Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey (TED Books)


These were my favorite passages from a book about gratitude. I really enjoyed this book.

“Gratitude has a lot to do with holding on to a moment as strongly as possible,” Scott told me. “It’s closely related to mindfulness and savoring. Gratitude can shift our perception of time and slow it down. It can make our life’s petty annoyances dissolve away, at least for a moment.”

“The point is, it’s hard to be grateful if we’re speeding through life, focusing on what’s next, as I tend to do. We need to be aware of what’s in front of us. We need to stop and smell the roses, along with the graham crackers and soil and leather. So today, while sipping coffee with Ed, I tried to practice what psychologists call savoring meditation. I let the coffee sit on my tongue for twenty seconds, which may not sound like a long time, but I don’t want to keep Ed waiting. (And twenty seconds can be powerful if you really make each second count. Quality over quantity, right?) I focused on the viscosity of the liquid, the acidity, the bitterness . . . Was that apricot? I still couldn’t taste the distinct flavors, but I could see a way to unraveling the threads.”

“In our society, we fetishize the lead singers. And not just in music. The front people in every field—art, engineering, sports, food—get way too much attention. The cult of celebrity has spread into every corner. We overemphasize individual achievement when, in fact, almost everything good in the world is the result of teamwork. Consider the polio vaccine, which qualifies as a very good thing. According to the book Give and Take, by psychologist Adam Grant, Jonas Salk took all the glory for inventing the polio vaccine. He was on the cover of Time; he became the household name. But the truth of the vaccine’s invention is more nuanced. Salk was part of a team at the University of Pittsburgh.”

“But its long-term consequences might be even worse. By elevating individual achievement over cooperation, we’re creating a glut of wannabe superstars who don’t have time for collaboration.”

“Yes, I missed the train today, but what about all the times I got to the subway platform just as the doors were opening, allowing me to slip into the car while suppressing a smug smile? The reality is, I’m not unlucky with subways—it just seems that way because the enraging experiences are the ones that stick in my memory. It’s the same distorted way that I process feedback. If I get one hundred compliments and one insult, what do I remember? The insult.”

“I recently read an article about the poet Robert Bly, who said that when he was a kid and skinned his knee, his mother would say, “Just be thankful that you didn’t break your leg.” He found it annoying at the time, which is understandable. But he now sees its perverse wisdom.”

“In short, I learn that, as with almost everything I take for granted, humans have put an astounding amount of thought and care into creating this unassuming piece of plastic.”

“It’s been a wild ride,” Colleen says. She tells me about the time she was watching TV and saw a car commercial and, to her surprise, the driver was using a Java Jacket. It was their first national exposure. “You know that feeling you get when you have a crush on someone, that little giddy feeling? That’s what I felt.” A few years later, the Java Jacket got an even bigger honor. It was featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibit called “Humble Masterpieces,” where it was displayed alongside an aspirin tablet and LEGO bricks. Colleen calls the experience surreal. “I remember going to New York and it was kind of overwhelming,” says Colleen. “I went to MoMA—the actual MoMA!—and there was our Java Jacket in a glass case. I remember I didn’t stay in the room long, because I wanted to see the Picassos and Monets.” Before I hang up, I ask Colleen to be honest. “Are you grateful I called, or was it more of a pain in your neck?” “No, I’m happy you called. It reminded me how lucky I am. I really feel I won the lottery. I mean, I wouldn’t want everyone who uses the Java Jacket to call, since I might not get any work done. But I’m happy you called.”

“When I ponder the number of gratitude recipients involved, I start to get dizzy. There are the folks at the paper factory where the cardboard is made. The lumberjacks who cut down the trees for the wood pulp to make the cardboard. The metalworkers who manufacture the chainsaws the lumberjacks use. The miners who dig up the iron that is turned into the steel for the chainsaws.”

