A.J. Jacobs (@ajjacobs) is a journalist, lecturer, human guinea pig, and best-selling author; his latest book is Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey.
What We Discuss with A.J. Jacobs:
- What’s the difference between true gratitude and positive thinking?
- How acknowledging the role of luck in our lives allows us to have compassion for and empathize with others.
- The lifelong lessons that stick with A.J. long after the conclusion of his unique experiments.
- Why gratitude leads to happiness — not the other way around.
- If possible, why you might consider thanking your parents on your birthday.
- And much more…
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A.J. Jacobs is a big weirdo, but that’s really why I like him. He’s spent a year living according to the Bible in the most literal way possible. He’s endeavored to build the biggest family tree in history. He’s read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to become the smartest person in the world. He’s gone to great lengths running social experiments that make most of us cringe just thinking about them. He’s got a knack for putting himself in situations where he’s able to examine current rules and think in a totally different way — and then break our default mode that we get from culture and social programming and replace it with something else entirely.
In this episode, A.J. joins us to share the yields of the experiment that resulted in his latest book, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey. We’ll find out what he discovered while thanking a thousand people along the supply chain responsible for his morning cup of coffee — from the bean farmers in Colombia to the truckers who get the stuff to the States to the barista who hands him the cup. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
When A.J. Jacobs commits to one of his perspective-bending social experiments — such as the time he grew a beard and lived as closely to the rules outlined in the Old Testament as possible — he emerges with a view of the world seen through a lens ground by absurd extremes, astute observation, and good humor. Luckily, he has the expansive but accessible vocabulary to share this unique vision with the rest of us.
But have any of these views remained long after his conclusions were conveyed on the printed page?
When he was in the process of writing The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. found himself following some pretty obscure rules that may have once made sense in the distant past, but seem irrelevant to current-day sensibilities. And then there are some rules that have proven to be surprisingly timeless.
Among expressing gratitude and cutting back on gossip, A.J. found the deliberate weekly break of the Sabbath — as prescribed by ancient scripture — relevant to reducing modern-day stresses.
“The Sabbath is almost like a digital detox from 2,000 years ago,” says A.J., “this idea, starting Friday at sundown (or depending on your religion, Sunday)…stop working. Devote it to what’s around you. Look around. Devote it to your friends, to your family, to having meals, having wine.”
This also brought A.J. to an understanding about the difference between how we view the role of the individual in the community today versus days of yore.
“It really did make me realize that in biblical times, they didn’t have this idea of an individual,” says A.J. “It was all about the community — like “respect your elders.” You’d have to stand when an old person comes into the room, so I would do that, and I went to Florida once, in Sarasota, and I was just up and down all night! But it was lovely, because I think we don’t value the elderly in our culture. It’s a youth-oriented culture. And now that I’m getting old, those old people are so wise!
“But it made me realize that, and it made me realize they were all about the responsibility to the community. And we are all about individual rights. I think there’s a balance, and I think we’ve gone too far to the individual side. I’m all for individual rights, but also: what is your responsibility to the community?”
While looking for an angle for his next book — which became It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, A.J. got a note out of the blue from someone claiming to be his eighth cousin.
“I of course thought, ‘Okay, he’s going to ask me to wire $10,000 to Liberia.’ But he didn’t. It turned out he was legitimate and he was one of this group of thousands of people — scientists and researchers — who are trying to do something unprecedented, which is to build the biggest family tree in history. And it’s not a tree. It’s a forest…right now it’s about 150 million people all connected…from over a hundred countries, every ethnicity you can think of.”
“One part of me was like, ‘Do I really want 150 million cousins?’ I have some members of my family now that I’d be happy to cut out! But another part of me was like, ‘This is astounding! We’ve been taught this cliche from when we were kids that we’re all one big family, but now you can see it concretely through DNA, through these massive Wikipedia-like family trees where thousands of people are working together…Barack Obama is my fifth great aunt’s husband’s brother’s wife’s seventh great nephew!”
While the Thanksgiving invitation he sent to the former president has so far gone unacknowledged, A.J. was able to secure an audience with another formerly presidential cousin, the late H.W. Bush. During their conversation, A.J. pointed out other well-known cousins they had in common, including George Clooney, Teri Hatcher, and even Bill Clinton.
“Part of the Relative book was all about connection, and that we are, in fact, connected,” says A.J. “And the hope was, which is a little idealistic, that we would treat each other with a little more kindness. And I do believe it happened. I call it ‘The Judge Judy Effect.’ You know Judge Judy? I always found her to be abrasive, obnoxious, one of the least pleasant people on Earth. But then I found out she’s my sixth cousin, and I was like, ‘You know what? She’s not so bad! She’s just Judge Judy!’ And it’s a little irrational, I know, but this idea of connection is very strong.”
A.J. was inspired — by the connections he discovered while exploring his family tree and its extended forest — to see how other parts of our lives are connected in ways we don’t even think about. While expressing gratitude for the people responsible for his breakfast and morning coffee, his son gave him the idea for his next book: to personally thank those people. But A.J. aimed high: to thank a thousand of those people.
“It was way more than I anticipated!” A.J. admits. “I went wide, so I thanked the obvious people, like the farmer of the coffee beans, and the barista, but I also would go out and meet the truck driver who drove the coffee beans. I remember I called the woman who did pest control for the warehouse where my coffee beans are stored, and I said, ‘I know this is a little strange, but I just want to thank you for keeping the insects out of my coffee!’ And she said, ‘Yeah, that is strange, but thank you! I don’t get a lot of appreciation!’
“And that was one of the themes of the book, that we take hundreds of people for granted, and everything we do requires hundreds, thousands of interconnected people…that we take for granted. And just making this mental switch, just from a selfish point of view, is very good, because it really does help you appreciate the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how A.J. has learned to temper his pessimistic Larry David side with his kinder Mister Rogers side through gratitude, why gratitude leads to happiness (but not the other way around), why it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting, what George Clooney taught A.J. about the power of delusional optimism, how creativity is really a numbers game, that time A.J. passed as a famous actor at the Oscars, the two stages from which gratitude emerges, and much more.
THANKS, A.J. JACOBS!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey by A.J. Jacobs
- The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs
- It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs
- Other Books by A.J. Jacobs
- A.J. Jacobs’ Website
- A.J. Jacobs at Facebook
- A.J. Jacobs at Twitter
- How Teri Hatcher Inspired Larry David to Come Up with Her Famous Seinfeld Line on the Spot by Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair
- 12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy by Kara Kovalchik, Mental Floss
- Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
- The 9:10 to Crazyland with George Clooney by A.J. Jacobs, Esquire
- The Ceramics Class and Quantity Before Quality by Eric Johnson, Excellent Journey
- Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by David Bayles and Ted Orland
- Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
- Samuel L. Jackson Reads Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
- Snakes on a Plane
- Dorie Clark at The 59th Grammy Awards
- A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior by Adam M. Grant and Francesca Gino, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- A.J. Holding a Zarf on Scott Barry Kaufman’s Show
- A Redesigned Coffee Lid That Totally Changes the Drinking Experience by Liz Stinson, Wired
- The Selfish Side of Gratitude by Barbara Ehrenreich
- NYC’s Reservoir System
- Director Bo Burnham on Growing up with Anxiety — and an Audience, Fresh Air with Terry Gross
- David Letterman: The Last Legend of Late-Night TV by Geoff Edgers, The Washington Post
- What I’ve Learned: David Blaine by A.J. Jacobs, Esquire
- American History X
- Comedy Cellar
Transcript for A.J. Jacobs | Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey (Episode 174)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. A.J. Jacobs is a big weirdo, but that's really why I like him. He's spending your living according to the Bible in the most literal way possible. He's gone to great lengths to run social experiments that would, and in fact, do make most of us cringe just thinking about them. He's got a real knack for putting himself in situations where he's able to examine current rules and think in a totally different way, and then break our default mode that we get from culture, social programming, et cetera, and replace it with something else entirely. His last experiment was to thank 1000 people that made his morning cup of coffee possible from the bean farmers in Columbia to the truckers who get the stuff to the States, to the barista who hands him the cup at the end of the journey. Thankfully though, this isn't just another gratitude episode far from it. In fact, we'll separate our idea of gratitude and contrast it with positive thinking and all that other associated BS. We'll learn to acknowledge the role of luck in our lives, which leads to compassion hopefully, which then, of course, hopefully, leads us to discover what really matters to us in this life, whether that's some feeling of interconnectedness or just a nice fresh cup of coffee.
[00:01:14] If you are at all curious how Jason and I have developed this amazing network of people that come on the show, friends that have helped us bounce back from hard times, personal and professional relationships, well, you should check out Six-Minute Networking. It's a free course. I know you'll do it later, right? Go to jordanharbinger.com/course. We're teaching you how to build and maintain these networks for free in six minutes per day, so go to jordanharbinger.com/course and check that out. In the meantime, enjoy this episode with A.J. Jacobs.
