Here is the full transcript of author AJ Jacobs’ talk titled “My Journey To Thank All The People Responsible For My Morning Coffee” at TED Talk conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: My journey to thank all the people responsible for my morning coffee by AJ Jacobs
So, I don’t like to boast, but I am very good at finding things to be annoyed about. It is a real specialty of mine.
I can hear 100 compliments and a single insult, and what do I remember? The insult.
And according to the research, I’m not alone. Unfortunately, the human brain is wired to focus on the negative.
Now, this might have been helpful when we were cave people, trying to avoid predators, but now it’s a terrible way to go through life. It is a real major component of anxiety and depression.
SO HOW CAN WE FIGHT THE BRAIN’S NEGATIVE BIAS?
According to a lot of research, one of the best weapons is gratitude. So knowing this, I started a new tradition in our house a couple of years ago.
Before a meal with my wife and kids, I would say a prayer of thanksgiving. Prayer is not quite the right word. I’m agnostic, so instead of thanking God, I would thank some of the people who helped make my food a reality.
I’d say, “I’d like to thank the farmer who grew these tomatoes, and the trucker who drove these tomatoes to the store, and the cashier who rang these tomatoes up.”
And I thought it was going pretty well, this tradition.
Then one day, my 10-year-old son said, “You know, Dad, those people aren’t in our apartment. They can’t hear you. If you really cared, you would go and thank them in person.”
And I thought, “Hmm. That’s an interesting idea.”
Now I’m a writer, and for my books I like to go on adventures. Go on quests. So I decided I’m going to take my son up on his challenge. It seemed simple enough.
And to make it even simpler, I decided to focus on just one item. An item I can’t live without: my morning cup of coffee.
Well, it turned out to be not so simple at all. This quest took me months. It took me around the world.
Because I discovered that my coffee would not be possible without hundreds of people I take for granted.
So I would thank the trucker who drove the coffee beans to the coffee shop. But he couldn’t have done his job without the road. So I would thank the people who paved the road.
And then I would thank the people who made the asphalt for the pavement. And I came to realize that my coffee, like so much else in the world, requires the combined work of a shocking number of people from all walks of life. Architects, biologists, designers, miners, goat herds, you name it.
I decided to call my project “Thanks a Thousand.” Because I ended up thanking over a thousand people.
And it was overwhelming, but it was also wonderful. Because it allowed me to focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day, as opposed to the three or four that go wrong.
And it reminded me of the astounding interconnectedness of our world. I learned dozens of lessons during this project, but let me just focus on five today.
The first is: LOOK UP.
I started my trail of gratitude by thanking the barista at my local coffee shop, Joe Coffee in New York. Her name is Chung, and Chung is one of the most upbeat people you will ever meet. Big smiler, enthusiastic hugger. But even for Chung, being a barista is hard. And that’s because you are encountering people in a very dangerous state. You know what it is — precaffeination.
So, Chung has had people yell at her until she cried, including a nine-year-old girl, who didn’t like the whipped cream design that Chung did on her hot chocolate.
So I thanked Chung, and she thanked me for thanking her. I cut it off there. I didn’t want to go into an infinite thanking loop.
But Chung said that the hardest part is when people don’t even treat her like a human being. They treat her like a vending machine. So, they’ll hand her their credit card without even looking up from their phone.
And while she’s saying this, I’m realizing I’ve done that. I’ve been that a-hole. And at that moment, I pledged: when dealing with people, I’m going to take those two seconds and look at them, make eye contact. Because it reminds you, you’re dealing with a human being who has family and aspirations and embarrassing high school memories.
And that little moment of connection is so important to both people’s humanity and happiness.
All right, second lesson was: SMELL THE ROSES. AND THE DIRT. AND THE FERTILIZER.
After Chung, I thanked this man. This is Ed Kaufmann. And Ed is the one who chooses which coffee they serve at my local coffee shop. He goes around the world, to South America, to Africa, finding the best coffee beans.
So I thanked Ed. And in return, Ed showed me how to taste coffee like a pro. And it is quite a ritual. You take your spoon and you dip it in the coffee and then you take a big, loud slurp. Almost cartoonishly loud.