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Perfect Thank You Notes: Heartfelt And Handwritten

After a particularly bad 2007, lawyer John Kralik decided to start 2008 with a serious New Year's resolution: to be thankful for the good things and people in his life. So he spent the next year writing one thank you note for each day -- to family, friends, co-workers, even the barista at his local Starbucks. Those notes make up his new book, 365 Thank Yous: The Year A Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.

Why not just say thanks? Kralik tells NPR's Liane Hansen that it was his grandfather who fostered his interest in written gratitude at an early age.

"My grandfather, whenever you sent him a thank you note, he would always send you a silver dollar," Kralik explains. "And then if you wrote him a thank you for the silver dollar, he'd send you another."

The first thank you note Kralik sat down to write in 2008 was to his son. But when it came time to send the letter off, Kralik realized he didn't have his son's address.

"I called him to get his address," Kralik says, and his son replied, "Gee, I need to stop by and take you to lunch." Over lunch, Kralik's son repaid a loan of several thousand dollars. "So I wrote him another thank you note," Kralik says, "for repaying the loan and also for taking me out to lunch."

Short, Sweet ... And Written By Hand

In the early days of 2008, Kralik systematically wrote thank you notes for all of his Christmas presents. When he was out of gifts, he wrote notes to his co-workers. And when he ran out of co-workers, he was stuck.

"One day, I just couldn't think of anybody to thank," Kralik says. But on his way to work, he stopped at his regular Starbucks, where his barista greeted him by name -- "John, your usual venti?" -- and with a big smile. "I thought, this is really kind of a great gift in this day and age of impersonal relationships, that someone had cared enough to learn my name and what I drank in the morning," Kralik says.

Kralik lingered at the counter to learn his barista's name -- it was Scott -- and then set out to write him a simple note of gratitude. Scott was very happy to receive it, Kralik reports, despite the fact that at first he had assumed it was a complaint letter.

After the holidays, it's easy to view thank you note writing as a chore, but Kralik says that sincerity is the best approach -- he encourages people to focus on one true, meaningful sentence about the gift or the person. The notes don't have to be long, Kralik explains; sometimes limiting yourself to just a few sentences forces you to distill your sentiments.

Kralik wrote a simple thank you to his young daughter -- she was too young to read his cursive handwriting, so he read it to her out loud:

Thank you for being cheerful and happy when I pick you up in the evening. Sometimes I don't have a very fun day, but when I see you and we talk about things and have fun, I feel better. Thank you for being the best daughter ever.

Though it might be tempting to fire off a quick thank you e-mail, Kralik says true expressions of gratitude should be written the old school way -- with pen and paper.

"Things we write in cyberspace are so easily deleted and forgotten ... buried by the next 30 e-mails we receive," Kralik says. "In this day and age, a handwritten note is something that people really feel is special."

Kralik says he is often moved by how many people have saved his notes: "It's up on their wall," he says. "It's like part of you that's there."

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