Happiness Through Gratitude with AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is a multiple NYT bestselling author, a journalist, a lecturer as well as a warm and hilarious human soul.  He’s on this weeks podcast and is…SO GOOD. In this show we learn why AJ intentionally puts himself in the most extraordinary circumstances … like when he strove to be “the world’s healthiest man” going from Dad bod to ultimate health (Book = Drop Dead Healthy). Or when he lived according to the bible for a year, beard, goats and all… (Book = The Year of Living Biblically). In this episode we have a blast, learn and laugh a lot, and discuss AJ’s new book Thanks a Thousand, which chronicles his journey of gratitude in the same lovable – but brilliantly insightful – way.

AJ has more tools in his toolbelt for being happy, healthy and productive than nearly anyone I’ve met. And because he’s experimented so deeply with each of these tools, he knows just when to put them to good use. He’s the rare blend of incredibly relatable and wildly successful at the same time. If you know his work already this will be a huge boost to your week. If you are new to his work, be prepared to thank me ;).

You’ll also be inspired to know that:

  • If you’re struggling with feeling like your life is too boring to write about, or put on Instagram or build your wildest dreams upon…try doing what AJ does and immerse yourself into an experiment. Make your life interesting by putting yourself into extraordinary circumstances. Interesting circumstances = interesting life.
  • AJ realized that somehow the more energy he put into making himself happy, the more miserable he got. When he flipped the script and focused on making others happy, even at what he thought was at his own happiness’ expense, he became increasingly more happy. Paradoxical, but effective!
  • NOT fake it till you make it….but fake it til you feel it. “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” Don’t let yourself get stuck in the cycles of endless thinking and planning. Take action.
  • …and a hundred or so more hilarious and wise takeaways from AJ


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Some Questions I Asked:

  • What drove you to try to live according to the bible for a year? [3:15]
  • What was a takeaway from living biblically? [6:07]
  • What compelled you to put yourself on that biblical journey? [8:00]
  • Talk to me about your newest book, Thanks A Thousand, where you thank everyone who is a part of getting you your morning coffee. [14:40]
  • What’s your end goal with writing a book like Thank You A Thousand? [19:19]
  • How will you find the readers to write 1,000 thank you cards to? [23:18]
  • Is there anything else you’d like to say about your personal journey to gratitude? [27:25]
  • Do you store your favorite moments in your mind? [29:48]
  • What are some of your habits around gratitude? [30:35]
  • What are some more habits that have helped you be happier, healthier, and better at life? [36:23]
  • How do you use accountability to stay healthy? [39:30]
  • So you’re cousins with Oprah and Bill Clinton? [41:55]
  • Were there any instances where reaching out as someone’s cousin had a big impact for you? [46:00]
  • What’s your greater purpose? [50:30]
  • What is effective altruism? [53:14]
  • What’s driving your life mission? [55:30]
  • Throw rocks at my “other 50%” idea about finding success through community. [57:05]
  • How do you get yourself in the right mindset to do the work that you want to do? [62:30]
  • What’s next for you? [65:06]
  • Tell me about the other TED Talks that you’ve done. [67:30]
  • What is some concrete advice you have? [68:06]

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • AJ got into writing because he didn’t feel like a good public speaker. [1:50]
  • “I’m Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is Italian.” [4:30]
  • AJ puts himself in extraordinary situations to turn his own life into a muse. [9:28]
  • Check out The Know It All, where AJ documents his journey of reading the entire encyclopedia. [10:00]
  • Check out Steven Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now, if you need perspective on how good the world is right now. [11:10]
  • Gratitude is good for your health. AJ goes deep with thanking everyone who played a part in bringing him his morning coffee. The outcome was more gratitude. [15:30]
  • “Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.” – Benedictine monk [19:40]
  • If you buy (or borrow) Thanks A Thousand and go to ajjacobs.com/thanks, you could get a handwritten note from AJ. [23:45]
  • Check out the book Appreciation Marketing by Tommy Wyatt and Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell. But we don’t recommend *actually* hugging your customers. [24:43]
  • How to deal with trolls (with positivity). [26:50]
  • Check out Drop Dead Healthy, where AJ tried to be the healthiest person alive and where he learned about the act of savoring. [27:45]
  • Try keeping track of *one thing* that you learn from every book, every vacation, every new city that you visit. Just one thing from each. [29:50]
  • Take note of every time your line at the grocery store or airport is short. Fight our conditioning to remember the negative. [31:00]
  • Why you should “make an appointment with your creative side” every day. [32:00]
  • How George Clooney used “delusional optimism” to hit home runs over the fence as a young baseball player. [33:50]
  • How AJ fights writer’s block by writing. [36:30]
  • The more you think about your future self, the better decisions you make in the present, which is one of the reasons AJ still does all his writing while walking on a treadmill. [37:11]
  • Fear of humiliation can be a great motivator when used intentionally. [39:50]
  • How AJ uses mini goals even as small as “getting out of this chair” to propel him to action. [40:16]
  • The hope with AJ’s book It’s All Relative is to show that we are all related. Studies show that people tend to show more kindness towards family than strangers. We all wired to be connected to one another. [42:00]
  • AJ learned from George HW Bush and his late wife, Barbara, that you should always strive to put in 75% of the work in the relationship. [47:00]
  • Effective altruism – how to do the most good with the resources you have. Check out effectivealtruism.com and givewell.org. [51:40]
  • AJ realized that the more energy he put into making himself happy, the more miserable he got. When he flipped the script and focused on making others happy, even at his own happiness’ expense, he became increasingly more happy. [52:11]
  • Check out The Gates in Central Park by Christo and JC. It took them 24 years to finish the installation, but considered the bureaucracy as part of the creative process. [61:00]
  • “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” – Founder of Habitat for Humanity, Millard Fuller [63:20]
  • Thanks A Thousand will be summed up in a TED talk that drops November 13th. [67:25]
  • How to use “strategic chutzpah” to put yourself out there, even though your efforts won’t always work. [68:55]


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