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An attitude of gratitude

How 365 thank you notes over 365 days changed one man's life.

Jen Weigel

February 14, 2011

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Feeling depressed? Is your career in the dumps? According to one man, the answer to your downward spiral could be as easy as writing a thank you note.

"My law firm was struggling, and everything felt like it was going wrong," explains John Kralik, a Los Angeles based attorney. "I was going through a divorce, and living in a cramped apartment. I didn't know how I was going to pay my staff. I felt like a loser. It was a terrible time."

Kralik decided to go for a hike in the Pasadena mountains on Jan. 1, 2008. As he pondered his failures, he heard a voice say, "Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want."

Not one to believe in voices from above, Kralik sat down to catch his breath.

"It was loud," he says. "Loud enough to make me think it might be important. And I wasn't grateful. I was having trouble finding anything positive in my life."

Kralik decided at that moment that he would spend the next year writing a letter every day to someone who made a difference in his life. From the barista at Starbucks who remembered his name, to former business associates who gave him his start, he took out a piece of stationery and penned 365 notes over 365 days.

"When a note is created by a machine, people wonder if a human was involved," Kralik says. "But when it's handwritten, it has more impact."

The process not only felt cathartic for Kralik, but prompted his recipients to write thank you notes for their thank you notes.

"People were very moved by these letters," he explains. "I realized there is such a gift in connecting with others. These people thought that what they were doing wasn't significant. Reading the notes was this little piece of validation."

And with his new attitude of gratitude, Kralik noticed a shift in his relationships—and his career.

"Clients started paying their bills. I made a connection with my older children that hadn't been there in the past," says Kralik. "Every day wasn't amazing, but the tide shifted. There's no doubt."

Even his young daughter helped him see that the small apartment they shared was perfect just the way it was.

"I'd hated almost everything about my place. Slowly but surely, it started looking a lot less dismal," he explains. "I put my daughter's art on the walls, and we made it our little haven."

Now a judge with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Kralik has written a book about his experience in the newly released "365 Thank Yous. The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life." (Hyperion: $22.99)

"When I started writing out the concept it sounded like a science experiment," he says. "This isn't 'Thank and Grow Rich'. It's an example of somebody who felt helpless, and dug himself out of it note by note."

Between his job as a judge, doing book talks and meeting people who are touched by his journey, Kralik sees how his small step of taking a pen to paper helped bring about big change.

"I don't pretend to have THE answer, but it does demonstrate that when you really take the time to write a specific and unique letter from the heart, that person realizes how they matter, and can reflect that back. I'm blessed that things have fallen into place for me."

jweigel@tribune.com