An Interview With Neil Pasricha Of 1000 Awesome Things
I’ve been talking about 1000 Awesome Things for a long time now. I don’t remember when I first mentioned the site on galadarling.com, but the traffic boost from nonpareils rushing over there inspired the author — Neil — to send me an email.
Our friendship grew from there, with fantastic email exchanges, long, laughter-laden phonecalls & eventually culminated in me making a trip to Toronto, where I stayed in his apartment for a couple of weeks. We had a truly awesome time, staying up late talking about writing, sharing tubs of ice-cream & encouraging one another to do ridiculous things. He is really smart & inquisitive, with contagious enthusiasm for life — aka great company. I am extremely fond of him!
Neil’s website has gone from strength to strength, first winning a prestigious Webby award & then securing a book deal. His book, entitled The Book of Awesome: Snow Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things, came out yesterday. I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy, & it is just as great as you’d think. I love it.
I wish Neil & I could have sat down & filmed this interview, since we have really sparky chemistry which I think would be interesting to watch. Alas, he is in Canada & I am in New York, so it was not to be. Maybe when he releases his next book!
You have such a knack for positivity. I noticed this when I stayed with you — you’re always looking for the good in life, it’s absolutely one of your most amazing qualities. Have you always been that way? Is it something you learned from your parents or did you cultivate it yourself?
Well, I honestly don’t know that I’m more or less positive than the next person. I mean, I think we all have the ability to be positive, to be awesome, and to focus on the good. For me I try and remember 3 A’s:
i) Attitude. Life’s not always pretty — whether it’s buzz saws chopping forests, bombers blowing up bridges, or unemployment rates zooming sky high, it’s just really heavy. And a lot of us have personal issues on top. I mean, for me over the course the site’s been running I’ve had my best friend take his own life and my wife decide to live hers somewhere else. And I sorta think that we’ve always got an attitude option in dark times: wallow in gloom and doom forever or grieve and face the future with newly sober eyes. Being awesome means you’ve got that moving forward and moving on attitude.
ii) Awareness. I love hanging out with three-year-olds. Honestly, I just love the way they see the world — whether it’s staring slack-jawed at their first football game, leaning over a worm on the sidewalk, or grabbing a handful of dandelions for the living room vase. I love how full of wonder they are when they’re seeing the world for the first time. I think being awesome and being optimistic is about seeing the wonder in the little things and just remembering we’re the only species on the only life-giving rock with so many awesome things around us — whether it’s guitar jams, candied hams, foreign architecture, local agriculture, Grandma hugs, or sidewalk slugs.
3) Authenticity. Being you and being cool with it. It’s your Radical Self Love message, Gala. I really think when we come into our own skin and let ourselves be ourselves we end up experiencing so much richness. We go where we want, say what we want, do what we want — and by doing that we have great conversations, meet folks we find interesting, and form great connections.
Do you write down awesome things as you think of them? Is there an awesome spreadsheet? How do you keep it organised?
Ha ha, I wish! I’ve actually got a giant pile of old receipts, scrap papers, and bus transfers sitting beside my computer with awesome things written on them. I’ve also got a running memo pad in my cell phone and bits and pieces floating around my email. I am definitely not a study in organization. I say once again for effect: You can learn nothing from me on this subject. (Honestly, I envy your Moleskine list-making-and-crossing-out nature. I’m the guy with a bunch of notebooks sitting around with exactly one page used with some grand title on it like “My Plan To Get Organized” or “To Do After Graduating”)
You had such a massive landslide of successes, from winning a Webby to getting a book deal… How did your life change when those things happened?
When I think about my life over the past two years it’s the personal ups and downs that strike me more than the website success. It’s losing my best friend and my wife. It’s gaining new friends in the city. It’s late nights laughing on the phone. And it’s really the amount of people who have shared their story with me.
I mean, I’ve had teachers email to tell me they read 1000 Awesome Things to their classroom every day and have assigned homework around finding awesome things in life. I’ve had a girl tell me she wrote her entire college application in the style of the website. I’ve had cancer patients say the site gives them smiles and reminds them of the little things on dark days. I’ve had heavier things — abuse victims, seriously depressed, suicidal folks — tell me awesome things have helped them find light when they’ve needed it most. I’ve had a guy email me a song he wrote called 1000 Awesome Things for his 3-month anniversary with his girlfriend — since they discovered it together. (Check it out!) And I’ve had folks just email me virtual high fives or say “Thanks for the smile.”