[00:01:43] A few years back when we first met, you were doing some sort of experiment for another book where you were living biblically.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:01:51] Yes, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:51] Was it a year?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:01:53] It was a year.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:53] That's a long time --
A.J. Jacobs: [00:01:54] A year, oh my God.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:55] -- to not shave.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:01:56] No, I know. And my wife wouldn't kiss me for seven months. It was not -- it was a serious thing.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:02] It's funny because my first thought was your wife must be a very patient woman to have put up with that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:02:07] She is the patient woman. The best part is when people email about how wonderful she is because I can forward that and that buys me a little credit than I can.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:22] She wouldn't kiss you because you had a beard.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:02:24] Yeah. She just didn't like the beard. She said it was -- you know, I think it is, I looked into it, I think it is the same texture as the pubic hair.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:33] Yeah. And she's like, "Okay now I really can't get that out of my head." Although she had to be patient because if you're doing the biblical living thing you could have traded it for like a goat or something.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:02:42] That is such a good idea. I tried to get extra wives because, in the Old Testament, you can have 12 to15 but she put the kibosh on that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:51] Put the kibosh.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:02:51] Yeah. It was sad.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:52] Yeah, that isn't -- but then maybe she did you a favor because maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:02:58] Oh no, I mean, it is very stressful like time management. I have a chapter in my book about family, about polyamory and I have no ethical problems with polyamory, but these people, they showed me their Google calendars and it is like a mosaic. It's so complicated trying to figure out which of your lovers to be with at one time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:21] And it sounds like no matter what, you're going to end up with people that are unhappy. Because you're not going to get somebody who's like, "It's not my Tuesday." You're going to get, people who were like, "No, I don't feel good. I want you to come over," and you got to shuffle everything. It's like, "Hey, hold all my calls."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:36] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:36] "I got a sick wife." But now what if you have two?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:39] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:40] Then what?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:40] It's very complicated.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:41] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:42] I know. Yeah. One thing that I thought was really interesting is they talk about -- they try to cultivate the opposite of jealousy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:50] Compersion.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:51] Yes. I'm so impressed.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:54] I don't know why I know that. I've never had that feeling in my life.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:03:57] I have never experienced it. I would love to but, yeah, compersion, as you know, is the joy you get from your partner's joy. So if your partner is having great sex with some other guy, you feel compersion instead of jealousy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:13] Yeah. I know.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:04:14] And yeah, if my wife slept with some other guy --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:17] You'd want it to be terrible.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:04:20] Worse sex she ever had.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:21] Yeah, oh God that was --- why did I ever even think about doing that? That's what I would want to hear if I had to pick one.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:04:29] But I do think it is wonderful because I do think schadenfreude, the joy in other people's pain, is a terrible emotion. And I have it and I hate it. I hate having it, and this is the opposite. So, yeah, if I were a better human being, I would experience compersion someday, someday.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:48] Well maybe, I mean, do you have to have the complete opposite or can you just have the absence of both and be fine?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:04:54] Yeah, maybe. Yeah. I mean maybe it doesn't have that like my wife had sex with and that maybe she has a great omelet at a restaurant.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:01] That's -- I'm okay with that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:05:02] Then I feel compersion for that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:05] We're drawing a line at omelets. My point of the original sort of biblical reference here is that you were in a situation where you're able to examine your current rules and then go, "All right, I'm going to break out of this completely as I can." I mean, you're still in New York City, so it's not like you're turning everything off. So like, all right, nobody's allowed to do anything modern anymore. Right? But you can break free of culture in some way, social programming in some way and replace it with something else entirely, which is kind of like your thing with the whole biblical thing and then after that, you're like, "Okay, well --" Well, you know, before we get into the next thing that you did, which I think is also interesting, what are some rules that you found that we modern humans follow out of habit but you've no longer really feel connected to after having done a biblical thing?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:05:53] Oh, that's a great idea. Well, I think, there are a lot of ways to answer that. I mean it really did make me realize that in biblical times they didn't have this idea of an individual. It was all about the community like respect your elders. Like you have to stand when an old person comes into the room, so I would do that. I went to Florida once for Sarasota in a restaurant. I was just like up and down the whole night. But it was lovely because I think, that's another example, we don't value the elderly in our culture as much.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:36] King of the opposite.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:06:37] Yeah. It's a youth-oriented culture. And now that I'm getting old, I'm like that --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:42] There's something to that old.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:06:42] Yeah, those old people are so wise.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:46] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:06:46] But it varied to realize that and it made me realize they are all about, as I say, the community, the responsibility to the community. And we are all about the rights, individual rights. I have the right to everything and I think there's a balance and I think we've gone too far to the individual side. I think I'm all for individual rights, but also what is your responsibility to the community? So that was kind of a --.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:09] Yeah, that is interesting. Because I'll tell you, I don't think about my responsibility to the community that much. I think about my responsibility to the listeners all the time during the show, during the preparation for the show.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:20] Well, that's community. That's a community.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:21] That's true I suppose. But then there's another part of me that's like, "Why is this person walking slow motion." But that might be New York kind of thing.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:29] Yeah. You know why?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:30] You can't' be a slow walker here.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:31] I am a fan of fast walking as well. Also, you know, I'm a fan of fast listening. I listened to your podcast on double speed.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:41] All right.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:41] You're actually quite a fast talk.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:42] I am. I was going to say, so that's really three X.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:45] Yeah. You're like at three X but I could still catch most of what you're saying. I might've missed some pearls of wisdom, but mostly I got you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:53] That's it. That's it's worth it. It's worth it to speed things up.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:07:55] Oh yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:56] Listening at one X is painful for most people, I think now who listened to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts? I, have you ever tried to listen to an audiobook at one X and you're like, "What is your problem? Why are you going so slow?"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:08:06] Oh, I know and particularly like a certain station, like NPR, and that's like half speed. And the weird thing is when you talk to someone who you've listened to at double speed and in person, I mean, you're fast enough that I don't think that there's some developmental challenge.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:23] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:08:24] But some people are like, "Oh my God, what's going on?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:28] Yeah. You're like, "Look, Ira, can we get, can we get this moving here?"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:08:33] And I don't know if that's good or bad. Maybe patience is a lost virtue, but --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:37] Yeah, probably, but I don't miss it. If I lost it, I don't miss it. Conversely, what are some habits or maybe rules you've added as a result of especially the year of living biblically, that made positive shifts for you and your life? Like, yes, maybe value old people a little bit more. Is there anything where you went, "You know, I'm going shave off this beard so that I can kiss my wife but I'm not going to get rid of --"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:08:59] Oh yeah, for sure. I kept a dozen.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:00] " -- stoning adulterers."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:09:02] I did stop stoning adulterers. As you know, I stoned them, but I use very small stones like pebbles, so I didn't get arrested. But, yeah, I know there were tons and I'm sure we'll talk about gratitude, but that was big in the Bible. There was the Sabbath, which is this idea --- it's almost like a digital detox from 2000 years ago. This idea, you know, starting Friday at sundown or depending on your religion, Sunday, just get off all the vices. They don't say that in the Bible. But they say stop working, devote it to what's around. You look around, devote it to your friends, to your family, to having meals, having wine. The Bible overall is pro-alcohol. It says, "Sometimes it's been, but most of the time it's a gift from God." So that was good. But yeah, I thought that was an amazing --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:55] So you picked up for drinking habits. Got it.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:09:57] That's the main takeaway. Drink a lot. But yeah, I thought this idea of one day a week, carving it out just to really focus this. And as I say, it's like a digital detox. It's like separating and saying -- because we get so caught up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:16] Yeah. So on your Sabbath, did you do the Jewish Sabbath-like Friday night to Saturday night or something or did you pick Sunday?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:10:25] I did I went with that and I didn't do, you know, the traditional Jewish Sabbath, which is like you can't turn on and off lights.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:34] That is such, that's a whole thing -- we were walking by a store the other day here in Manhattan, no surprise. And it was like, "The Sabbath switch," and you turn it on Sabbath mode and it does some sort of like electricity-saving, but the light turns on and off in a kosher way. I think it was called the kosher switch.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:10:50] Kosher switch. And then there are kosher elevators that stop on every floor, so you don't have to press the button.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:55] Oh gosh.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:10:56] But that's not actually in the Bible. They don't talk about that. They just say don't work. So I would not work and sometimes I would try to use it to my advantage. Like, you know, my wife would say, "Take out the garbage." "Sorry."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:07] Sorry.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:11:08] I cannot do that it's the Sabbath. But most of the time it was positive where it was a time to reflect and just, you know, stop, stop the madness. So that was good. I talk about it in the book. There are so many insane rules because it's an old tribal book written by some people who had some issues. But on the other hand, it does have some wonderful wisdom, and the Sabbath is one, gratitude, not gossiping as much as. I mean I still got --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:43] I broke that one the other day, and probably yesterday and maybe every day a little bit.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:11:48] Sadly before we were --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:49] Possibly. Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:11:51] But it is. I tried it and I still try to do it. You know, I still gossip, but I would say I gossip 40 percent less. So that's something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:59] Not bad.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:11:59] But it's actually quite freeing because kind of feel dirty. It's like having junk food, you feel it's like good going down but then you feel dirty afterwards. So there is something I would recommend people try for a week, just try not to trash talk anyone and see how it goes. And I think you'll notice this remarkable mental shift.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:24] Yeah, that's interesting. I need to take some of that medicine. I wonder when you're getting rid of all these modern rules in favor of the old when you're going through the old, you're going, "Okay, why can't I wear mixed fabrics? Like this is where's the origin of this and this is just kind of dumb."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:12:40] Oh, yeah, I mean there were some, as you say, you cannot wear clothes made of mixed fibers. I thought that seems like micromanaging. God was micromanaging and it was like just like -- but the arguments from the religious people are that actually following those is even more important because it shows your commitment almost your willpower. Like you can do something that makes no sense whatsoever.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:05] Where does that one come from? Do you even know? I just can't --
