Web Exclusive – March 29, 2011
Behind the book: Finding gratitude—and my way as a writer
Although I had wanted to be a writer much earlier in life, when I finally received a powerful inspiration, it wasn’t a call to write a book or even anything that could be described in conventional terms, as, say, an essay or something. Rather, it was an inspiration to be grateful, to notice the good things in my life, and to write thank-you notes for them. Three hundred and sixty-five thank you notes, to be specific. So for 15 months, I was writing, but not really writing a book. The only things I was writing were thank-you notes.
I needed a powerful inspiration to finish a writing project. I had long ago abandoned my dream of being a writer, and, after starting my own law firm in 2000, my life had become completely consumed by my work. But the responses and improvements in my life that sprang from the thank-you notes were immediate, surprising and themselves inspiring. So I kept writing them.
I wrote the thank-you notes first on an Excel spreadsheet. I would record the name and address, and the spiritual or material gift for which I was thankful—a kind of “gratitude list.” Then I would write out a first draft of the note in one of the fields of the spreadsheet. This helped me to organize my thoughts, so I wouldn’t have to repeatedly start over when I started to handwrite the note. I didn’t want to waste paper. In other fields of the spreadsheet, I would make notes, for example, about how someone responded when they received the note.
As the year went on, and I began to feel better about life, there were times when I would think of going back to writing. Then I would look at my spreadsheet, and see I was behind on my thank-you notes. So instead of writing something else, I would write more thank-you notes.
The book was written in the few spaces I had in my life. While I drank my first cup of coffee at Starbucks. I would finish one cup while typing, get my refill for $0.50, and be off to work. I wrote thank-you notes to two special baristas who would remember my name and my order and greet me on these mornings. Ever wonder what all those people huddled over their laptops are assiduously typing? I was one of them. This is what I was typing.
The book reveals what I could sense about the source of the inspiration at the time it came to me. The man who began the project on January 1, 2008, would not have harbored some of these thoughts. When I started writing the notes, the spell-check pointed out that I could not even properly spell the word grateful.
Writing 365 thank-you notes led me to discover that my life was not nearly the tragedy I saw it as. My life was instead blessed and protected, fostered and defended by hundreds of people who had taken an interest in me, cared about me and at various points along the way, rescued me. I hope that those who read it will find a way to make similar discoveries in their lives.
John Kralik is a lawyer whose 2008 vow to write a daily thank-you note inspired a memoir and a new way of looking at his life. He lives near Los Angeles. Read our review of 365 Thank-Yous.