In the past six months, John Israel has hand-written 900 thank-you notes, and he has no plans to stop. In what he deems #TheYearofThankYou, Israel set off on a mission in October 2016 to elevate the level of gratitude on the planet by 1 percent. He knows he can't do it alone, but he wants to live his life in line with that objective.
"I love writing thank-you cards to people, and I like projects that challenge me to grow," Israel told POPSUGAR. "When I thought of gratitude, I thought, what's a physical thing I could do daily to make sure I'm expressing gratitude every day? Thank-you cards are simple."
By trade, Israel is a gift salesman for Cutco Closing Gifts, meaning he sells gifts for realtors and mortgage professionals to give to clients after a sale. "I'm in the gift business, that's my world," he said. "Why do I sell gifts to people? Because it's an opportunity for people to thank people for what they've done. That's how the mission began."
Very deliberately, Israel chose to write five cards a day, every day; 10 would compromise the quality of the notes, and one seemed too easy. Israel's cards aren't two-line throwaways either; they're thoughtful, meaningful, and long (trust me, I was lucky enough to receive one). He estimates that writing five cards takes about an hour and a half of his day. The thank-you note challenge has other rules too: The cards must be handwritten, so emails or texts don't count. He can send a card to the same person a maximum of three times per year; if he writes more than three to one person, it won't count toward his goal. Also, the "five a day" rule resets every day. In other words, he can't write 35 on a Saturday and have it count for the whole week.
If he doesn't accomplish writing five in a day, he donates $1,000 to charity. In six months, he hasn't missed a day. Even his subconscious is keeping him in line: one night, when he hadn't written any notes yet, he fell asleep while watching TV. In his dream, someone woke him up saying, "John, John. Wake up. You have to finish your cards." He woke up at 11:45 p.m. — with just 15 minutes left in the day.
My first question: how the hell does Israel even know 900 people to send thank-you notes to? Granted, he has a very large network, with about 3,000 friends on Facebook and even more contacts in his client network. But he's not just sending random thank-you notes to people he hasn't spoken to in years. Some of the recipients are professional contacts, some are personal, and some are complete strangers, like his Uber driver. "I send them to clients who recently bought something from me, but also friends, family, my grandmother, Starbucks baristas, pilots, flight attendants . . ." As a result, he carries note cards with him at all times.
The gratitude is contagious. On day three of his challenge, Israel was on a flight to Philadelphia and realized, "I always appreciate the pilots keeping me alive, but I never thank them. So I asked the flight attendants for the names of the pilots." He included a business card with his note, and the pilot followed up with an email saying that in his 12 years of flying, he'd never been thanked by a passenger.
Israel says he will most likely continue writing thank-you notes when the year is up, even if it's not five a day. You can follow Israel's journey on his blog, JohnIzzy.com, and he also encourages everyone to use his hashtag, #TheYearofThankYou. He hopes the project will inspire others to start writing more thank-you notes, too, and share photos. But as Israel proves, "I don't have time" isn't an excuse if you put your mind to something.