Thank You Notes Made Me a Better Man

True Story.  He was lost and falling.  It was New Year’s Day 2007.  John Kralik was 52 years old.  His small law practice was “losing money, losing cases and losing its lease.”  A major client refused to pay and another was suing him.  He lived in a small stuffy apartment with “ancient” air conditioning and slept on an air mattress on the floor.  His savings were gone. He was paying mortgages or rent for three households and couldn’t afford one.  He was divorced once and involved in a protracted 2nd divorce.  He had a young daughter and 2 sons from his first marriage.  He had grown distant from his two sons.  His girlfriend Grace, just left him a few days earlier unexpectedly – tiring of coming second to his children and his yet-to-be unraveled 2nd marriage.  He was overweight and asthmatic.

“It was New Year’s Day.  There was new growth all around.  It was time to make new resolutions.  It was time for change. I had felt this way before, of course; at fifty-two, I had a lot of unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions.  But this year not only was I a loser at what I was doing, I also didn’t want to do it anymore.  I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life.  I wanted to be more than just another lawyer slinging hatred for a living.”

Before Grace broke up with him, they planned to spend New Year’s Day hiking in the Angeles National Forest above Pasadena.  He now decided to take the walk alone. He took a wrong turn and “became completely lost.”   I won’t spoil the story and share the details – – but during this time of despair and darkness he saw some light…and he was inspired to take on a project to write 365 thank yous during 2007.

Kralik didn’t leave his law practice and find utopia.  It wasn’t a straight path out to light.  The process of sending the Thank You notes led him to redemption, reconciliation and eventually peace.  He ground it out finding all of his blessings in his family, in his work, in his friends and in the every day little things that we are often not grateful for.  This was an inspiring story which does “encourage, inspire and reaffirm the value and healing power of gratitude.”

Q&A With Me:

Who is John Kralik?  Kralik was born in Cleveland, and attended the University of Michigan, from which he received a B.A. and then a J.D. While at Michigan, he wrote for the Michigan Daily and the Michigan Law Review. He practiced law in Los Angeles for 30 years, specializing in civil litigation and serving as a partner in several law firms. In September 2009, he was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, and presently serves in the East Los Angeles Division.

Is the story and message meaningful?  Will I remember it?  Yes.

Did the story inspire me?  Will I take some action or do something different as a result?  Yes.

Why rate it a 4?  While I found the book to be inspiring and I would recommend it, I did find it a bit clinical in its delivery.  When Kralik describes his relationship with his daughter, it comes alive.  When he speaks about a friend struggling with cancer, you can feel the pain.  Yet, he is more guarded in bringing detail and color to other matters more personal to him.  For example, he asks himself, “What was the common denominator in all of the failed relationships?  Me.”  Yet, no additional color is added.  There were a number of other instances where I felt that he could have drawn me closer to his life and story.  And there were a number of loose ends at the close of the book – certainly good fodder for his next book.  It should also be noted that this was Kralik’s first book.  His work, his writing and his story are exceptional.

What’s with the Appendices?  While it is rare I find much value in Appendices (How to Write Thank-you Notes; Reading Group Guides, “A Conversation with John Kralik”), in this case, I found them to worthwhile.  Kralik explains that the process of writing thank you notes was not a self-help system or a “new psychological method to delude himself into believing  that his life is better than it really is.  He felt that he was simply engaged in a custom that his grandfather had attempted to teach him nearly 50 year ago.”  He goes on to say that “writing thank you notes is a good thing to do and makes the world a better place.  It also made me a better man.  More than success or material achievement.”  He’s certainly accomplished his mission.

Any closing thoughts?  Erik Kolbell, the former Riverside Church Minister of Justice said it best: “To paraphrase Edmund Wilson, gratitude is one of those rare things you get more of by giving it away.”

Source: A Simple Act of Gratitude – How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life by John Kralik


  1. I’m not surprised that something as simple as writing thank you notes can be life changing, one needs only to reflect on how it feels to receive one to imagine the positive feeling someone might attract by doing this in a genuine way every day of the year.

    I have an Aunt who never fails to send them out and I am sure it is something she was taught as a child, it is an impulse I try to encourage in my children and to remember to do myself, though I often find myself saying ‘I guess it’s better late than never’.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful and thought provoking review. And Happy New Year!


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