Count Your Blessings, Not Your Sheep
By Amy Willis
In this perfectly timed (for American Thanksgiving) episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes author A.J. Jacobs to talk about his latest book, Thanks a Thousand. Jacobs describes an inspiring journey of gratitude, in which he sought to thank ALL the people who contributed to his enjoyment of his daily coffee at Joe’s Coffee. Indeed, in marketing the book, Jacobs undertook the Herculean task of writing 1,000 thank you notes to readers- anyone who’d ever read a book or an article by him could request a personal note of thanks via his website. How do you express gratitude? Do you document it, as in a gratitude journal, or recounting what you’re grateful for from A to Z before you go to sleep, as Jacobs suggests? Do you have a gratitude mantra, and if so, what is it? (Recall one of Jacobs’s, “Surgery without anesthesia.”)
I’d like to say I will write that many notes of thanks in the next year, and this week’s episode has certainly inspired me to do more. See here, for example. But we’re much more interested in how you reacted to Roberts and Jacobs’s conversation.
1- What do YOU do for work, and how is it part of a the bigger picture of human experience? (Think about the story of the janitor at NASA , who when asked what his job was, replied that he was helping out a man on the moon.) To what extent had you thought about your contribution to humanity previously? What do we leave out when we teach about specialization and division of labor?
2- To whom will you write your next thank you note, and why? Who would like to receive a thank you note from, and why? Name someone from the past to whom you would like to write a thank you note today, were they still alive. Again, why?
3- Jacobs and Roberts agree there’s a tight connection between gratitude and happiness. (Though which comes first seemed to remain an open question…) How do economists measure our level of well-being? Is this the same as happiness? (Hint: You might want to check out the Econlib Guide on Well-being and Welfare.) How do you think Jacobs would assess this way of measuring? What economics does Roberts ultimately suggest Jacobs left out of his own accounting of happiness?
4- Jacobs recounts how he daily lists “one thing.” What’s your EconTalk “One Thing”? (Jacobs says, for example, “I’ve listed things from your podcast that have really stuck with me. One of them was similar to what we’ve been talking about. It was when you asked Bill James, the saber-metrics baseball guy, what he had learned. And he talked about how many people it takes to make a championship baseball team. And, you know, the minor league coach, the parents who nurture the kid–you know, the, whoever did the carpool to bring the kid to practice. And I loved that. So that went in the One Thing file.”)
5- What is the nature of Jacobs’s disagreements with “I, Pencil,” which Russ calls “the poor man’s version of your book”? How does Roberts address this, and with whom are you more sympathetic- Jacobs or Roberts?