A.J. Jacobs: [00:13:09] well there are a bunch of theories but no one knows for sure. I mean one is that linen and wool -- I guess wool is from the shepherds and linen is from the farmers and the farmers and the shepherds have the feud. Who knows?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:26] It's like one of those, the earliest form of regulation. Like, "Hey, you can't wear mixed fabrics." "But my shirts are always cotton." "Well, guess you have to only buy cotton."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:13:35] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:35] Then the farmers are like, "You bastards." Yeah. That's interesting. Huh, okay, well, I guess we'll never know.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:13:42] We'll never know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:43] Literally, we'll never know. So one of the shifts that you had was gratitude. I know, and you mentioned that earlier, which kind of led you going down the whole rabbit hole of proving that all humans were essentially or are actually related.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:13:57] Oh yes. That was my previous book.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:59] Can we talk about that for a second?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:14:00] Of course.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:00] Because I'm kind of taking people to your journey in case they haven't heard that episode. Because I think that that's something that people go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. All humans that were all from Africa, et cetera." But then we really don't treat each other like that at all, of course.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:14:12] Yeah. And that one started, uh, because I got this email out of the blue from this guy who said, you don't know me, but I'm your eighth cousin. And I, of course, thought, "Okay, he's going to ask me to wire $10,000 from Nigeria."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:26] Sure, try Herbalife. Yeah, it's a family business.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:14:31] But he didn't. It turns out he was legitimate. And he is one of this group of people, thousands of people, scientists and researchers who are trying to do something unprecedented, which is to build the biggest family tree in history. And it's not a tree, it's forest because we're talking not thousands, millions of people. Right now it's at about 150 million people all connected on the same tree from over a hundred countries. Every ethnicity you can think of. And I love -- I mean, one part of me was like, do I really want 150 million cousins? You know, I have some members of my family now that I'd be happy to cut out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:14] Sure. Yeah. They are actually first cousins that I'm like, "I'm good. I have enough of you."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:15:20] But another part of me was like, you know, this is astounding. This is one a concept because we've been taught this cliche from when we were kids that we're all one big family.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:29] Right.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:15:29] But now you can see it concretely, through DNA, through these massive online Wikipedia-like family trees where thousands of people are working together and you can actually see the connections. It's like six degrees of Kevin Bacon. So, for instance, Barack Obama, this is true is my fifth great aunt's husband's brother's wife's seventh-grade nephew. So we're very close as you can see.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:54] Have you ever tried to like communicate that to him somehow?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:15:57] I think I did send a note inviting him to Thanksgiving and I haven't heard -- but I will say this, that sometimes it works. It's like a social network. It's like a new social network. Because for this book I wanted to interview George H. W. Bush because I figured he was the patriarch of this historic family. So I called his chief of staff and said I'd like to interview President Bush. She said he's not doing any interviews and I said, "Totally understand just so he knows and you know we are cousins." And I told her how. "We're like 12th cousins three times." And remarkably she said, "Well, in that case, let me see what I can do." So just as a very practical tool for entrepreneurs or whoever's out there, you might want to go on these websites that have these family trees and it's like LinkedIn, you know, you can approach people and say your cousin. Half of them are going to say, "Never contact me again."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:59] Right. Like, "Oh, this is too creepy." I almost wonder, did she read the whole thing? Did she just stop it? Well, we're cousins. Let me tell you how. She's like, "I don't -- that's fine." Right? Because if she'd read, "I'm your 16 third cousin twice removed." She would've been like, "Doesn't that include pretty much most of the United States or whatever."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:17:19] Well, it was funny. When I interviewed him, I told him who he was related to distantly and he was getting into it like he was related to Clinton. And he loves George Clooney, even though Clooney is like a flaming liberal. So I told him how he was distantly related to Clooney. He's got a crush -- he had, rest in peace, he had a crush on Teri Hatcher. Do you remember her?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:43] No, but I'm able to find out because I'm sure that I know who that is. Hold on.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:17:47] She was on the Desperate Housewives. So I got to tell him how he was related to her.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:56] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest A.J. Jacobs. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:01] This episode is sponsored in part by Policy Genius. Life insurance, I recently got some lately. It's actually kind of crazy and a huge pain in the butt. And if you have a mortgage, kids, anyone who depends on your income, you have to solve this puzzle. And policy genius can help you do it. They make it really easy to get life insurance. In two minutes, you can compare quotes from top insurers to find the best policy for you. You apply online. They'll handle the red tape at policy genius. They'll negotiate the rate with the insurance company. They are not commissioned sales agents. There are no hidden fees. They personalize the service. That's pretty helpful advice and they don't just make life insurance easy. They also can help you find home insurance, auto insurance, disability insurance so you can get that financial protection there. So if you find life insurance is puzzling as I did in the beginning. Head to policygenius.com, compare some quotes, find the right policies, save up to 40 percent doing it. Policy Genius is an easy way to compare and buy life insurance.
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[00:19:56] Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from A.J. Jacobs. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. And now back to our show with A.J. Jacobs.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:25] When you're that level of power, it seems like if you have a crush on someone, you can just be like, "Hey, I want to like have coffee and get this out of my system." And they're like, "Oh my God, the president wants to," or you know something.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:20:37] Yeah, sure. I mean it seems that JFK has pulled back --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:40] Yeah, he pulled a couple of extra strings that maybe most of us only -- well, we won't go down that path. This leads us to the whole coffee thing though. Weird sort of chasing zebras down rabbit holes is kind of your thing.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:20:53] I like that. The chasing zebras down the rabbit hole. Well, yeah, part of the relatives' book was all about connection and that we are in fact connected and the hope was, which is a little idealistic, then we would treat each other with a little more kindness. And I do believe it happened. Like I call it the Judge Judy effect. Because you know, judge Judy, I always found her to be abrasive, obnoxious, and one of the least pleasant people on earth. But then I found out she's my sixth cousin and I was like, "You know what? She's not so bad. She's just Judge Judy." And it's a little irrational. I know. But this idea of connection is very strong. So the connection theme was a big motivator of my next book, which was about, as you mentioned, my cup of coffee. And what I tried to do was thank a thousand people who had even the smallest role in making my cup of coffee possible.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:54] Thousand? That's a lot of people.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:21:54] Oh my God, it was a lot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:59] 100 people would be tedious.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:22:01] It was way more than I anticipated.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:04] 10 times that many.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:22:05] And you know, I went wide. So I thanked the obvious people like the farmer of the coffee beans and the barista, but I also, you know, I would go out and meet the truck driver who drove the coffee beans. I remember I called the woman who did pest control for the warehouse where my coffee beans are stored. And I called her up and I said, "I know this is a little strange, but I just want to thank you for keeping the insects out of my coffee." And she said, "Yeah, that is strange, but thank you. You know, I don't get a lot of appreciation."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:39] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:22:40] And that was one of the themes of the book that we take hundreds of people for granted. Everything we do requires hundreds, thousands of interconnected people, and that we take for granted. And just making this mental switch just from a selfish point of view is very good because it really does help you appreciate the hundreds of things that go right every day, instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong. So there was really a selfish motivation for this book because I talk about it -- you know, we all have our Larry David's side and our Mister Rogers' side and I was born with a very strong Larry David's side, the grumpy, pessimists, which is fine. I love watching Larry David, but it's not fun to be in that mindset.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:28] Yeah, watching it, you go, "Look, oh, this guy is so grumping. He sees the negative side of everything." You don't necessarily want to be that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:23:36] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:37] It's funny because we go, "Better you than me. Look at this guy complaining about every little thing."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:23:42] Yeah, but living -- being in that mindset, which I find myself a lot is not a great way to live. So this was an attempt to bulk up that Mister Rogers' side gets him ripped. And because it is so linked to happiness, there's so much evidence. There's a great quote that happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness. So having that mindset really will make you happier.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:08] That's important. And I want to dial in on that a little because the whole gratitude thing is really trendy these days. And it's so trendy that it's a little dangerous because people like me might overlook it. I'm like the opposite of the wisdom of crowds type of person, I think. And I realize that's a bad thing. I think I'm more like -- I'm like a wisdom hipster where like when everybody's going, "Hey man, you should do this gratitude." I'm like, "Oh, well in that case I'm not going to do that." And then my producer and I are like, "Yeah, we're, we're resisting that because it's BS trending garbage." But you can really throw out the baby with the bathwater.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:24:46] Yeah. I mean, yeah, that's my -- as I say, I think, I'm naturally cynical Larry David-like, but forcing yourself to be grateful, even if you're pretending for a while, then actually it sinks in. So you might want to try it. All of my projects have actually shown to me how powerful this idea of acting as-if, this fake it until you feel it idea. So I had to fake it for a long time. You know, I would wake up in a grumpy mood, but I'd be like -- I have to spend an hour calling or visiting people and thanking them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:29] And I'm not in the mood to do that right now.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:25:31] So it was like acting, it was like method acting and I would force myself to do it. But I'll tell you by the end of that hour, your mind -- the cognitive dissonance is too much. Your mind will switch over to great gratefulness. And I've seen these hundreds of times in these life experiments I did. I did one where I had to try to be the best husband ever because all these people wrote in and said --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:56] I did that one go?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:25:57] Oh, that's dangerous. You don't want, it's scary.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:00] People told you not to do it?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:26:02] No, they told me I should.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:04] Oh you should do it.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:26:04] Because I put my wife through so much misery, beard and such --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:09] With the beard, among other things. I'm sure if she had to take the beard, it wouldn't even make the top 10.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:26:13] I'd say it's top 10. But yeah, they are some -- not touching her while she menstruated, that was annoying to her.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:20] I'm sure. Oh, like, "Hey, you can't sit next to me."