Focus on gratitude. Choose forgiveness. Choose joy.— Shaunti Feldhahn
“Profoundly honest and uplifting, John Kralik’s story reminds us of all those in our own lives who deserve our thanks. Though his journey was remarkably personal, it has the power to be a call to action for all of us.”
— Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture
Recently, I read A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik. I don’t know how it got on my book shelve, almost as if it was meant to be there. I read the first 10 pages and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s about a guy whose life was a disaster. He was miserable, broke, overweight, and on his second divorce living in a crumby apartment in LA with no air conditioning. He was an attorney and he couldn’t afford to pay his employees their Christmas bonuses because his clients weren’t paying their bills on time — and sometimes not paying them at all.
During a walk in the hills on New Year’s Day, Kralik was struck by the belief that his life might be at least a bit tolerable if he could find a way to be grateful for what he had—and his inspiring thank-you-note story began. The thought struck him to his core. He realized he was so busy focusing on what was no longer his, he’d lost track of what he had, and how he could use that to move forward. Excitement welled up inside for the first time in a while.
As he trekked back out of the wilderness, he remembered when his grandfather gave him a silver dollar as a child. “Send me a thank you note for it, and you’ll get another one in return,” he’d said. It was a powerful lesson in the value of gratitude, but it wasn’t until that moment on the mountain, years later, that he finally got it. Gratitude creates its own returns.
One by one, day after day, on plain note cards and with unadorned sincerity, he thanked close loved ones for gifts or kindnesses, he thanked business associates and former business associates, he thanked store clerks and a handyman, college friends and current foes—each with a brief handwritten note. The benefits that quickly began to come his way—from financial gain to companionship to inner peace—surprised him. And turned his life around. By the time John wrote his 365th thank you note, he’d lost weight, his business was prospering, his children were well and he’d grown closer to them, he’d reconnected with dear friends, his girlfriend had returned—and there were other positive changes in his life, even more profound and surprising.
Did you know that the two most powerful words you can say in life aren’t what you’d expect.
It’s not “love you” or “I’m sorry”—though those are quite commanding as well. It’s not “me too”—although that is affirming and potent in its own right.
The most impactful thing you can ever say is “thank you.” Yes, really.
Then, there’s thank you. There is such a power in these two words. Those who take the time to say “thank you” are acknowledging that someone else went out of his or her way to make their lives better. They are saying, “I do not take you for granted. You are a blessing to me. What you did was meaningful in my life. You are appreciated.”
Some relationships sincerely lack appreciation. If you want to water and nourish your family and friends, start by showing respect in even the slightest of ways. When you request something, say “please.” When your family or friends do something nice for you, even if it is something you consider a given, say “thank you.”
Saying “thank you” is a compelling way to wipe the slate clean. Saying “thank you” is a 2-for-1 gift of gratitude and forgiveness all wrapped in one. Saying “thank you” is the turning point between letting go of what’s happened and embracing what’s to come.
How often do you harness the power of “thank you”?
Are you thankful for the things that make your life special, or even comfortable?
How often do you thank your spouse for their patience, your colleague for covering when you were sick, or the busy barista for taking an extra moment to wish you a nice day?
Do you express gratitude for basic creature comforts like a warm house, the flowers in your hard, the fact that you have enough money in the bank to take some time off each year?
Cultivating and expressing gratitude are easy things to do. And the more you are thankful, the more you reinforce positive aspects of your life for yourself.
When you say thank you to the person who serves you food, to the person who holds the door open for you, to the person who gives you notices you’re limping, to the person who handles your groceries through the checkout, in this small way you’re realizing “It didn’t have to be this way” – and you’re recognizing that, this person has made you a part of a bigger story, a story in which people are overwhelmed not by what they’ve suffered, but by what they’ve received. To say thank you is to recognize your dependence on another person, to say “You make my life possible.” And to say thank you is slowly, gradually, to become the most powerful person in the world, the person who is so filled with awe and wonder with the life and grace they have been given by God that no suffering or cruelty or manipulation or misunderstanding or disease or tragedy can break their spirit. The most powerful person in the world is the one who in the face of horror and scarcity
can only see beyond it to glory and abundance. Nothing can destroy such a person.
Gratitude and Well-Being go Hand-in-Hand
A small but growing body of research suggests that practicing gratitude can help both the giver and the recipient feel happier.
When you constantly look for the good instead of focussing on “problems” or what you are “lacking,” you will feel more fulfilled and the people around you will feel appreciated.
When you practice gratitude daily, you will naturally carry out this mindset more often, and it’s bound to improve your mood and your overall outlook.
How to Practice Gratitude
This is a busy world and many of us are in the mode of “go go go.” But stopping and expressing gratitude isn’t too hard to do. Saying “thank you” is just one idea out of many possibilities for practicing gratitude.
You can think about practicing gratitude not only for the people in your life currently, but even to past events, people from your past, and towards the future.
Taking just five minutes each day for quiet reflection can be your gratitude practice.
Think about things you are grateful for. Get as specific as possible, write them down.
Here are some ideas:
- Name three things you’re grateful for
- Acknowledge three people are you grateful for
- Take note of parts of your life you may be taking for granted
- Take a moment to appreciate the person in the mirror
Other suggestions for practicing gratitude include writing a “thank you” card, writing in a gratitude journal daily, focusing on gratitude while meditating or praying, taking someone to lunch or just sending a small gift.
The more specific you are about what you are grateful for — both for yourself and for others — the more likely it is to have a positive effect.
Saying “thank you” to you reaffirms your innerself.
Probably you have gone through a painful journey to get to where you are. Saying “Thank you” to yourself says, “I’m happy just the way I am and exactly with how things turned out.” “Thank you” is a form of vulnerability that drives out and defeats shame. Saying “thank you” suddenly transforms grief into growth and pain into perspective. Being thankful for what you’ve endured brings you into the present moment and helps you remain grateful for where you’ve landed on the other side.
“Thank you,” to yourself then, is a form of self-love—a wave of compassion sent back inward that recognizes the strength it took to overcome the hardships and challenges to get to where you are today. Brick by brick you’ve built a more formidable foundation from which you can appreciate your past and embrace the future.
It Starts With You
Making a difference truly starts with one person-you. You have the power to brighten every person’s day by creating impactful and mindful conversations. Saying thank you, smiling, showing genuine gratitude can change your life and the lives of those you say it to.
Don’t believe us? Have you ever done something for a child, another adult, a person at work, or a friend? Did they thank you? Did they smile and give you a hug as they received a gift or words of encouragement from you? Or did they avert their eyes and say nothing? How does it feel to hear “thank you” or to not hear it?