Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey’ by A.J. Jacobs

c.2018, TED Books
$16.99 ($22.99 Canada)
140 pages

A great big bear.

That’s what you’ve sounded like all week: a growl here, a snort there, grump, grump, snarl. Everything that could go wrong did — spectacularly. But what went right? Hmm. Grab a mug, take a seat, and turn your frown around with “Thanks a Thousand” by A.J. Jacobs.

Ever have one of those days where everything goes off-kilter?

Yep, A.J. Jacobs has them, just like the rest of us. And like most of us, he’s “ridiculously lucky” overall, something he recognizes even when “daily irritations hijack my brain.” Sadly, that happens about half the time he’s awake.

He tries to be cognizant of his grumpiness; in fact, while making a point about gratitude to one of his sons, Jacobs began to think. Maybe we treat gratitude too superficially. He decided to take thankfulness to the next level by thanking every person who had a role in bringing him his daily cup of coffee.

He started easy, with the coffeehouse barista whose bubbly personality reminded him to “affirm and recognize” everyone who serves him. Then he visited the coffeehouse’s coffee buyer, who taught Jacobs to slow down because “it’s hard to be grateful if we’re speeding.”

He thanked the designer of the cup lid, the designer of a coffeehouse logo, and the people who developed the cup sleeve. At this point, with no end in sight — how far back, how deep should he go here? — Jacobs switched his goal. Rather than making his project “a lifetime job,” he’d thank a thousand people for his coffee.

That included roasters, who ready the beans for sale. It included a trip to the Catskills, to thank those who bring water to New York City homes. Jacobs thanked the people who make coffee safe to drink, the folks who warehouse the beans, truckers who transport it, pallet-makers, scientists and the Colombian farmers who own coffee bean trees passed down for generations, and who invited Jacobs to visit them again.

“I won’t take them up on the invitation,” he says, “but I’m grateful to have it.”

One thing goes wrong in the course of your day, and it’s like falling into the mud on the banks of a rapid river — whoosh, and everything goes downstream. “Thanks a Thousand” reminds you that there are a million reasons not to let it go.

But don’t think this is a self-help book filled with sunny platitudes; quite the contrary, author A.J. Jacobs actually dissects gratitude with the help of science and research. Yes, as it turns out, being thankful is good for us and offers benefits that you may not realize. Add to that an appealingly puppyish sense of purpose in finding people to thank, and you’ve got a book that educates, informs, and charms the socks off you.

If the phrase “thank you” is perfunctory, you need this book. If it’s an impossible-to-say phrase in your world, you really need this book. For anyone who’s grateful, appreciative, and in a thanksgiving mood, “Thanks a Thousand” is a book to bear in mind.

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