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:26:23] Oh yeah. No, I mean if you take the Bible literally, then any seat where a menstruating woman has sat is impure. And my wife found that --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:34] Well good luck with that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:26:35] Well, my wife found it offensive, so she sat in every seat in our apartment and I had to stand for most of the year. So the idea was these people wrote, "You should try to be the best husband you can be." And so it was a month of the Kate Hudson movies and foot massages, things like that. It was not always pleasant, but one interesting thing I noticed was as part of this, every day I would force myself, even if I was annoyed at my wife, I would force myself to buy her a little gift, like a little scented a candle, and I would bring it to her. And just by that act, I sort of convinced my brain, "Oh, I'm bringing a gift to my wife. I must really love her and it catches up." So I do believe this idea -- there's a great quote, I wish I'd come up with it by myself -- but it says, "It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting." So act as if you're confident. That's a big one for me because I don't think I'm naturally confident, but I pretend I am.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:40] So far so good though. You're killing it with the acting today then. You've been multiple water bottles.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:27:47] I like to bring my own beverages. I do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:49] Is it water or it is?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:27:50] Coffee and water.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:52] Okay. Gotcha.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:27:54] So, I got to get both. And since we're talking about coffee, I figured I should have --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:00] Yeah, there you go. Okay. So your default state was kind of like grumpy and impatience, which by the way, amen to that, speaking of the Bible. I get it because there are many days where I'll wake up and I'll go, "Got to do the gratitude thing because it's going to be one of those days."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:28:15] Oh yeah, I know. I mean it is, it is hard. I was just trying last night because I was having trouble falling asleep. So I use this hack where I try to, instead of counting sheep, I'll count things that I'm grateful for and I do it alphabetically like the Apple pancakes my kids made last weekend and B is a Barry. You ever see the HBO show, Barry?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:40] I haven't. I know what it is. I haven't seen it.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:28:43] Henry Winkler. Sorry. I was like, I'm thankful for Barry, but it's hard. You know, I had to force myself. So yes, forcing yourself to be grateful and the origin of this idea was because I had read all these studies like you had about gratitude and all the health benefits. And as you know, it's a little annoying, but I was like, evidence is evidence. I'm going to try to be more grateful. So I started this ritual before meals where I would say a prayer of Thanksgiving, but I'm not really religious. So instead of thanking God, I would try to thank some of the people who made my food possible. Like, the farmer who grew the tomatoes, the cashier who rang him up, and my son who was 10 at the time wisely pointed out that this was totally lame because those people can hear me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:41] Oh, right. So you're lazily doing half the equation.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:29:46] Exactly. It's half the equation. So he said, "If you really cared, he would go thank them in person." And that was like, you know, that is a nice -- that's a good book idea. So he earned his supper that night. And that's what sent me off on this journey for like -- not quite a year, but several months going around the world thanking people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:09] So gratitude leads to happiness and not the other way around. And that's kind of the key. You must have had a spreadsheet of people that you'd think so that you know, right? Or did you just keep tally on the wall?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:30:21] Or no, no, I had a spreadsheet and I mean, the thing is in one sense, thanking a 1,000 people are insane, but on the other hand, I could have spent 50 years doing this because you realize I could've gone to a million. I mean, think about the guy who drove the truck. You got to thank the people who paved the road and the people who painted the yellow lines on the road, so the truck didn't veer into oncoming traffic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:47] Somebody designed that truck.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:30:49] Someone designed that truck.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:49] Or a lot of people designed and tested, painted that truck.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:30:53] And the tires and then the guy who made the paint for either the guy who made the chemicals for the paint. So it was an amazing lesson and you know, how much goes in. And it was actually very relevant to my own life because I'm an author. So this book says by A.J. Jacobs, which is a total lie.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:15] Right.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:31:15] It is my book. Yes. But then they were the designers, the editors, the people who designed the font, the people who cut down the trees for the paper. There are still paper books--
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:27] I was going to say the five copies of paper that probably all are still in your house.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:31:34] Exactly, and that's in everything. I think that it just made me a little bit less self-involved.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:42] Sure.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:31:43] Which ironically makes you happier. I think when in my 20s, I was only focused on my own happiness and weirdly, that made me miserable. And as soon as I forced myself to try to think of other people they had the paradoxical but wonderful effect of making me happier.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:06] That's so interesting. As suppose it's because as humans we're wired biologically to -- it's like a survival thing, right? I want to focus on the one in a hundred things that is negative or going wrong because the other 99 things are going right, so they don't really require my attention right now.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:32:21] Totally. I really do. I agree with you. I mean evolutionary psychologists will tell you want to focus on the lion or the one mushroom in a thousand that is poisonous.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:34] Sure.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:32:35] Because we are wired for the negative bias. That's what it's called the negative bias, which might've helped us on the Savannah. But it is really not a great way to go through life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:45] Right, sure.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:32:46] So yeah, even if it's taking a couple of minutes every day to focus on what went right. And I try to let -- if I'm in a line at a drugstore that moves quickly, I will make a point to myself. I'll say it out loud, sound like a crazy person. "I'm on this fast line, remember this." Because I know that when I'm on a slow line, next time I'll be like, "This always happens to me. I have the worst luck. Oh, just my luck." But it's not. This is random. And sometimes you get the fast, sometimes you get the slow. So be aware of that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:22] Right, so highlight the times when you get something that works instead of just having your brain auto highlight the times when it's not.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:33:29] Exactly. And whenever I go to airports for years I was like, "I always get the gate that's like four and a half miles away."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:39] Oh yeah, sure.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:33:40] But I started to really pay attention. I didn't make a spreadsheet, but I was like, let's see if this hypothesis is true, it's not. Sometimes I walk through security and I'm right at my gate. But those times you forget because they're so easy and the other ones stick in your mind.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:58] I have to do some mental gymnastics whenever something is auto highlighted as negative and I usually don't catch it in time. I try to think of three-branched off positives. So it's like, "Oh this gate is so far -- great, I get to get my steps in. I don't have to worry about that."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:34:12] Ooh, I like.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:13] Burn some calories because that will let me eat egg McMuffins later because I'm burning 500 extra calories walking here with all my stuff.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:34:21] Right. That's a great strategy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:23] That kind of stuff has to happen. And you go A.J. Jacobs with it, right? You're like, "Oh my God, I left my passport at home and now I'm not going to miss to make my vacation flight on time and it's going to cost me $1,000 and then you have to think crap, what three positives are going to come out of this crap sandwich?"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:34:43] Oh, I love that strategy. I mean, I often think of some Schadenfreude, your joy in someone else's pain. Sometimes when something is just going really shitty, I'll try to adopt a self- Schadenfreude, which is the joy I had, how horrible things are going -- because I realize, and it helps that I'm a writer, but I think in any way you can -- that's going to be a great story. Like when things just go to hell.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:11] Exactly.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:35:11] It's, you know --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:12] Like this is going to be a great post about how dumb I am and how this was all avoidable.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:35:18] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:18] And that will humanize me in some way to my Instagram or podcast audience, which will then make me more relatable because I do dumb stuff all the time and it will make other people feel better about it, listening and following me, which will improve my business in some sort of intangible way.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:35:35] I love it. Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:37] So it was worth losing two grand in a day of my vacation or whatever it is.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:35:41] And when I was interviewing -- I don't do it as much -- but I interviewed celebrities for magazines and one of the keys I find -- and I think you're good at this -- is you tell a humiliating story and show your vulnerability and they're more likely to tell an embarrassing story about them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:01] Agree.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:36:01] I mean, in magazines, it's a little better because you cannot print your embarrassing stories.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:06] Ah, that's like cheating it. Like, hey, let me say all this stuff to get you to open. And then they're like, "Well, all around that age." Yours is like snip, snip, snip.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:36:14] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:15] Here's me getting George Clooney's bathroom story.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:36:18] I did an interview with George Clooney once, which was actually great.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:23] In-person or over the phone?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:36:24] It was in person.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:25] That's great.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:36:26] One thing he told me that I still remember one piece of advice was he talked about sort of this delusional optimism has served him well. So when he played high school or college baseball and he said when he would go up to the plate, he wouldn't just think of, "How am I going to hit a home run?" He would say, "I'm going to hit a home run and it's going to be the left-field wall." Like he would tell themselves which wall, you know, left or center or right. And of course, he struck out most of the time, but just that extra optimism increase the number of times that he did get a hit. And I've always found that a really interesting strategy, this delusion optimist. I mean, you don't want to overuse it because you can be like, "Oh, I'd be a great president," even though I have absolutely no --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:23] Hypothetically right.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:37:25] Hypothetically experience. But in general, I think especially for entrepreneurs, you need this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:30] You need it. You do need it. It's funny. Somebody asked me like 10 years ago on a TV interview for some New York news station when I still lived here. What's the key to being a successful entrepreneur? As if I had a clue, right? And my answer was delusional optimism or delusional confidence, I think is what I said because it's tough because now you see other people, especially young people having delusional confidence and you go, "Ah, you're, you're not doing yourself any favors here. You've got to actually do the work." But as long as you're doing the work, you can go, yeah, this is going to be awesome.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:38:01] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:02] This is going to be huge.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:38:02] Otherwise you'll just curl up into a fetal position.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:05] You do. Yeah, I had business partners back in the day where we would get a media opportunity and they'd be like, "It's probably not even going to work out." And I'm like, "Look, I got to be away from you because I need permission to get myself excited. Otherwise, what am I waking up for every day?"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:38:19] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:19] If everything's probably not going to work out. That's not a good way for me to wake up. I need to be like, we're going to get in the Washington Post, and then when it doesn't happen, I'm like, "Eh, well that didn't happen." "We're going to be in the New York Times." That didn't. It's fine for me. And this is probably different for everyone. I'm okay being let down here and there. It's just, it's part of the game.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:38:38] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:38] I can never get excited because I might get let down though. That's just like why bother.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:38:44] I love that. That's a great point.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:38:48] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest A.J. Jacobs. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:53] This episode is sponsored in part by Intuit.