My life’s changed in the sense that my jaw is always dropped at how easily the Internet lets us all connect these days. I mean, just look at GalaDarling.com — it’s a treasure trove of smiles, articles that get you thinking, and 100% of your daily dose of pink. And it’s just… out there. It’s right there. It’s sitting around 24 hours a day for us to interact with it. We meet you, comment with strangers, share photos and Twitter feeds, and get to know each other across wires, under oceans, and over invisible airwaves.
It’s a special time.
You’re about halfway through your 1000 Awesome Things project. Do you have any visions or top-secret plans for what you’ll do when it’s finished?
Well, certainly the biggest plan so far has been working on The Book of Awesome. It’s been almost a year in the making and has around 50 new awesome things in it (like Fixing electronics by smacking them, Tripping and realizing no one saw you, and The last day of school) and a fresh batch of photos taken by a super awesome photographer Sam Javanrouh.
Why do you write 1000 Awesome Things from a largely anonymous point of view?
Well, I think that the best awesome things are the ones that are free and universal and relevant to everybody. I mean, we all love snow days, popping bubble wrap, and hitting a string of green lights on the way home from work. We all love bakery air, finding money in our jacket pockets, and flipping to the cold side of the pillow. So I think the site and The Book of Awesome are those universal things and I’ve tried as best I can to avoid writing from a specific perspective. Like you said, I avoid mentioning where I live, my age, or even my gender most of the time. I’ve tried to remember that these awesome things aren’t about me … they’re things we all like.
Who are some of your favourite writers?
I’m sure my answer to this changes all the time but here’s a Top Ten List for you: Louis Sacher, Jack Handey, David Sedaris, Gala Darling, David Cain, Adrian Tomine, Judy Blume, Charlie Kaufman, Richard Feynman, and Roald Dahl.
Do you think that having a daily writing routine has helped you become a better writer?
Sure, I think practicing anything over and over again makes you better at it. But, you know, there are consequences too. In the two years I’ve been writing 1000 Awesome Things my writing has probably improved — but the bags under my eyes are darker and I’m starting to grow a hunch from leaning over the keyboard all day. I guess what I’m saying is, you know, everything in moderation. It’s probably important to find balance in whatever we do and watch we don’t let everything else slip away.
Okay… tell us your number one pet peeve! (HA! Switched it up on you!)
I got it. Walking into spider webs! It’s disgusting and the sticky strings get in your eyes and mouth and you can feel it in your hair. When I walk into one I try to frantically wipe everything off me but I’m paranoid that the spider is on me somewhere — undoubtedly scampering down my T-shirt in a fit of rage because I’ve just destroyed its house with my face.
What has been your personal highlight of doing 1000 Awesome Things?
Well, to start with I’ve met a great group of bloggers and readers who send me inspiring notes and letters every day. I feel massively lucky and thankful all the time.
And I mean, I know it sounds cliche, but I guess when I stop to think about it we’re all just absolutely lucky to be here. Thousands of people made babies for hundreds of thousands of years so we could be here. We’re the most modern brightest sparks the universe has ever produced, we’re the latest and greatest in a superlong line of fiery survivors, and we’re living on the only live-giving rock there is in the giant blackness. We get to live! We get to be here! We’re in the 80% of the world who can read, the 20% of the world with Internet access, and the some-other-percent of the world who has time to stop and think about things like happiness and small pleasures and awesome moments.
I guess I like to stop and remember sometimes that we’ll never be as young as we are right now. We only get a hundred years to enjoy everything in this world. Every single person we know will be gone in a hundred years — from grocery store cashiers, to telemarketers who call us at dinner, to the people behind us at movies. We only got a hundred years to enjoy interior design, horoscope signs, books, buffets, and radio waves, clean sheets and good movie seats, bakery air, rain hair, bubble wrap, and illegal naps.
So I think my personal highlight has been that — remembering and reminding myself how much joy and happiness there really is in the simple things in life. And how important they are to so many of us every day.
Thanks so much for the chat, Gala. I love your site and really thank you for the opportunity. Have an awesome day, everybody. Neil.