Sometimes life feels anything but awesome. Neil Pasricha understands this.
“In my late twenties, my wife left me and my best friend took his own life. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I lost forty pounds due to stress,” wrote Pasricha in Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together.
Knowing he needed to somehow come back to himself, he sought therapy twice a week. He also started to jot down everyday moments that brought him some measure of happiness. For 1000 weekdays straight, Pasricha captured his quirky, sarcastic, plainspoken essays about easily overlooked pleasures in a blog called, quite literally, 1000 Awesome Things.
Initially, the attempt to see life through the lens of awe was a challenge. “My mind was dark and many of my attempts were duds,” recalls Pasricha. His premier essay, dedicated to broccoflower, described it as the “strange mutant hybrid child of nature’s ugliest vegetables.”
But something resonated. The blog steadily drew dozens and then hundreds and eventually millions of followers. Amid the financial instability and ongoing war of 2008 (sound familiar?), there was pleasure to be found in the simplest of moments. Readers from around the world wanted to be reminded of things like “warm underwear out of the dryer, the smell of bakery air, when cashiers open new checkout lanes at the grocery store, getting called up to the dinner buffet first at a wedding, and playing on old, dangerous playground equipment,” wrote Pasricha.
A year after he started blogging, The Guardian described Pasricha’s work as a reminder that “life really is awesome after all.” That same year, Pasricha accepted the coveted Webby Award for Best Blog in the World. The following year, his collected essays were published as The Book of Awesome, which remained on The New York Times international bestseller list for more than 200 weeks.
Three years after thinking he had lost everything, Pasricha stood onstage at a TEDx conference and talked for eighteen inspiring minutes about how to create an awesome life. Alternating between seriousness and humor, he shared the necessity of being more intentional with your attitude, your awareness, and your authenticity. The resulting Ted Talk, voted as one of the ten most inspiring of all time, has been viewed by more than three million users to date. Pasricha was, in a way, proof of his assertion.
That was just the beginning of reminding us how to find the awe in everyday moments.
Pasricha has spent the last many years studying the neuroscience of awe as well as the science of us. Our tendencies. Our everyday awarenesses. Our attention and where we allow it to linger. Our habits that preclude us from experiencing more awe.
He can recite with rapid-fire ease statistics that indicate Americans spend only seven percent of our time outside. That 59% of us have read zero books in the last year. That we touch our electronic devices hundreds of times a day. That the apps on those devices engage us by drawing on billions of dollars of research. That five years ago we spent three hours a day staring at those apps. That we currently log five and a half hours a day.
We are inundated by infinite distractions. Things that entertain us and that might seem to foster social connection but that actually distance us from the everyday experience of life—and of awe. Still, readers have continued to share their collected moments of awe with him, to the tune of more than 15,000 submissions in the 15 years since he started his blog. “I’ve never had a single submission about social media” says Pasricha. “Not one. But I get lots of stuff about a note in the mail or a call from a friend.”
It’s not the medium, he explains. It’s the message. Consider it the difference between standing outside at night, pausing to take in the moon, asking someone else to do the same, and receiving a reply that conveyed they, too, stood and stared into the night. There’s a world of difference between that and sharing a meme about the moon, becoming distracted seconds later, and absentmindedly giving their reply a thumbs up a day later.
Pasricha describes his attempt to remind folks to recognize awe as being “meant to bathe us all in a big awesome pool and maybe offer us an awesome lens.” That awesome lens, according to research, can reduce stress and inflammation, minimize self-aggrandization, enhance our sense of connection, and render us more creative, compassionate, and altruistic. In other words, awe makes us better humans.
That lens, in turn, makes us more likely to seek out more awe in other everyday moments. And what is life but a string of everyday moments?
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There are no rules around things that incur awe. “Awesome things can be simple, free, universal, snappy, idiosyncratic, nostalgic, silly, joyous, poignant, or even bittersweet,” explains Pasricha, who “thinks, writes, and speaks about intentional living.” Life, research, and sorting through all those submissions from readers has taught Pasricha that awe can be found in things that are unexpected or mundane, innately pleasurable or the surprisingly absent of something dreaded.
He collected some of the most evocative moments in his latest book, Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together. It’s 432 pages of crowdsourced awe. Here’s a sampling.