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[00:40:31] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us on the air. And to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast if you're listening to the show in the Overcast player on iOS, please click that little star next to the episode. It really helps us out. Now for the conclusion of our show with A.J. Jacobs
A.J. Jacobs: [00:40:58] I do think in terms of like if I were building order to the nation, I would want half the team to be delusional optimistic. But I do want like the bean counters, the rational people to counterbalance it. So you get a little of both.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:12] Like you guys can get as excited as you want on a $10,000 boat.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:41:16] Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:18] Spend it like there's no tomorrow except for there is because we saved most of the money. Yeah. That's my wife. I'm like, "Yeah, we're going to kill it." And she's like, "Just in case we don't though, here's a bunch of backup funding."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:41:33] That's a good balance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:34] Yeah. So I get to be like, this is going to be great. And she's like, "Yeah, probably. Maybe, possibly. If not, we're good." I wonder what percentage of our day we spend in the frustrated or negative mode. Is there any science to this? Have you found anything where it's like, Hey, half the population wakes up and we spent 40 percent of our day worrying?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:41:54] That's great. I have not seen any research anecdotally from Mayo. I think that I was -- for me, I'm still struggling, but I would say over half the time I was in this state of general annoyance and it's not a good way to go through life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:10] No.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:42:10] So I often say one of the most important skills I try and teach my kids is metacognition, which is being aware of your thoughts, sort of standing outside and looking at your thought stream and saying, "Oh, that's not a good way to use your time." And I'll actually, this is a weird strategy, but it works for me. Maybe it'll work for some of your listeners. I'm a big self-talker. I talk out loud to myself a lot.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:41] Out loud?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:42:42] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:42] That's fine. You live in Manhattan, you blend right in.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:42:45] Well, yeah, you've got on one hand that the crazies and on the other, the Bluetooth, so it sort of --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:51] Right you look more Bluetooth than crazy.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:42:54] That's nice of you to say. I dressed up for you. But I find it helpful because it makes you more aware of your thoughts and when you're going into a dark place, which I often do, you know, and, and repeating this ruminating on these negative thoughts, you can notice more easily when you're saying out loud and be like, "You know, that is not a good one. That's not a good use of my time." I don't trust my brain. I think my brain is susceptible to these cognitive biases and negative bias. That I've got to keep it -- I've got to babysit it all the time. So that is what I like to do and I find that talking to myself even -- you don't know, maybe you don't do it out loud, but just every couple of minutes taking a pause and like, "Is this the best use of my brain -- with my brain acting up, do I need to reign it back in?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:50] That's quite interesting. I can imagine. Is there any element of social pressure where you go, "Oh, I'm having a thought that I don't want to say out loud because it's really bad and people are going to look at me and go, 'What the hell are you talking about?'"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:44:01] Well, if you're talking to yourself, you can just mutter.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:04] Okay.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:44:04] So you don't have to actually --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:06] Okay. I thought you were just like, I'm narrating everything that's in my head.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:44:09] Oh no, no. This is when I'm walking down the street and I would say my thoughts out loud and I actually find it beneficial in a positive way because you're aware when you hear a good idea then you're more likely to remember it because I do think -- I think one of the secrets to creativity is quantity, coming up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:33] For sure. Yeah. Have you seen the study -- I can't remember what it's called. I call it in my head the pottery study where they had three groups I want to say of students making different pieces of pottery. One group was instructed to make the best pot -- they were all instructed to make the best pots that they could. And one group was instructed to do it by taking a whole month in making one pot and just making it perfect. And the other group was the control. And then another group was to make as many pots as you can and then just pick the best one. And they repeated this in a scientific whatever controlled way. The group that just made 100 to 300 pots, they had by far objectively the best results because they just made so many, and the mistakes they made, even when they weren't trying to learn from their past mistakes, it's just like you cannot make good pottery if you've made 300 freaking pots.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:45:32] I love that study. I hadn't heard of it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:35] Check it out. I can't remember exactly what the circumstances were. But the results were the quantity that you get results in the quality that you want. You can't just -- and of course, now people are extrapolating this out to anything creative. But it makes sense, right? If you write something every day, most of it might be crap, but eventually what you're creating is going to be decent because you just made so much crap. It's a numbers game.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:45:58] And I once did an article on sort of creativity hacks and I talked to all these professors and one of them said just that. He said, even the grades like Picasso, if you look at all, he's kind of bunch -- you know, a lot of his stuff sucks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:15] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:46:17] But a lot of it is wonderful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:21] The beauty of abstract art is most of us can't tell which stuff sucks and which stuff is great. It all looks great. And then there's a couple of critics who are like, "That's the good one."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:46:30] Exactly. I can't tell the one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:32] The nose on top of the eyes is the good one. Duh?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:46:35] When I worked at Esquire, I once did a quiz. It was supposed to be the hardest quiz ever. And one of the questions was we had an abstract work of genius by an abstract painter. And then we had a painting by a monkey and a painting by an elephant and a painting by a four-year-old. And I found it very challenging.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:56] I mean that's so impossible to judge.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:47:00] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:00] I find the painting by the elephant probably to be the most impressive because monkeys are close enough to humans. A four-year-old is a human, one's an artist, and the other one is a freaking elephant with a paintbrush in its nose.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:47:13] It might have been like this rolled around and paint, but --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:16] Fair enough, fair enough.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:47:18] but still -- but yeah, I agree. The general point is, you know, you, you've got to go through hundreds of ideas to find the gems. And to me, one of the challenges which are the gems, which are the good ones, and that is -- I have a couple of strategies that I use. One is just something that I think about like in two weeks or a month, I'll think back to it and remember it and say, "You know what? That's a pretty good idea." So that's a little hint.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:53] So you use your memory as a filter for good and bad ideas?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:47:56] I use my memory and I also use people. I used to be extremely paranoid about telling people my ideas, like in the delusion that they might steal it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:07] Like, "Oh, I'm going to live biblically for a year now."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:48:09] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:11] No, thanks.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:48:11] And I suppose that occasionally that that might happen, but I think the benefits of telling people you're creating what you're working on creatively far outweigh the costs because you could see it in their face, like if they're interested.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:25] Like, "What a great idea!" Or like, "And then what are you going to do?"
