The Current

Meet the man who travelled the world to thank the 1,000 people who made his morning coffee

Do you ever forget to look up from your phone and say thank you to the person who hands you your coffee in the morning? A.J. Jacobs caught himself doing that too often, so he set out on a journey to make gratitude a habit. He ended up meeting about 1,000 people involved in creating that cup of coffee; he tells us what they taught him.

A.J. Jacobs wrote a book about the importance of showing gratitude

A.J. Jacobs tracked down every person who had a hand in making his morning cup of coffee a reality — and then wrote a book about travelling the world to thank them personally. (Simon & Schuster)

Read Story Transcript

When author A.J. Jacobs began to say a few words of thanksgiving before dinner every night, his son had some advice.

"I would try to thank all the people who helped make my food a reality — thank the tomato farmer and thank the woman who sold me the tomatoes," said Jacobs.

"My son said to me: 'That's fine Dad, but it's also lame, because you're not thanking this person. They're not here. They can't hear you.'"

His son suggested he thank people in person — so Jacobs did. Focusing on his morning cup of coffee, he set out to meet and personally thank everyone who had a hand in making it. He wrote a book about his endeavour, called Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey.

"There's hundreds, thousands of … people that we take for granted," Jacobs told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

She told me the hardest part is when people don't even treat her like a human, they just treat her like a vending machine or a kiosk and hand her their credit card.- A.J. Jacobs on how people treat baristas

"The truck driver, the logo designer, the person who paved the road so the truck could bring my coffee beans to my cafe.

"So I kind of went wide, I kind of went six degrees of gratitude, and just went on a gratitude frenzy."

'Acknowledge they are human'

But before that, he started small — with his local barista.

"She told me the hardest part is when people don't even treat her like a human, they just treat her like a vending machine or a kiosk and hand her their credit card, without even looking up from their phones.

He realized he had done that hundreds of times, and that "to just look someone in the eye, acknowledge they are human, is so important," said Jacobs.

"It's so easy and small, but it has such a big impact on both you and the person you're dealing with, because we are wired to interact with humans face-to-face.

The darker side of being grateful

Not everyone is on the thank-you train.

In his book The Art of Gratitude, Jeremy David Engels argues there's a dark side of gratitude.

In his book The Art of Gratitude, Jeremy David Engels warns there can be a dark side to how we show we are grateful. (Suny Press)

"When you think about how people actually express their gratitude, the phrasing is really interesting," he told Chattopadhyay.

"A lot of time, when people do something nice for us, or they give a gift, it's customary to say 'I owe you a debt of gratitude.'"

That kind of language turns gratitude into a transaction, creating an understanding that "I give so that you will give back to me in return," said Engels.

"Instead, [people should] think more about shared experiences that we have together.

"What is it that we appreciate, and how does it connect us to others?"

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear Chattopadhyay's full conversation about gratitude with both authors.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann and Imogen Birchand.

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