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Can a Simple "Thank You" Change Your Life?

When was the last time you received a hand-written "thank you" card in the mail? Did you fish it out from in between the utility bills and the grocery store ads? It might possibly have been the one personal communication you received all week (or even all month!) without demanding anything from you in return.

I don't receive such cards often, but when I do, it makes my day. In just a few lines scribbled across a blank note, a friend expresses love and appreciation for me. Plain ol' me. Since I'm a stay-at-home-mom, my efforts aren't usually seen by many. I clean up the living room, and while I'm doing so, the kitchen gets destroyed. While I tackle the kitchen, the toy room implodes. It's a vicious cycle. It simply means that I can spend all day mucking out each area, but have almost nothing to show for it. I appreciate when someone notices something that I did pretty well.

Before we had children, I worked in a doctor's office as an assistant. Mostly, I typed feverishly at a desk tucked behind closed doors that required an electronic badge to enter. I managed all of the doctor's correspondence, his phone calls, prescription refill requests, his daily notes for the patient's charts, and any billing questions. It satisfied my ego to see a stack of paperwork move from the inbox to the outbox by the end of the day. I learned a lot about the patient's injuries and the treatments that seemed to work best. I loved the other assistants and joked with them often.

I only interacted with "Dr. Smith" in the morning, around lunchtime, the end of the day, or if I had an urgent question. Really, it was pretty surface-level. "Good morning. Did you get that message I sent?" "I'm just going to take my lunch in here today. Let me know if my 1:00 is on time." "Have a good day." I didn't know where I stood with him. Some days, it bothered me. Did he like me? Did my questions frustrate him? Was my work acceptable or sub par? I'd see other doctors come out of their offices and banter with the assistants, talking about movies or music, but never Dr. Smith. While he was a good guy, and was never rude or demeaning, he remained silent.

While I loved my job, another opportunity opened up elsewhere. On my last day of work, the girls in the office ordered some treats and stocked the lunchroom. During lunch break, people could swing by and say goodbye. Dr. Smith stayed the whole time, grinning like a proud dad, as he talked with each person about how much I had helped him. I had never known at all! Not once. This surprised me as much as anyone else. While I appreciated his gesture, and it meant the world to me, what I would have given for him to stop by my desk just once and say, "Hey, thanks for doing that. I really appreciated that."

Since my mind has been focused on gratitude, I wanted to share a special book. I found this book completely by accident, but its message stayed with me for a long time after I finished the last page. The book is called "A Simple Act of Gratitude: How learning to say Thank You changed my life," by John Kralik. As far as I can tell, it's the only book he authored. Now, I don't know Mr. Kralik and am not an affiliate for his book. I'm just a grateful reader. This book is John's own story, beginning with the disastrous state of his life in 2007. On January 1, 2008, John took a walk. He describes a tremendous experience where he felt inspired to write one thank you note a day for the next year.

Inevitably, he didn't fit all the notes in the year, but he stayed with it until he hit 365 notes. He records his thoughts throughout the process, what changed in his life and what didn't, what improved his situation, and his overall take on the experiment. It's a quick read, and even with kiddos bouncing off the walls, I finished it in a weekend.

When I think about it, I've experienced the power of THANK YOU without any strings attached.

I've experienced the lack of THANK YOU with its accompanying confusion and doubt.

After reading this book, I felt a similar call to action. I could definitely infuse more gratitude in my life. From a scientific perspective, I knew studies had been done to show an actual change in the brain when an individual lived a more "grateful" lifestyle. From a religious perspective, I had been taught that expressing my gratitude to God for the blessings and miracles in my life drew me closer to Him. From a parent's perspective, I can't stand when I do something for my kiddos (especially when it takes enormous amounts of time and energy!) and it's not even acknowledged. Was I playing the role of an ungrateful whiner? I needed a change.

I began writing notes. I bought stationary and envelopes, but after a couple of weeks, I reverted to texts and emails. Being honest with myself, I knew I wouldn't make it to the post office for stamps/mailing letters all that often. But I didn't want to drop the ball on my own experiment. I did what I could. I hope the results (in me) proved to be essentially the same.

For 30 days, I focused on the good things. I looked for people I could thank--especially the people I tend to pass over. I thanked teachers and neighbors, family members and friends, delivery drivers and waiters. I saw the times my boys tried extra hard not to retaliate when smacked or when they spoke calmly and politely. Here's a few notes of my own during MY experiment:

"5 days in - I'm really enjoying John Kralik's book about gratitude and the thank you notes he wrote. It lifts me up. When he includes stories about thanking others - and then something happens - that touched me. It actually happened to me this week. One of the notes I wrote/texted was to my [foster daughter's] caseworker. I felt like I need to, even though Emmy has been gone for a while. I went a couple days without a response. Then yesterday she texted back how much that meant to her. It was her last day of working at [the foster agency]. I'm grateful for that inspiration. I"m grateful for this exercise. It's helping me see how much people bless my life."

"9 days in - Another day. It has been powerful to read the gratitude book and write my own notes. It makes me think of people, even from years ago, who have touched my life and made it better. I'm grateful for another day to be alive, relatively pain-free, and very blessed."

"12 days in - I sent a thank you yesterday in the middle of a super busy day. It surprised me afterwards because it wasn't 'premeditated.' It was in the moment. I felt grateful and I expressed it."

"17 days in - I could have used more grateful moments this weekend. It was hard. I read in the epilogue of the grateful book that when the author had a rough time, there was usually a correlation with a lack of thank you letters. I think I'm finding the same for me."

Overall, it was a good month. It felt refreshing. Was I perfect? No way. I missed some days and didn't always feel sublimely grateful. I noticed that I tend to focus on what I lack, where I fall short, what issues I need to address. But for 30 days, the world spun differently for me. I felt satisfied with my efforts.

In the end, this isn't a sales pitch for a book (though I highly recommend it in your regular reading rotation!). This is a push for choosing gratitude. Intentional, minor changes each day lead to major mood shifts and miracles. I can't describe it to you. I can't choose it for you. I can't even buy you stationary and send you texts to remind you to write a thank you note.

Is it really that simple? Writing a note? Jotting down a sentence in a gratitude diary? Taking a moment to reflect on the day? Yes! Yes, it's that simple. Try it yourself.

Can saying THANK YOU transform a life? Absolutely. It transforms yours.

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