A.J. Jacobs: [00:48:28] Exactly. It's really, it's the facial expression. So yeah, I find that very helpful. And also, I've noticed that a lot of creative ideas come about because you say it out loud to people and they sort of riff on it. Like I have a friend Adam Mansbach who did a Facebook post, like, I don't know, eight years ago. It was just a joke. He's like, "Oh, my kids are such a pain in the ass. I'm going to write a book called Go the Fuck to Sleep."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:01] Oh yeah, that's a huge hit.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:49:03] Yeah. But he was just joking and then all of his friends, I wish I were one of those who had written this, sort of like, "That's a great idea. You should actually do that." And he's like, "Well maybe I should." And he did it. So sometimes it just throws out there and if people react, you're like, "Well maybe I'm onto something."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:21] We'll link to that in the show is because there's a version I think on YouTube where Samuel L. Jackson is doing the voiceover and he's like, "Go the fuck to sleep." Right? It's like a nursery or a lullaby. But it's probably not something you would really use your kids. But it's hilarious because every parent, and I'm not even a parent yet, every parent goes, "Oh yeah, I need this. I just need to buy this for myself."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:49:44] Oh yeah, it's a good sanity keeper. I once had a phone call with Samuel L. Jackson. He was, I had written an article for Esquire about my sons and how like they just beat, marveling at the testosterone that they exhibited, and realizing that there really is something inborn about being male and that like, they just loved, for instance, anything that had a trigger, they just love pulling the trigger. I didn't give them real guns. I'm not really that bad parent. He optioned that to turn it into a TV show. It never happened. But I remember him on the phone being like, "I really related to that part about loving guns." And I was like, "All right, well, that's your character. I see that you live in what you--"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:38] Yeah. You were born for this role. That's interesting. He's one of those guys where I really relate to a lot of the things that he says in some way. I can't remember who was interviewing him as a long time ago and someone -- it was probably Conan O'Brien or something and he said, "You know, what's it like being a celebrity now?" And it was sort of in the upswing of his career maybe 20 plus years ago or more now. And he said, "I'm not going to lie. It's pretty awesome." Because you know, if you ask that of somebody else, they'll be like, "Oh I'm just so grateful. At last, I've got work. I mean I'm blah blah blah." He's like, "No, this is awesome. I go to buy a flight and it's sold out. And they're like, 'No, we're giving you a first-class seat because you're Samuel L. Jackson."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:17] Takes on the plane.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:18] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:19] It's probably before that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:19] It was before that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:20] That's interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:20] I think that was -- I don't know if we could say the upswing of your career when you're doing -- that was more, he was at that point where he goes, "I can do this movie because I'm already famous and no one's going to go, what the hell are you doing? Are you broke." They're just like, "Eh, he can get away."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:34] He was at the point. Yeah. He could be a self-parody and people will still think he's cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:38] Right.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:39] One of my first experiments in journalism is I was a movie star for a day and it was --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:47] How did you arrange that?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:51:49] It was freaking awesome. Well, it happened a long time ago, so right at the start of my career and there was a movie out called Shine, which was about a pianist like a who had schizophrenia and the actor who played the pianist as a young man looked exactly like me. His name is Noah Taylor.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:08] That's fortunate.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:52:10] Yeah, and he's still around and I was working at an entertainment magazine when we found out he wasn't going to the Oscars. He doesn't like that. And they're like, "What if you went to the Oscars and just pretend that the be him and see what it's like to be a movie star."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:27] I assume you did not get his permission to do this.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:52:30] Did not get his permission? I never actually said, "I'm Noah Taylor." Everyone just assumed it because I look so much like him. I had this sort of terrible haircut, which he had like this sort of, I don't know, pageboy and thick glasses at the time. It was a weird look. We rented a limo, I stepped down on the red carpet and it was like a sea of adulation. Just like, "Noah, we love you. We love you. We love you." And I would just --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:57] Wow.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:52:58] And I would sign autographs. I never signed his name. I would sign shine on. That was the name of the movie was Shine. But yeah, the non-stop adulation. It went to my head and it was A --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:12] That didn't take long.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:53:12] No, and B, I knew rationally. It wasn't for me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:17] It was fake and it was for like three hours and you're like, "I'm great. Yeah. I didn't even realize how great I was until now."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:53:24] It was very bizarre, the power of that celebrity. I mean, I remember coming back to New York, you know, even three days later, and I would be in line at the grocery and be like, what do they not know who I am? And I was like, Oh yeah, I'm nobody.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:38] Right. "I'm a magazine writer who pretended to be a guy who's not even that famous anymore."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:53:45] But it was astounding. And then people would come up to you and they confessed, like "I also had a horrible childhood." Like they would just open up because they felt they knew you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:53] Oh, wow.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:53:54] Will Smith told me he was a fan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:56] At the Oscars.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:53:58] Yeah. At the Oscars.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:59] Did you feel bad lying to Will Smith? I would feel bad lying to Will Smith.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:02] I didn't lie. Remember --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:04] You lied by omission.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:05] Yes, I did lie by omission. Now, I supposed I got over it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:08] You should have been like, "Well, you know, let's talk about it. Give me your phone number. We'll hang out."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:11] Let's do a project.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:12] Yeah, yeah. Oh, I probably wouldn't have resisted doing that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:15] And I did feel a little guilty but I knew that this guy's agent and afterwards I wrote to him and thanked him and apologized. And he said, I don't know if it's true, but he said that this actor was actually quite grateful. That I went in instead because he didn't like these awards show.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:36] Right. He basically got the best of both worlds. He didn't have to hear anybody complain about how he didn't show up but he also didn't have to go.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:43] Right. Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:44] Not bad.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:54:45] It was pretty -- the only awkward moment was Geoffrey Rush was the star of the movie. He played the same character as an old man. And I went up, I was so cocky, I went off to Geoffrey Rush during the Oscars and I had this fake Australian accent because -- but sounded more like the Lucky Charms leprechaun. It sounded nothing like Australian. And I went, "Hello, Geoffrey, it's me." And he just looked at me like, "Who the fuck are you?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:13] Security, yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:55:13] He did. He said, "I don't this guy." Because he knew the guy. So he knew I wasn't exactly --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:20] Oh man.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:55:21] So that was super awkward. But the rest of it was fantastic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:23] How did you get kicked out of the Oscars?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:55:26] Well, we had a ticket. Okay. So I was just there as supposedly a journalist. But I didn't do any interviews. I just was a star.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:33] I can see this conversation going on in the back where they're like, so here's the thing. He has a ticket. He's a journalist. He's kind of not doing the journalist thing. He's doing the thing where he's pretending to be this guy, but he's not really saying he's that guy and they're just let it go cause it's going to be way more awkward if we end up kicking out this guy who everyone thinks is this actor if he's not causing any trouble.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:55:56] Oh yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:56] Keep an eye on him.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:55:57] Well, it's interesting at the Oscars, none of the action that's actually happening in the seats. Like there's a bar and all of the stars are just mingling at the bar. So that's where you want to be. You don't want to be watching the Oscars while the Oscars is going on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:10] I've heard it's like eight hours. You can't eat. It's kind of like a tedious thing. Or that might be the Grammy's actually. I can't remember my friend Dorie Clark. I don't know if you know her.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:56:21] I love Dorie Clark.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:21] She won a Grammy and she was like, the best bit of advice I got was to bring PowerBar and food to the Grammy's because you can't move. It's so long. And I think she said something like, and don't quote me on this, but it was something like, "I don't need to do this again."
A.J. Jacobs: [00:56:38] Interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:38] Yeah. It wasn't like this glamorous, amazingness. It was kind of like, "Okay, come on already. I'm hungry and I'm sitting here in a suit and it's like cold and eight thousand more people up next." It's seven hours long.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:56:54] It's a good problem to have.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:55] I think so like, oh, sorry, you want to Grammy Dorie? Tough life. So gratitude emerges from two stages, affirmation and recognition. And how do we end up harnessing these types of things?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:57:09] What I found as I said -- and I think we all are really good at taking things for granted. So, when one of my first interviews was with a barista who works at my local coffee shop and I thanked her for the coffee and she thanked me for thanking her and I cut it off there. I was worried we'd go into an infinite loop of thanking, but I asked her, you know, what's it like to be a barista? And she said, "It's not an easy job because you are experiencing people in a very dangerous state, which is --"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:42] On caffeinated.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:57:43] On caffeinated.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:44] Pre-caffeinated.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:57:44] Pre-caffeinated. Yeah. So they are not in a good mood. By the way, she would never do this, but I did read that some baristas if you're rude to them, will give you decaf. So there's a little selfish motivation to be nice. But she said the hardest part was that people wouldn't even treat her like a human being. They would cheat her like, you know, a, an ATM machine or a kiosk or whatever. They would just look up from their phone, they would thrust their credit card out in her direction and she said that just made her feel terrible. And I realized when she's telling me this like I've done that dozens of times.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:27] Sure.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:58:27] Yeah. And it spoke to that second part, the affirmation, recognizing that someone else was doing something for you and affirming it. And so I'm not expecting a, a Nobel Peace Prize, but I did make a pledge that when I deal with a human being, while they're still humans in the service sector, I'm going to look that person in the eye, make eye contact and say thank you. And it's actually like we talked about before, it's a two-way street. It's good for that other person to be recognized as human, but we are programmed for face-to-face interaction and it actually makes you feel better. So there is a selfish motivation for looking someone in the eyes saying, thank you or saying -- this was an interesting study. Wharton did a study that found that even as mixing up the words thank and throwing in like I'm grateful is actually more effective. If you write a thank you note to a potential employer that says I'm grateful instead of thank you that you will get a higher response rate. So anyway, mixing it up --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:39] Because thank you so cliche now. That it's just losing meaning in written form or what?
A.J. Jacobs: [00:59:43] That's it, that is sort of a --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:45] I can believe that.
A.J. Jacobs: [00:59:45] -- reflex. It doesn't mean anything, but if you're more specific, when I write thank-you notes, I try to be very specific, you know, thank you for the coffee and the zarf.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:00] Zarf?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:04] Zarf is my favorite word I learned in this.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:07] What is that?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:08] Z-A-R-F is the official name for the cardboard sleeve that goes over your coffee cup.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:14] The java jacket?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:15] It is the java jacket. That's the brand name. That is the brand name that they were the inventors of but the zarf goes back to like ancient China when they had like gold zarfs for the year emperor.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:26] Oh, so that's not just like a word that came out in 1998.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:30] No, it's an Arabic word.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:31] Wow. It does sound Arabic.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:33] Yeah. There you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:33] I thought it was his play on the words like scarf and something else.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:37] I like that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:37] But it's not.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:38] Nope, just coincidence.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:39] Huh.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:00:39] But anyway, yeah, trying to be specific in your thanks. And again, there's a selfish motivation, it makes me feel better.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:50] That's fine. I'm fine. Look, if it helps me and it helps the listeners here and the viewers, then I'm fine with it. Like also helping someone else. That's fine. If the side effect is other people feel good, then great. But gratitude is, as you note in the book, gratitude is hard to keep up with sometimes because when things are done for us, well, they're kind of invisible a lot at a time. Like great service at a restaurant, you're just like, "Oh, that was enjoyable." But you don't think like they nailed this from the beginning that I wasn't too cold. The food came in just the right amount of time. It was quiet in there. The waitress is polite or the server was polite and they gave everything in the right way and the seat was comfortable. Then that's like -- you don't make a comment.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:01:32] No, you don't. I mean I was thinking about this, watching the Super Bowl the other day, those poor refs -- no one ever -- actually Tony Romo did say on one, he said, "That was a good call." You just don't hear that often because like the refs are invisible until they screw up and then they're the most hated person.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:52] What's this guy even doing here. Making the 99 percent of the rest of the game roll smoothly.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:01:58] Exactly. So yeah, when something is done well we don't even think about it. And that was another big lesson of the book was that there are all these masterpieces around us that we totally take for granted. One of my favorite interviews was with this guy who designed the lid for my coffee cup, a little plastic lid. And I loved it because I have given zero --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:23] Turns any cup into a sippy cup. That kind of thing. That lid, right?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:02:27] No. Was that what it is?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:29] Oh, isn't it -- it's got the little sippy part and there's a hole and then there's a hole on the other side so air can go in. So you don't have that --
A.J. Jacobs: [01:02:35] Oh no. That's a different one. I mean, I'm grateful for that too. But this guy, he was very, very innovative. He was sort of like the Elon Musk of lid designers. Maybe a little more emotionally stable, but still very innovative. And his theory was a lid can ruin your cup of coffee because it blocks the aroma and aroma is such a part of the experience. So he made sure that he shaped the lids so that you could really burrow your nose in. Like it's got this sort of indentation for your nose and a bigger hole in the middle. And he even talked about the shape of the opening for the mouth. It's like this special crescent shape, so the liquid came out smoothly and it was hilarious because he could've gone on for eight hours. He was so passionate and it made me realize that there are all these, these amazing designs that we take for granted, and that people put years of their life on it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:37] It's like 99 percent invisible coffee lid edition.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:03:40] Exactly. I love that show and it was the same message. And I started to notice that all the time, like my desk lamp at work. It's got this little indentation for my thumb on the on/off switch. It just makes it more comfortable, like one percent more comfortable but still, the tiny aggregations of all these little things that make our lives better are totally taken for granted.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:09] Yeah, the amount of time that goes into these things especially because there were probably thousands of lid prototypes and we're just like, "Yeah, this is just a lid."