“Over dinner with Julie and the kids, I tell them I’m feeling snowed under. “I seriously think I might have to thank every single human on earth,” I say. Julie looks skeptical. She points to the People magazine lying nearby on the radiator. “What about her? How did Beyoncé help make your coffee?” I pause for a minute, and then I come up with an answer. With enough research, I explain, I could probably get to Beyoncé. Maybe one of the engineers who made the plastic lining for my coffee cup listened to Beyoncé songs to motivate her while studying for her chemistry final. Maybe the guy who drove the warehouse truck blasted Beyoncé to stay alert. “That’s kind of a stretch, don’t you think?” Julie says. “Yes and no,” I say. We are all so interconnected; it’s hard to know where to draw the line.”

“On the bad side, • Coffee can wreak havoc on the environment. A group called ClimatePath estimates that one pound of coffee—growing, packaging, shipping, etc.—creates five pounds of carbon dioxide. And that’s not to mention the billions of discarded plastic coffee lids floating in the Pacific. Or how coffee plantations are wiping out forests in Central America. • Coffee is the stimulant of choice by employers who want to overwork their laborers for an unhealthy number of hours. • Coffee farming has led to vast wealth imbalances, with a lucky handful making fortunes as millions remain mired in poverty. Again, to quote Uncommon Grounds, coffee has “led to the oppression and land dispossession of indigenous peoples, the abandoning of subsistence agriculture in favor of exports [and] overreliance on foreign markets.”

“So where to import the water from? The Catskills seemed the perfect solution: The region had lots of rain, the altitude was high enough that gravity could help with delivery, and the residents didn’t have the political power to oppose such a project. And just as important, the water was “soft,” meaning it was low in calcium, the troublesome mineral that clogs up pipes. Its low calcium is also why New York water tastes clean, not metallic. “It’s one of the reasons why New York bagels and New York pizza taste so good,” says Adam.”

“This is a huge theme I need to remember as part of Project Gratitude: My comfort often comes at the expense of others. I benefit daily from the disruption to this community. I need to be more grateful for these sacrifices.”

“I love New York water,” Kirsten says. “I went to Philadelphia, and I couldn’t drink the water there. It tasted like cucumber to me.” 

“But one strategy I’ve found useful is the memento mori, the reminder of death.”

“My thoughts on this crystallized a few days ago when my friend sent me an essay called “I, Pencil,” which was written in 1957 by a libertarian scholar named Leonard E. Read. When I started to read the essay, I was alarmed by how similar it was to my coffee project—minus the gratitude and caffeine. Written in the first person from the point of view of the pencil, the essay details the work of the many people and raw materials that go into making a pencil. The cedar trees for the wood. The rubber for the eraser. “Think of all the thousands and thousands of skills . . . the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls.”

“The threat of carbon monoxide is always on their minds. “Every morning,” Pat says, “you have to pay attention to where the wind is blowing, so you know where to go if there’s a leak.” I notice that the two PR people in the room have smiles that are looking increasingly strained. Almost like they’ve gotten a whiff of sulfur themselves. Later, the PR folks will stress to me that they take every precaution that they can. It’s a fair point. Steel is much less dangerous than it used to be decades ago, when mangled body parts and fatal injuries were common (Larry’s grandfather died from getting caught in some steel machinery). Injuries at the plant have declined 94 percent in the last thirty years. Better training and omnipresent signs have probably helped. Everywhere you look you see warnings: HIGH VOLTAGE. TIPOVER HAZARD. STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN. TAKE 2, THINK IT THROUGH. There’s even a crumpled red van left by the railroad tracks as a cautionary reminder; the van was totaled by an oncoming train. I ask Shannon, Joe, and Pat what they like best about their job. “I’m not sorry I stayed here,” says Joe, who had considered leaving to work in the aircraft industry. “It paid for two kids to go through college, and a house and a car and everything else.”

“Next, Ed and I board a cozy, knees-to-the-chin propeller plane and land in a small city called Neiva. We climb into a van for a four-hour ride to an even smaller town called Pitalito. It’s a town, Ed tells me, that is known for two stimulant crops. Coffee is the legal one. After which we get in the back of a pickup truck for a ninety-minute drive up a mountain to the coffee farm. We’re joined by a woman named Lorena, who lives in Colombia and works for the import company. It’s a beautiful ride . . . and highly uncomfortable. We jounce along the rock-strewn road, occasionally letting out involuntary “oofs.” We grab the side of the truck as it hugs tight curves overlooking cliffs. I spot the driver doing something with his right hand that I really wish I hadn’t seen: the sign of the cross.”

