I have to admit, until a few months ago I had never heard of Neil Pasricha. I didn't know about his #1 best-selling book. I didn't know he wrote a Webby award-winning blog. And I didn't know he spoke at the prestigious TED conference in 2010. That all changed when a colleague sent a link to Pasricha's TED talk, a viral video that has since received tens of thousands of views on YouTube and TED.com. At that point I asked myself, "Where have you been?"
Since 2008 Pasricha has written a popular blog called 1000 Awesome Things and from that sprang the best-selling The Book of Awesome in 2010. The blog started as an exercise in coping and gratitude after a series of losses in his personal life. One day he began writing about 1000 things that he felt were, well, awesome! Simple things, daily things, things that might otherwise be taken for granted or not noticed for lack of being mindful of this surroundings. Like when your hiccups finally stop or stepping on crunchy autumn leaves.
In advance of his upcoming sequel, The Book of (Even More) Awesome, I thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper into the mind of Pasricha - from a resilience stand point - to find out more about where his Awesome idea came from, how it has served him and how it has affected people. So, that's what I did:
Brad: In the new book you address the inspiration for the blog. Where were you emotionally at that time and how did the blog come about?
Neil: Well, I guess it was just that everything just felt so... heavy. Heavy in my chest, heavy in my heart, heavy everywhere. Every time I opened a newspaper it was about melting ice caps, pirates in the ocean, and an economy about to blow up.
And on top of that, I was in a marriage heading the wrong direction and my best friend was in a major depression. Before long, my wife came home from work and told me she didn't love me anymore...and my best friend very sadly took his own life.
With a black cloud over my head I just felt like I needed something positive in my life. Some way to remind myself of the good things, which seemed like they were hidden behind some heavy velvet curtain.
Looking back between now and 2008 what can you say about the change process in terms of where the blog and books have taken you - be it emotional resilience, connection, strength, perspective, etc.?
Well, I'm still the same guy with that sink full of dirty dishes, the mismatched socks, and the toothpaste on the mirror. (How does it always get on the mirror?) But, in a way, my perspective towards day-to-day life has completely changed and the community I'm involved with has changed.
When I started writing about awesome things I had a little sheet of paper I wrote my ideas down on. I wrote about things like "Broccoflower," "That little triangle of potato chip crumbs in the corner of the bag," and "Finding money in your coat pocket." Things like "Getting grass stains while running around" and "Blowing your nose in the shower."
I got worried after a few days because I couldn't think of any new ones. But... friends started emailing me ideas. Strangers started sending them to me on Twitter. And soon it became like a million awesome things from around the world, like a freight train powered by a steaming awesome engine. The cold side of the pillow, the smell of gasoline, the day you get your braces off.
To me the book really speaks to the concept of mindfulness and living in the present moment. What else helps you stay resilient in times of stress or hardship?
Well, I'm no mountaintop guru with hidden pearls of wisdom I can shower you with. I'm a boring guy who works an office job in the suburbs and has bad posture. I'm a skinny wimp who eats frozen food and needs to go to the gym more.
My only mindfulness practice is writing about one awesome thing each night before I go to bed and then pushing "Publish" so 50,000 people a day can read it.
And I think that speaks to what makes Awesome Things so popular. That it's so approachable and you don't need a guru for it to touch you. Your writing speaks to the power of creativity, journaling, gratitude - all practices that a professional might suggest for someone going through a tough time. What are your thoughts about Awesome Things as a self-help or therapeutic process?
Well, I think we'll all be tossed down the well at some point in our life. There will be times we're blinking in bed with holes in our stomachs and twists in our hearts. And when the pain washes over us and when the hurt sponges and soaks in, I think we've always got two choices:
1. We can swirl and twirl in doom and gloom forever, or
2. We can grieve and face the future with newly sober eyes
Being awesome is all about choosing the second option. It's about focusing on those blurry, flickering lights deep, deep, deep in the distance and taking little baby steps to get there. Maybe you write down one awesome thing a day or maybe you have another outlet to share and reflect and progress.
What are you hearing from readers in terms of the take-away messages and how it has changed their own ways of coping? Have others reported adopting their own "awesome things" writing practice?
Well, I'm completely flattered at the response. It's completely overwhelming. Preachers use The Book of Awesome in sermons, high schools and colleges use it in classes, and I just read Guy Kawasaki talking about 1000 Awesome Things in his new book! To be honest though, the most touching responses are the ones from suicidal teens and folks with serious illnesses who write me letters about how The Book of Awesome is helping remind them of the little things. And--very quickly, then let's move on because I'm getting uncomfortable!--I will tell you that the most flattering compliment I ever received was from a woman who said she had a room full of self-help books that were full of advice she failed to follow, but The Book of Awesome actually changed her view of the world. And it doesn't contain a single bit of advice!
Well, except maybe one: "Hitting a string of green lights on your way home from work is seriously advisable."
I agree, hitting all the green lights sounds like sage advice. You have creative insight into the human spirit as evidenced in your writing and your TED talk. Are people coming to you for advice now?
Well, uh, thank you! I'm flattered. But whatever insight I've got into the human spirit is the same insight we all have. I mean, it doesn't take a genius to point out that snow days, the smell of gasoline, and finally peeing after you've been holding it forever are awesome. I'm just lucky enough to have time to write them down.
I guess any advice I have to offer is wedged between the posts on 1000 Awesome Things and the pages of The Book of (Even More) Awesome. It says: don't take life too seriously, enjoy every bit you can, and appreciate something awesome every day.
When you're not writing books and blogs, what other job titles do you hold? Any chance of us seeing you in the field of positive psychology or mental health?
I work as a project manager in a cubicle farm. And I enjoy it because I enjoy the people I work with. I'm flattered but I don't know if I'd have much to offer. Having said that, if you're looking for a skinny nerd telling you why peeling an orange in one shot is awesome, I'm your man.
Well, Neil, based on the popularity of 1000 Awesome Things, I think that just may be what people are looking for. Thank you for reminding us just how awesome the simple stuff can be. And here's a pretty awesome way to spend 17 minutes today: Watch Neil Pasricha's TED talk: "The Three A's of Awesome". Neil's new book comes out this week: The Book of (Even More) Awesome.
Brad Waters is a career & life strategy coach/consultant and writer based in Chicago. He is the author of Cultivating Your Everyday Mindfulness, available on Amazon and Smashwords. Follow along on Facebook.
©2011, Brad Waters