A.J. Jacobs: [01:04:16] Oh yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:16] It's a trivial part of the experience.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:04:19] I mean I spent like three days reading about the history of lids and all the patents. There are lids that turned different colors depending on your coffee.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:28] Do you ever think, good thing, I'm a writer and researcher, I'd never get any work done. You had to make this stuff your job or you would just be screwed, man.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:04:36] Oh no it is. I mean that's the one thing that is dangerous about -- I think probably as a podcast or you feel the same way. Like you know, you could spend a week on just researching lids and you never get anything. Like you know, any gap you have with interesting people you could spend.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:53] Yeah like your whole life turns into the blog by Tim Urban, Wait But Why, where it's like, "Oh, this post ended up being 32 pages long because there's an 18-page text box about the construction and design of coffee lids that goes on and took me six months to create." And you're just like, "Good thing this is your job."
A.J. Jacobs: [01:05:13] Exactly. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:15] You'd be in serious trouble. Gratitude is contagious also in a way, right? Because people who are helped by others are more likely to help other people and pay it forward. Is that from your experience?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:05:26] I mean there was some very interesting article on Op-Ed in the New York Times about the dangers of gratitude because every good thing has its downside. This woman was very concerned that if you are too grateful, you become complacent. She thought saw it as like this right-wing conspiracy. Walmart will tell the workers, be grateful for your minimum wage job. Just be grateful that you have a job at all.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:55] Positive thinking keeps them docile.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:05:57] Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:58] Whatever.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:05:58] The opiate of the masses, but it turns out the research says that that is not the way it plays out in real life, but actually the more grateful you are, the more you want to pay it forward, the more you want to help others. And I've seen this anecdotally. I've battled depression and when I'm in a depressed mood, I am not looking out for other people. Like all I care about is getting out of the depression. So this idea of being grateful makes you want to pay it forward. And I thought to play out in small ways. One was just the idea of water. The coffee is 98.8 percent water. So I went up to the New York reservoir system to thank them for giving us water and I couldn't believe hundreds of people make our water possible. And it's just this crazy, miraculous fact that we can turn on a little metal spigot and get clean water. And how, this is not something that was true for 99 percent of our human history, still not true for billions of people who have to walk miles for water. So it made me think like this is something I should think more about and how can I provide access to water for other people. So it made me get involved in this water charity. And again, I'm not expecting Nobel Prize, but it was just a real perspective shift, just the idea. I tell my kids, you know, the cliche about is the glass half full or half-empty? I say that I think that might be the wrong way to look at it. It's the fact that there's water in that glass at all, that we can turn on this little lever and have clean water. That's crazy. That's crazy. So we should --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:56] In multiple places in your house, like, "Oh, I don't want to have to go all the way upstairs." "Good. There are three options downstairs for me to get water.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:08:02] I know. It's amazing.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:05] Yeah. We never think about that?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:08:07] Unheard in human history.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:10] I want to make sure we separate the idea of gratitude versus just positive sinking in like this kind of BS self-help stuff. How are the two concepts different? Because it really is different than just positive thinking for the sake of it.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:08:24] Yeah, as we talked about delusional optimism can sometimes be good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:29] Right.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:08:31] I like that gratitude is two way. So, you know, you're, you're, you're making yourself feel better, but you're also thanking someone else and making their lives better. And also, to me, the main drawback of positive thinking is when you believe that just by positive thinking you can make something happen. Like the secret, you know, that if you think positively than your cancer will go away, which I think is a terrible thing because then if cancer doesn't go away, you're putting the blame on the person. "Oh, you just weren't positive. You weren't optimistic enough. It's your fault that you're dying." So, to me, that's the big danger of positive thinking, the pseudoscience. But gratitude, I think there's enough scientific backup that it's good for both parties but there's a very little downside that I can see.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:25] What kind of big experiment are you working on or looking at next?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:09:30] Well, one thing is as part of this book, I applied to sort of market it. I said that I would write a thousand thank you notes to readers of my articles and books.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:41] Oh wow.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:09:41] And that turned out, you know, it sounded good, but a thousand is a shit load.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:46] It's like three a day for the year?
A.J. Jacobs: [01:09:50] I tried to write 10 or 15 a day and it is like --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:09:53] Wow.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:09:53] -- time consuming. In one sense I love it because just the feedback I've gotten from people who -- they tell me what to write in their thank you notes. I set it up on the Internet. So it's really good to see what connects with people, what parts of the book that's very helpful. And you get that with your --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:15] I do. I never thought about it as getting -- as writing a thank you -- because I do reply to everything. Sometimes it takes me two months, but I will reply to everything and I'll be like, "Oh thanks for listening. Are you doing this? What part did you like about that?" Maybe I should think about it as a gratitude practice instead of the chore of going through and answering all my emails.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:10:34] There you go!
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:34] That way it kills two birds with one stone.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:10:37] Exactly. I mean it's good -- but yeah, it's great to research but hugely time-consuming. So that has delayed me a little. I'm particularly interested in the idea of fake news and truth and how we know what we know. How do I know that? Even the most basic thing like, how do I know that you are a human and not some sort of--
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:01] I don't even know. And if I did, I probably wouldn't say anything. I would kind of defeat the purpose of being a really well-crafted robot or whatever.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:09] Exactly. You are good. You are really good.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:12] Are we going to go down the fact-check route where you're like, "Well, you know, I fact-checked this article, but then I had to fact-check the fact-checker and then I had to fact-check what I found."
