“I discovered that my coffee would not be possible without hundreds of people I take for granted.”
This was the realization AJ Jacobs had as he went on a quest to acknowledge and thank everyone who was responsible for allowing him to enjoy his morning cup of coffee. And if you thought this ended at the baristas from his local coffee shop, you would be sorely mistaken.
He traveled the world to witness the origin of the beans and the farmers who cultivated them. He had dozens of awkward conversations with people throughout the supply chain who did not expect his gratitude — from the truck driver who delivered the coffee to the person who designed the plastic coffee lid to the women who managed the pest control that kept the coffee safe at its storage facility. Seriously.
Along the way, he became in awe of the hundreds of little masterpieces created (and recreated) to deliver a cup of water with “bean dust” as he likes to say.
His journey struck me so personally, as this is the work we do every day to infuse wonder and humanity back into the clothing we wear. It’s a perfect case study in the art of appreciation, and he recently dove deeper into the topic on a podcast called the TED Radio Hour: The Gratitude Chain.
I’ll highlight a few of the main lessons below:
1) Notice the details.
Our brain is really good at normalizing things. Through a process called “habituation” we take repetitive actions and (over time) provide less and less attention to them. This is generally a good thing to help our senses not be overstimulated at all hours of the day, but it can also cause us to overlook and appreciate the way some of our everyday items come to life (ahem… coffee and — of course — our clothing).
2) Listen to people’s stories.
“You’re dealing with human beings. This Coffee didn’t just appear.” The story of our coffee is not a single story. It’s hundreds of stories that involve people’s livelihoods, the future of their families, and the impacts on our environment. Witnessing the humanity in each step of the supply chain gave AJ a greater appreciation for the coffee he drank. Dignity. Flatten
3) Be grateful.
Gratitude is not a feeling bestowed upon us, but a discipline to work at — a muscle to flex and train. As we break the process of habituation and begin to celebrate the wonderful details of the things we enjoy everyday, we must work to practice gratitude. Or as AJ says, “The darkside of gratitude leads to complacency. Gratitude makes you want to pay it forward — sparks you to action.”
4) Acknowledge the greater purpose in our actions.
Simply put, our actions impact others beyond ourselves. The simple choices we make to say “thank you” and the coffee we purchase sets off a chain of actions and reactions. There is great wonder to be found when we are swept up in the beauty of this reality.
“It reminded me of the astounding interconnectedness of our world.”