1. When the cars around you change lanes at the same time like a car ballet
2. Finally unsubscribing from that annoying email you’ve been getting forever
3. Putting a couple easy things on your to-do list just so you can enjoy crossing them off
4. When your pet falls asleep on you
5. Carrying the ice cube tray from the sink to the freezer without spilling. You’re on a tightrope between towers. Your long waggly stick is short, plastic, and full of water. Your wind-bouncing high wire in the sky is the orange and brown linoleum between the sink and the fridge. Crowds line the streets below and you steal a glimpse of wide-eyed children sucking lollipops, an old lady chewing her fingers, and a priest whispering while making silent crosses on his chest. Pause, close your eyes, take a deep breath. Stare up to the ceiling and take it step by step by step. A bit closer, a bit closer, a tip right, a slip left…and you’re there! The crowd roars as you step onto the building ledge, open the freezer door, and carefully set down the tray. Say goodbye to kitchen puddles, wet feet, and lopsided half-filled cubes. Say hello—or welcome back—to AWESOME!
6. Feeling like Han Solo in hyperdrive when you flip your high beams on during a snowfall
7. Watching all the letters flip at an old train station
8. Taking a shot of whipped cream from the can when no one’s looking
9. Eating a taco without anything falling out
10. Sneaking out of the house late at night just to admire a full moon
11. Humming the Rocky theme song whenever you’re running up a long flight of stairs
12. A whole day by yourself to read
13. When the garbage trucks goes past your house blaring “Roxanne” by The Police at full volume
14. Laugh lines. Since skin creases will wedge into cracks and corners throughout our lives, we’ve only got two real choices on living with them: love ’em or let ’em bother you. And if you choose option two, it’s a world of fancy creams and face stretching for you. No, I say get used to them. Love your wrinkles! Forehead wrinkles, cheek wrinkles, chin wrinkles: we will have them all. Life will still be a ball and we’ll just be telling the world we lived it.
There’s something especially beautiful about laugh-line wrinkles. I’m talking about the ones in your dimples when you smile, the crow’s-feet in the corners of your eyes, and all the little grooves that appear on your chuckling face-scrunching forehead. Laugh lines are a sign you have lived and lived well. Congratulations on laughing your whole life. AWESOME!
15. Sending a private message during the video conference and then seeing your coworker look down and silently smirk. It’s like passing notes in third grade. AWESOME!
16. The Sniff Test. Works on underwear, milk, and babies. If it smells bad, it’s bad. If it smells good, it’s AWESOME!
17. When the cat helps you find your keys
18. Watching a dog eat peanut butter
19. When the free Wi-Fi doesn’t require a log-in
20. The sound of the needle hitting the record. We didn’t used to stream. After saving money mowing lawns, shoveling driveways, or delivering papers, we’d head down to the record shop on Main Street. Metal bars crisscrossed the door, a rusty newspaper stand holding concert listings was just inside, and as you walked in a tattooed guy standing behind an old counter covered in hundreds of band stickers somehow nodded at you without making eye contact while some Rolling Stones B side or jazz album you’d never heard before played in the background. You walked down the creaky, thin-planked hardwood floors and began flipping through endless plastic-wrapped piles until you found the record you knew you would be taking home that day. Back in your bedroom you used your teeth to poke a hole in the corner of the tight shrink-wrap, even though your mom always told you not to. Or maybe you used your fingernails to rip a very, very tiny hole in the corner and then expanded that into a very tiny hole and then expanded that into a tiny hole, which then allowed you to stick your finger in and rip it all off. Next you pulled the record out of its sturdy cardboard sleeve and then gently rolled it out of that very thin white paper so that it was finally in your hands—naked, pure, ready. Did you stop to stare in wonder at how all those tiny grooves could hold all those pianos, drums, and guitars?
After you set it down over the tiny metal nub sticking out of the rubber turntable mat you lifted the arm of the record player and carefully set it down on the grooves. That’s when it happened. The sound of the needle hitting the record is the sound of a magical music moment about to happen. It’s the shotgun before the race, the lightning before the thunder, or the big lion roaring before the movie begins. It’s the sound of waiting, the sound of saving, and the crackly sound of imperfection opening the way…into a perfect day. AWESOME!
21. When your kids don’t hear you opening a bag of potato chips. You wouldn’t like salt and vinegar anyway, honey. I’m eating this whole bag for us both. AWESOME!
22. Farting in the bathtub
23. Leaving your house really late and somehow still getting there on time
24. When someone finally suggests the perfect nickname for your car
25. A long awkward silence followed by everyone laughing
26. No-questions-asked return policies
27. That one huge exploding firework that covers the whole sky
28. When you thought you lost your glasses and then find them on the top of your head
29. Throwing non-ball objects to people. Why walk? Tossing something from a distance saves you an annoying six-second commute around the kitchen counter and since we evolved the ability to suddenly hear someone scream before turning to see something flying right at our face, it’s good practice to keep the skills fresh. Just remember to start with the basics and move your way up the chain.