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:20] That's exactly it. You got it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:22] That's interesting.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:23] You got it. Yeah, you can --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:26] I'm trying to think of the -- is it going to be like fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake news? I don't know.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:33] I like that. I haven't decided on that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:34] That's terrible. It doesn't even make sense for what you're doing, but --
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:37] Real, real, real, real news.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:40] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:41] To me, that's my obsession right now, just because I think if we can't agree on truth, then it's going to be hard to solve the big problems.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:52] That's a deeply philosophical, that's like a Sam Harris level question.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:11:56] There you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:56] What is truth? And it's like Q three hour debate with Jordan Peterson. Never getting to any point or any conclusion.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:03] I listen to that. That was a tough episode.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:05] It was one of those where I went, all right, Sam, I'm going to listen to the next one, but you're losing me here buddy.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:12] He redeemed himself though. He admitted it was not -- that is one thing I like about Sam and other thinkers are when they say, "That didn't work."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:21] Yeah.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:21] And I love to say that about my own work, you know, that and that, that might be part of this new book is, you know, just going back and fact-checking my old books and saying, okay, this does not hold up because I think it's important. I listen to Bo -- what's the name of the guy who directed Eighth Grade? Bo --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:41] Bo Burnham.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:43] Burnham.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:43] He's a genius.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:43] I love him. But one of the favorite things he said, I think, it was Fresh Air. He likes to go back and critique his old work and disown a lot of it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:56] That sounds very familiar.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:12:57] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:58] People go, "Oh, you know, your stuff is great. I've been listening for years." And I'm just like, I'm almost embarrassed because I go, "Oh gosh, you heard stuff I made four years ago. It was awful. All of it was just universally terrible." Which is true but --
A.J. Jacobs: [01:13:12] Not true. But also great that you can say that because I think it shows evolution.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:17] I heard David Letterman used to watch every single show that he did every night and then just spend like three hours beating himself up, which sounds kind of unhealthy.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:13:26] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:27] But I think a lot of comedians do that.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:13:28] There's a mix. I know Meryl Streep watches herself and critiques herself. My grandfather was funny because he had a trick he would always play for his friends who were in show business and he would say, even if he hadn't seen the show, he would say go up to them and say, "Oh, I saw the show last night. What happened?" Just with that tone and they would always go off. Like, "I know, can you believe that lighting guys screwed up the cue." And that is an example of the negative bias that we're talking about like we focus on -- but probably 98 percent of the audience didn't notice and had a great time.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:08] Yeah. Because of course what, what you could do, "What happened?" "I know can you believe everything worked out like clockwork?" That never happens and the guest was phenomenal. We're just thinking about that one thing.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:14:19] So I have to tell me what I did wrong that sticks in our mind.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:23] I can't even -- I don't even think about that stuff in real-time -- unless if I had to narrate this thing that's bothering me right now, it'd be like all this background noise that nobody noticed until now. Tell me – this will probably end up as a clip, but the time that you ended up playing mafia with a bunch of A-listers in New York.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:14:44] Oh yeah. I was working with Esquire magazine and I interviewed David Blaine who I love. We were talking earlier because you've interviewed magicians. A lot of times magicians, they are best at interacting through their magic. So it was a challenging interview because you know, he would rather just show me card trips than talk about his childhood, but after the interview, we got along enough that he's like, "Come on over. We're going to play a game at my friend, Ed's house." And the game was Werewolf, which is like a mafia. And the idea is you have 20 people in a group and one of them is the bad guy, the assassin, or the werewolf. And you have to just by asking questions, figure out who the bad guy is. So I got there and his friend, Ed's house. It was Ed Norton.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:33] Right. Awesome. American History X. Well--
A.J. Jacobs: [01:15:36] Like one of the best actors working today. It was like everywhere I look, oh, there's Seth Rogen, there's Paul Rudd, there's Danny DeVito. I'm like, oh my Lord. And here I was a journalist and this game is all about acting. So it was a worst-case scenario.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:54] So you're screwed.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:15:56] Yeah, it was terrible because I remember it turned out in the end that Ed Norton was the werewolf, the bad guy, but he was so brilliantly convincing. You know, he's an Academy Award-nominated or winning actor. He was like, "If you pick me as the werewolf, you are a fucking idiot." I was so intimidated. I was like, "Okay, you're not the werewolf. You are definitely not." He was the werewolf.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:21] Of course.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:16:25] I was so outmatched. It was humiliating but wonderful. It's like playing NBA basketball with like LeBron James, just watching.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:39] Yeah. Except for you're in the game instead of just sitting courtside.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:16:42] Well, that's it. Yeah. You're going to be humiliated but just being able to see what they do to mess with your mind -- it was a fantastic experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:16:52] This is such I suppose Seinfeldian thought, but like how often can those people possibly even get together in one room? All of them are extremely busy. I guess when I was growing up in Michigan, I just thought like famous people hanging out at the same clubs, the same restaurants, the same bars with the same friends, maybe, but I am nowhere near that tier and I barely have time to do anything. So to get all of them together in one room to play Werewolf seems just impossible.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:17:18] I know. I think about that too. But I think part of it is, you know, all of these like the music mogul who goes out every night to clubs and I'm like, "What? You know, I don't go." But I think that's like their office. They held meetings there. Like they do business. So maybe that's it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:35] Especially in New York. You go to the Comedy Cellar with Justin Silver -- a friend of mine is a comic -- and back when he was just getting started we were friends. We showed up at the Comedy Cellar and I want to say it was -- like I look 10 feet to my right. And I was like, "Is that Chris Rock or a guy that just looks like Chris Rock?" And no one's bothering him at all. And he's like, "Yeah, but we can't go sit at that table because that's the table where Chris Rock sits with the Louis C.K. or something. There's a reason there are empty seats there.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:18:05] Interesting.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:05] Because you don't just go, "Hey guys, what's going on?" And they're like, "Ah, hey man, you haven't sort of earned the seed at this table." And I just thought, "But I'm a patron. Don't dumb people like me go up and sit there." And he's like, "No." "Because they're intimidated." And they go, "It's Chris Rock, I'm not going to do that." And I thought, "What would happen if I just did that?"
A.J. Jacobs: [01:18:24] That's a good experiment. Did you try it?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:26] Yeah. And he was kind of like, "Look, man, you're here with me. Do not go sit at that table." Because I guess it's like, you know, then they go, "Hey man, control your friend over here."
A.J. Jacobs: [01:18:35] Right.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:36] Probably it wouldn't have happened, but I don't think it would've made him look good. So I decided that I got to respect others here.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:18:41] I love it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:42] Yeah. But you see that I was upstairs having coffee. Jen left to go set up the lights down here and I went that's the guy from Entourage just sitting down in his gym clothes right next to -- well Entourage is a bunch of movies. Adrian Grenier, he's a director. Just sitting there. And I was like, "Oh." And no one's bugging him. Clearly, everybody knew who he was, especially in New York. And I just thought, you know, I kind of want to be like, "Hey, I love all your stuff." But that just seems so trite. There was no point. So I decided against it and I realized this is probably the process a lot of people go through.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:19:12] Well, you should tell him your cousin. That's what I would do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:14] That's the end.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:19:15] One of my favorite -- when I met Amy Poehler because I had a friend who was friends with her and she looked at me and she was like, "We've met before, right?" "We haven't," but it made me feel so good that she was like, "Oh yeah, I recognize you. You were in our circle." So probably, she was totally -- she says that to everyone.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:38] She's like, "You're the guy from that movie where you're the schizophrenia piano player. I saw you at the Oscars."
A.J. Jacobs: [01:19:43] Gee, I wish she'd said, but it is good, I think that is a good strategy. We met because it's like, who's going to object?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:50] That is pretty good. And then it's like, "No, we haven't." "Well, how do you know?"
A.J. Jacobs: [01:19:54] Exactly. I remember our interaction. You have forgotten it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:19:58] How do you find if you're a cousin or we're all cousins, so it's just the safest thing you can say.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:20:07] Yes. I mean, when I was doing that project, it was crazy. I got photographs with, you know, dozens of celebrities just by using that line. The idea was I'm not just here to take advantage of you. I told them the message of the book, which was, that we're all cousins. So maybe we shouldn't be such assholes to each other and as long as you have a positive message, then they are willing. If it's all about you like I just want a photo with a celebrity.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:39] Right, it's all about you.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:20:39] Then they're not going to do it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:40] And if it's Larry David, he goes, "Oh, I don't feel like it right now. I'm walking." I've seen that happen in real life. And I went, "Wow, he's just really that guy." And the woman who was with him, like, "Larry, just do it." And he's like, "I don't want to, I'm walking." I'm like, it's weird. It's a weird request. And my friend who asked for the photo is just like thrilled because he's getting a real-life performance of exactly what Larry David would say.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:21:03] I mean, he is one of the luckiest people in the world because people want him to be an asshole. They want him to be rude, so he can act as much of a dick as he wants. I remember once I was walking with a Conan O'Brien and who is a lovely man and not like Larry David. But one thing he told me the secret was, "You know, people are so primed, they have this bias that he's a funny guy, so they're going to laugh. Once you get to that level, you can, whenever you say they're going to laugh." So he would make up non-sense syllables in an experiment and they'd be like, "Hey Conan." And he would go, "Squiggly do," and they'd be like, "Ha-ha-ha."
Jordan Harbinger: [01:21:47] Yeah, of course. That's magical.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:21:50] It says a lot about, yeah, once you get to that level, like the positive bias is so strong that people are, you know, going -- which I'm sure is a dangerous cause that's when you get psychotic delusion that you can be president or whatever.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:09] That's right. Conan for president.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:22:12] I would definitely vote for him.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:13] I think. Yeah. Given the selection, we've got currently depending on when this airs then yeah, why not.
A.J. Jacobs: [01:22:18] There you go.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:20] A.J., Thank you very much.
[01:22:22] So great episode, Jason. He's funny because he's such a uniquely strange dude, but he's very, when you meet him, what you see is what you get. There is no kind of like, "Oh, he's being extra weird for the book." Like he's really a cool guy, super smart. Obviously, he's brilliant and you can just imagine his whole life is kind of like what he writes about in his books.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:22:44] Yeah, I've read all his books and he is definitely a character. I would definitely like to meet him someday and hopefully not while he is in the middle of an experiment though. I want to catch him on an off time, you know?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:54] Right. Like Oh, this experiment is where I punch everybody that I meet in the face at least once. The first time I meet them. I mean, who knows, he's got all kinds of -- he said, "Oh the next book's going to be even more weird." And I was like, "Can you give me a sneak peek?" And he's like, "No." And I'm like, "All right, well cool. Thanks for that." But he said, "No, it's not because of you." It's because some nature of the experiment doesn't allow people to know what it is. So who knows what's going on?
Jason DeFillippo: [01:23:19] I wait with bated breath for the next book.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:21] I know. Me too. Great big thank you to A.J. Jacobs. That book again is called Thanks a Thousand.
[01:23:27] And if you want to know how we managed to book all these great people, manage our networks using systems and tiny habits, we've got a free course for you, Six-Minute Networking. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And I know you'll do it later, right? You don't have time right now. Look, it's six minutes a day. I don't believe your excuses. Kicking the can down the road. You cannot make up for the lost time when it comes to relationships and networking. I see people postpone this all the time and then they write like, "I don't have time to dig the well right now." It's like, "Yeah, I know. I know you don't." That's how this works. This is the stuff I wish I knew a decade ago, not fluff, in fact, crucial. And that's all at jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking to building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from A.J. Jacobs. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, and there's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube.
[01:24:18] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne and this episode was co-produced by Jason "Double Mocha Latte Chino" DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty. And I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Remember, we rise by lifting others, so the fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and those you don't. Lots more in the pipe. Very excited to bring it to you. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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