A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life Paperback – Dec 27 2011
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About the Author
John Kralik was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended the University of Michigan for college and law school. He practiced law for 30 years, and was a partner in the law firms of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Miller Tokuyama Kralik & Sur, and Kralik & Jacobs. In 2009, he was appointed to be a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. He lives in the Los Angeles area.
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But one day he receives a thank-you note. It's an epiphany for Mr. Kralik. He realizes how few times in his life he's ever thanked anyone and how little a role gratitude has played in his life. Armed with that knowledge, and a huge stack of stationery, he begins to write thank-you notes. He writes personal messages of gratitude to almost anyone you could imagine: from his sons, colleagues and old friends, to his ex-wife, the building superintendent and the guy who serves him at Starbucks.
Mr. Kralik finds that the act of expressing thanks changes not only him, but his circumstances as well. He doesn't exactly call it karma, but the goodwill he engenders seems to reverse the trajectory of his life. He even finds himself literally at the door of a church (after a bad fall while running) and he decides to go in, regularly. I suspect that had something to do with his turnaround as well.
I guess once Scott Turow picked up a pen, we all realized attorneys can write more than legal briefs. Mr. Kralik writes lovely sentences and abounds in the small observations that make a story ring true. He explores how the act of writing thank-yous is to him what meditation or yoga might be to another person. His relationships blossom and he delights in the company of others, especially his young daughter.
In the end, Mr. Kralik realizes: "With the help of my three hundred thank-you notes, I had examined the life I had viewed as perfectly awful and found that it was a lot better than I had been willing to acknowledge." And that's a great lesson for all of us to learn -- Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
I chuckled at the 'extreme thank yous' where John reaches out to thank Starbucks employees, hairdressers and doormen. After all, 365 is a lot of notes to write, and once you get past thanking people for the obvious big things, then even the little moments become thank you fodder. And not surprisingly, the people who received these notes were very moved by them. It just takes one person to notice a kindness and make someone's day special.
Shortly after the author started sending his notes, good things started to ripple into his life. This is like another version of The Secret (which Kralik does reference), whereby what you focus on, you draw to you. Not every problem in his life fades away; this isn't a fairy tale. But enough positive events occur to make one want to emulate the author.
I appreciated that John was able to take the pressure off himself to do a note a day, and simply plods on to reach his 365 note mark. He realized the importance was in the writing itself, and not in an arbitrary timeline.
Unfortunately the story ends - as too many memoirs do - abruptly. John's story just stops in the middle of his narrative. I gather ending a memoir is probably the hardest part of writing your own story...after all, there is still life to be lived. But still, a lackluster resolution leaves a funny taste in the reader's mouth.
Despite the subdued, sudden ending, I was inspired to start my own "year" of writing thank you notes. I bought a calendar to mark each day and to whom I thanked. I realize it will be a hard task, but I think it is a worthwhile one (I am up to 33 thank yous!).
Some days it's harder to be grateful than others, and he ends up thanking the young man who remembers his name at Starbucks, the doctor who told him to stop drinking, his sons (for a gift and for repaying a loan), his employees (who begin to send each other thank-you notes), and so forth. And while this occurs, even through the tough days (which don't evaporate, of course), he finds that his outlook completely changes. His relationships with others deepen. Old wounds begin to heal. He finds that he does have much to offer the world. He realizes that things he's been stewing over as misfortunes really were blessings in disguise.
Here's an example. Ten years earlier, he went through corrective surgery that left him feeling traumatized. Yet as he focuses on gratitude, he is suddenly able to view the experience in a whole new way: "Here was yet another example of how I always viewed my life's troubles as a series of tragedies, which I survived only due to my Job-like patience and my Jesus-like goodness. I should have been waking up every day of the past ten years with gratitude" (because the pain that kept him up nights is gone). He sends the surgeon a thank-you note and (as often happens) receives a grateful reply for the acknoweldegment.
The book contains just a few of the actual notes, interwoven with the author's narration. The balance is just right. As readers watch him reconnect with old friends and family, they will surely be inspired to grab a pen and notebook---or a Facebook message---and send out a few (or many!) overdue thank-yous of their own.
Bottom line: It's a fantastic story, told in an unsentimental, highly accessible, down-to-earth fashion that's easy to read. This is truly a book to keep on the bedside table and to hand copies out to friends. Thank you, Mr. Krulik, very much.
I further pondered, then, whether I even deserved the thank you notes that had come hand-addressed to our suburban mailbox over the last year. They were beautifully drafted, upbeat and truly thankful. One could tell that John had spent time formulating his words.
What became so discomforting about those thank you notes, after reading the story, was that I had left them unanswered. Then there were the notes, the many notes, that I should have sent him -- words he truly deserved. John was and is a guidepost and counselor for my journey as a father, family member and fellow lawyer. Good grief, I thought. Where were you when he was going through all of this? He was there for you, countless times. He was reaching out and you didn't respond. I guess we all have our work cut out for us. I was just a silent chapter waiting to be written. Realizing what we have, the value of the people around us and our mission to be part of their lives is a resolution we can all work on in the new year.
When you read this book, especially if you've ever tried to write a short story or essay, you are immediately struck by how able John is at maneuvering his thoughts and observations to paint a picture of his feelings. His writing is just a pleasure to read, complete with a touch of humor when all else seems lost. It's a page turner, comfort food, cream cheese on a bagel. Of course, that's no consolation for those who love and admire John and his achievements and wished we could have been there when he truly needed us, not just when he celebrated his triumphs. Finding his way back to hope certainly wasn't because I or many others close by John were there for him. It was because he found the spirit, when walking in the hills, to reach out to everyone that was present in his life. His thank yous were an invitation, sometimes answered, sometimes not, to join in the fabric of his life and its struggles. They were openers to conversations, emails, visits, chats on the phone -- rays of hope. Will all 365 shine brightly on the path? I guess John concluded that enough of them might. We'll all have to do our part to keep the others lit.
I am amazed by how timely this book is. There are so many folks today without jobs, unprepared for retirement, in need of a lifeline in their illness or misfortune. When one like this is thrown our way, we need to hang on and pull.
Congratulations, John. This is a great read. -- Gipper
It is difficult to write a book with this message without coming across as preachy. John Kralik was able to balance this well and kept the focus on himself and the changes he achieved in his life. Opening up and exposing his personal life in this way was selfless and took courage. This is a gift for which we should all be grateful at a time when it is greatly needed.