Author AJ Jacobs jokes that his specialty is being able to focus on the negative. He says he’s not alone in having a glass-half-empty personality. He says that humans are wired this way. It may have been useful to keep our eyes on dangerous predators in prehistoric times, but for modern humans, focusing on the negative leads to anxiety and depression.
Looking for a way to change his outlook, he decided to increase his sense of gratitude. He started giving thanks before each meal for all the people who contributed to the food getting to his plate. At one point, his son pointed out that none of those people could actually hear him. He said, “If you really cared, you would go and thank them in person.”
Jacobs was inspired by his son’s words. He started a months-long journey, thanking every person who helped produce his coffee. He thanked farmers, coffee roasters, and coffee shop employees around the world. He thanked anyone he could think of that helped make his morning cup of joe possible. Jacobs soon learned that there were thousands of people that he had been taking for granted. These included the people who paved the roads the coffee trucks traveled on and the water reservoir workers that helped supply the water for his daily cup of coffee.
Jacobs learned that expressing gratitude was a two-way street. It improved his outlook on life and helped spread a little joy in the process. He describes a pest control worker who was surprised to receive his thanks. He said, “I know this sounds strange, but I just want to thank you for keeping the bugs out of my coffee.” She said, “That does sound strange. But thank YOU! We rarely get appreciated. You just made my day.”
One of the things Jacobs learned during his gratitude quest was to stop and smell the roses. In other words, to savor the moment. He now lets the coffee sit on his tongue for five seconds before taking a drink. He says, “this idea of savoring is so important to gratitude. Psychologists talk about how gratitude is about taking a moment and holding on to it as long as possible. And slowing down time. So that life doesn’t go by in one big blur, as it often does.”
Jacobs is a self-described grumpy person. During his gratitude journey, he did so much thanking that sometimes it felt forced, but that was OK. Sometimes you need to fake it until you make it. He says that merely acting grateful can create sincere feelings of gratitude, which can set off a chain reaction of happiness. In the words of Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, “Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.”