Level 1: Apples and oranges. Fruit is a low-risk starting point. Drop an orange? No big deal. And that rolling grapefruit is just as juicy and delicious as before. Spongy brown dent in your apple? Completely edible. Now, I will say getting beaned with a banana stem could leave a mark, but that just means next time you’re hanging with the guys down at the rollerskating rink you can earn some toughness points by just pointing at your shredded forehead and nodding slowly.
Level 2: Keys. There’s a lot to grab onto here so this is still the minor leagues of throwing and catching non-ball objects. Fingers stabbing through rings, jingly keys catching on wild fingers, no problem, piece of cake. Just be sure you don’t underestimate the surprise aerodynamics of a mini-flashlight, garage door opener, or squishy-ball key chain. No shame in using two hands.
Level 3: Phones. Phones are the perfect size and weight for throwing but they include the side risk of shattering the screen into a thousand pieces. I recommend starting in front of cushion-covered couches and working up to across-the-busy-highway when you’re ready. No need to rush it.
Level 4: Unopened cans of soda / bottles of beer. Pulling out an ice-cold can of soda from the bottom of the melted freezing water in the backyard baby-blue cooler is a great start. Whipping it across the deck to your thirsty friend is a great finish. There is some explosion risk, but when you’re in the big leagues you’re in the big leagues. Time to sidearm a glass bottle of root beer across the deck or go home. If you’re not ready, go back to clementines.
Level 5: Raw eggs and water balloons. Company picnics, family reunions, and summer camps are the height of tossing non-ball objects to people. But if you climbed the other four levels before getting here, I’m pretty sure you won’t be the one covered in salmonella. No need to thank me. Remember: you got here yourself. Now, if you master level 5, you’re ready for the Masters program, which includes The Over-The-Campfire Beer Grab, Front-To-BackOf-The-Van Hamburger Toss, and Reverse-Angle Cat Snag. Tossing non-ball objects to people is such a great high. A brief second of air-sailing fun in the middle of your day. AWESOME!
30. Dancing in the rain and not the light rain but the kind that leaves your hair and clothes completely drenched and makes you feel like you’re a part of nature
31. Eating the part of the cookie that fell in the milk
32. Your grandma’s basement
33. When the power comes back on after a sudden blackout
34. Typing in the correct website address before the wrong one loads
35. The soft insides of a brand new sweatshirt
36. When you open your eyes in the morning and can tell by the color of the light in the room that it snowed last night
37. Driving on a highway at full speed while everyone going the other way is completely backed up
38. Seeing your parents dance
39. Fixing electronics by smacking them
40. Catching someone checking you out
41. Discovering someone who loves the same obscure band that you do
42. When the hold music at the pharmacy somehow hits you right in the heart
43. When restaurants put ice in the urinal
44. Watching a film for two hours without any inclination of the twist at the end and then having the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and thinking about it for days after
45. Racking up good traffic karma by letting trucks merge in front of you on the highway and then speeding past a traffic cop later and nothing happens
46. When you’ve got little kids and your partner takes them out for the morning so you can have a long sleep-in and you hear them saying, “Be quiet, don’t wake mommy” right before you fall back asleep
47. Getting ready for a night out on da town
48. The beginning of being in love when you can’t go five minutes without talking to each other and everything else in your life suddenly seems less important
49. Talking and laughing and joking in bed after having sex
50. The overly expressive faces of small children, especially when they’re pouting or surprised
51. When you finally get the words right to the fast part of a song
52. Squeezing under an umbrella with a stranger
53. The sound of your dog’s collar jingling as he comes running to meet you at the front door
54. Waking up to the sound of rain in the middle of the night
55. When an illuminated sign has a few blown bulbs and the remaining letters make a dirty word
56. Deleting hundreds of unopened junk emails simultaneously
57. Finding out that someone you have the hots for has them for you, too
58. Calling shotgun for the long car trip
59. Paying all the bills and having money left over
60. Opening the pickle jar on your first try
61. Singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of your lungs at Fenway Park on a warm sunny day with 35,000 rowdy happy fans
62. Successful communication between two people who speak absolutely none of each other’s language
63. When you order fries and they make a fresh batch
64. Skipping rocks on a quiet morning at a calm lake
65. Finding a long lost childhood toy that’s been hiding under several boxes in the basement
66. Driving through a deep puddle at a good clip
67. Getting bagels that are still hot from the oven
68. Keeping all the cotton balls from the tops of medicine bottles and never having to buy cotton balls
69. Winking at someone and them completely understanding what to do
70. Somehow correctly guessing your old password while logging into a website you haven’t used in forever
71. When you’re at a concert and the band is between songs and someone at the back yells out “FREEEEEBIRRRRD!!!”
72. When the ‘delivered’ notification pops up under the text and you see the three dots pop up right away
73. Reading a list of awesome things and then making your own list.