“Let me pause here for a moment to state the obvious: I am lucky. That was the thought going through my mind as I took the bucket’s strap off my shoulders. I’d just picked coffee beans for ten minutes as research for a book. I didn’t pick coffee beans because I had no other job options and needed to earn money to feed my family, which is the situation of thousands of migrant workers. I picked coffee by choice, not necessity. And how did I arrive at the luxury of having this choice? Well, mostly luck.”

“The real world is no doubt a combination of luck and skill, but I lean strongly toward Ecclesiastes. If I had to put numbers to it, 20 percent of my fate has been determined by hard work and persistence, and 80 percent has been cosmic Powerball.”

“Luck determined that I was born in the developed world. Luck determined that I was the son of parents who could afford to send me to an expensive college. Luck determined my genetic makeup. And my career? It’s been filled with random breaks. At age twenty-three, I was getting ready to give up on writing and apply to psychology grad school when I sent off a Hail Mary letter addressed only to “Agent at ICM.” It somehow got out of the slush pile and landed on the desk of an Elvis-loving literary agent. He thought my idea for an Elvis-themed book might work. If he’d been a Springsteen fan instead, I might be teaching psychology at a small college.”

“I’m not dismissing the need for effort and persistence. Those who worked their way up from the bottom, who didn’t have the advantages I had, need effort and persistence even more than I did. I also acknowledge that, to a certain extent, you make your own luck and create your own opportunities. But only to a certain extent. You also need pure luck. As Barack Obama said in a postpresidential interview with David Letterman, “I worked hard and I’ve got some talent, but there are a lot of hardworking, talented people out there. There was an element of chance to it, this element of serendipity.”

I agree with our former president. There are millions of hardworking, persistent people around the world living below the poverty line. I believe there are thousands of could-have-been Meryl Streeps working as waitresses because they didn’t get the lucky breaks. There are thousands of alternative-universe Steve Jobs working on assembly lines in factories. Here’s why I’m a fan of thanking our lucky stars every day: it helps with forgiving yourself your failures; it cuts down on celebrity worship and boosts humility; and, perhaps most important, it makes us more compassionate.”

“By thanking Chung’s parents, I’ve broken a thousand thanks . . . more or less. Could be 987, could be 1,015, but I’m counting it as the thousandth, since it seems tidy. Chung texts back a series of emojis and exclamation points. “Please tell Zane thank you. And thank you to you both for making me think more about all that I should be grateful for in my life.” She says she’s thankful for the sacrifices her parents made as immigrants. She says that after our talk, she’s realized gratitude is a discipline that needs to be practiced. It doesn’t always come naturally, even to glass-half-full types like her.”





books Gratitude Learning Mindfulness

davidsonhang View All →

Purpose: I create an empowering context for curious and hungry people looking for fulfillment, experiences, and creativity. We do this by developing their growth mindset, introducing self-love, and powerful group experiences. It results in people with strong boundaries, resilient mental health, and practical life skills

People leave with the ability to land their dream job, have autonomy and flexibility with their lifestyle, travel the world, and create from their heart and soul.


Davidson was once broke, insecure, low-confidence, and frustrated by doing all the wrong activities. Addicted to drugs, validation, and wallowing in self-pity. No relationship to family, and at the mercy of other people’s suggestions and opinions.

It was hell.

After spending $100k hiring different coaches, traveling the world doing workshops around the world, reading>1000 books, and through curiosity, have created the most effective system to remove people from that situation. My life’s work is to bring joy and abundance to people who as on a similar path as I was and bring back the joy and abundance of their life.

Through shared experiences and storytelling, I inspire and model behaviors that lead to a richer, more fulfilled life full of joy, experiences, passion, and ecstasy from the richness of relationships and being able to experience the depths of the human experience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: