“It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m in the presence of one of the most mind-boggling accomplishments in human history. This thing is so astounding in its complexity and scope, it makes the Panama Canal look like a third grader’s craft project.
This marvel I see before me is the result of thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries.
It took the combined labor of artists, chemists, politicians, mechanics, biologists, miners, packagers, smugglers, and goatherds.
It required airplanes, boats, trucks, motorcycles, vans, pallets, and shoulders. It needed hundreds of materials—steel, wood, nitrogen, rubber, silicon, ultraviolet light, explosives, and bat guano.
It has caused great joy but also great poverty and oppression. It relied upon ancient wisdom and space-age technology, freezing temperatures and scorching heat, high mountains and deep water.
It is my morning cup of coffee.
And I’m grateful for it. Really, really grateful.
It wasn’t always so. I tend to take things for granted. For most of my life, I rarely thought about my coffee unless it spilled on my jacket or scalded the roof of my mouth. But the last few months have forced me to change that. Earlier this year, in an attempt to battle my default mental state (generalized annoyance and impatience), I undertook a deceptively simple quest. I pledged to thank every single person who made my cup of coffee possible. I resolved to thank the barista, the farmer who grew the beans, and all those in between.
That turned out to be a hell of a lot of thank-yous. My gratitude quest has taken me across time zones, and up and down the social ladder. It’s made me rethink everything from globalism to beavers, from hugs to fonts, from light bulbs to ancient Rome. It’s affected my politics, my worldview, and my palate. It’s made me feel delight, wonder, guilt, depression, and, of course, a whole bunch of caffeine jitters.”
Step 1: Pick an object.
Step 2: Brainstorm for 30 minutes the following (spending 10 minutes on each question). Think of this as a “gratitude meditation.” Studies show that you will feel happier after doing this!
a. List all the people involved in the object’s creation.
Break it down into its parts and consider all of the 1. materials, 2. design, 3. knowledge, and 4. labor that goes into creating each and every part. Make a guess as to what people were involved throughout the entire creation process and write them down.
b. List all of the people involved in transporting the parts and the object.
Consider where each and all of the materials might have come from (do some quick internet searches as needed), and imagine who would have been part of bringing this object to you, from the moment the materials came out of the earth to their final destination: you.
c. List all of the people involved in the infrastructure necessary for the object to be created and shipped to you.
Consider who made the roads, trucks, trains, ships, planes, road signs, traffic laws, etc. that brought the object to you.
Step 3: Pick any person on your lists above and write them a heartfelt letter of gratitude, thanking them for their service to you. If you actually know someone on the list, feel free to actually send the letter. If not, that’s okay. This can still be a great exercise to increase your gratitude and sense of connection to others in the world.
For an extra challenge, see if you can find someone in a foreign country that helped make your object and send them a note!
Your assignment submission should include your lists as well as the Thank You letter.