwritten variety.
"I do believe this is a very simple thing you can do. Go buy a bunch of thank you notes and reach out to that person, great or small. If you can sincerely appreciate them, it will help you and help them," he explained. "I certainly find that by taking the time to handwrite the notes, it becomes more meaningful to me. It got a lot more attention to the people I sent them to, very permanent and very personal when you read a thank you note. You feel like the person is there in the room with you."
Letting people know they made a difference in his life only served to sharpen Kralik's perspective.
"I was privileged to be appointed as a judge, which was a lifelong dream to me. I was privileged to be able to write a book, and that's been a great experience," he said. "Every aspect of my life seems to have changed for the better. Even those aspects that are pretty much the same, I appreciate my life better. It certainly was a difficult time for me--and we all have difficult times. By viewing my whole life in perspective through this thank you note project, I think that despite having difficult times, it has been a good life."
Published: Wed, Aug 10, 2011