Neil PasrichaLife was falling considerably short of awesome when Neil Pasricha decided he needed to do something to lift his spirits.

It was late spring in 2008, and not only was Pasricha’s marriage ending, but his best friend was on a steep and ultimately deadly descent into depression.

Lost in the anonymity of the suburbs and toiling as a 9-to-5 wage slave, Pasricha came home one night, turned on his computer and typed his way out of his funk.

Specifically, he tapped ‘how to start a blog’ into a Google search window, and soon after, 1,000 Awesome Things was born.

Four years, three wildly popular books and millions of web hits later, Pasricha is still plugging away at his day job and blogging by night as he counts down to his 1,000th post – and reveals his Number 1 Awesome Thing – next month.

Just before that happens, he will appear at Communitech’s annual Tech Leadership Conference on April 10, where you can hear him share the extraordinary tale of what he insists is still an ordinary life.

I got a small taste of that tale in a recent phone chat with Pasricha, as he made his way home from work:

Q – How did you become so well attuned to finding the awesome in the everyday?

A – Well, I’m not special in any way. We all know finding five dollars in your coat pocket is awesome. We all love the smell of a bakery. We all love wearing warm underwear out of the dryer. I’m just a guy who has been writing about them every day for four years on 1000awesomethings.com.

Q – I think you’re being pretty modest, so I’ll put it another way. Where do you think you gained an appreciation for noticing the awesome?

A – Well, my dad came to Canada from New Delhi, India and my mom arrived from Nairobi, Kenya, and when they got here, everything was new to them. They were kind of full of wonder their entire lives. In a way it was like their childhood happened again, and it sort of coincided with our childhood.

I mean, most people don’t have parents staring in wonder at everything – loving ice cream from Dairy Queen, getting excited to ride the GO Train into Toronto, and being full of curiosity about the fact that there’s a newspaper that contains all the world’s information.

But my parents were like that, and so whatever appreciation I have for little things, I know it comes from just a standard view on life, but maybe that view is helped by my parents’ immigrant attitude in Canada.

Q – Tell me about the day you started the blog. Where were you at in your life at that time?

A – I started writing 1000awesomethings.com on June 20 of 2008. I was working an office job in the suburbs of Toronto, I was married and living in Mississauga, where I didn’t know anybody because I’d just moved there, and life was just kind of proceeding.

The two sort of main things in my life at that time were my marriage, which was heading in the wrong direction, and my best friend Chris, who was battling a serious depression, and I was talking to him every other night or so.

Everything in my life seemed very, very stressful until I started writing 1000awesomethings.com as a way to try to cheer myself up and put myself in a good mood.

Q – How long did it take for you to realize you were onto something pretty special with the blog?

A – Well, for anyone who’s started a blog, there are a few things that can happen to you that really make you think, ‘Holy cow, this is really real.’

One example is, the first time somebody comments on your blog and you don’t know who they are. I thought my mom, and my sister, and the person who sits beside me at work were checking the blog — I had no idea anyone else was reading.

The other thing is just seeing your hits go up. You go to sleep and it’s 120 hits, and you wake up and it’s 180, and you think, ‘Well, that’s interesting. I was asleep and I wasn’t doing anything, and 60 people came and visited the site.’

The third thing that happens which is really crazy is that you see the traffic coming from different countries around the world.

I know the Internet is global, but you sort of forget that it is, because everyone I know is sort of around here. So the first time you see the traffic and the stats in the background saying you have more visitors today from India, or Japan, than any other country, you’re like, ‘Who in Japan is reading it?’

So there are these little things that happen at the beginning that sort of make you think, ‘I guess people on the other side of the world like warm underwear, too.’

Q – Did that cause you to change anything about you were doing? Did you start promoting it more heavily, or did you just kind of let it take its course and let things unfold naturally?

A – I’ve been really clear with myself on what I was going to do with 1000awesomethings from the beginning. I post one awesome thing, every single weekday at 12:01 a.m. I also said I’m going to keep my email on the side of the website public, and I will reply to every single email I get within a day. And lastly, I said every single awesome thing I write about must be free, simple and universal.

That’s why flipping to the cold side of the pillow is an awesome thing and watching your new plasma screen TV while flying first class isn’t.

Q – How hard has it been to maintain discipline and meet your deadline every day for almost four years now?

A – When I started writing 1000awesomethings.com I thought 1,000 was a really small number. I remember reading that Goldman Sachs was making billions of dollars, and hurricanes and earthquakes were affecting millions of people, so I thought 1,000 sounded pretty small.

It wasn’t until two or three weeks of writing it when I got an email from somebody, and he said, ‘I don’t know if you’ve done the math, but if you write one of these little essays every single day, it’s going to take you four straight years to finish.’ I definitely had not done the math but I got really worried. I said, ‘I need to pull out a piece of paper and write down every single awesome thing I can think of, quick.’ So I pulled out a piece of paper and I had about 12 awesome things. I got really worried, thinking, ‘Around 970 or 980 I’m going to run out,’ and I count down, so I was worried about running out, like, a month into it.

What ended up happening was, because I put my hand up as a guy collecting awesome things, I ended up starting a conversation about ‘what’s awesome to you’ to with everybody I know.

My parents would have something happen to them and they would send me an e-mail. My sister would send me a text message saying, ‘Neil, I just made dinner for my husband, and every single thing I was making got done at the same time. Awesome!’

My friends would send a message to me and say, ‘Neil, catching the last cab home from the bar at 3 in the morning. Awesome!’

And I’d start writing these things, and people would comment and they would say, ‘Yeah, I love the smell of the bakery; that is awesome. You know what else is awesome? Licking the cookie dough off the mixer.’

So, what I mean is, we all know these awesome things. It was just that, by starting the conversation, the site ended up becoming a centre for everybody else to start talking about them, and then I started writing about them.

Q – Eventually you won a couple of Webby awards and the book offers started coming in, and now you’re an internationally best-selling author. How did that change your day-to-day existence?

A – Well, in a lot of ways my life hasn’t changed. As I talk to you right now, I’m driving in my dented, rusting Mazda 3 hatchback, on my way to my cramped 700-square-foot apartment, on my way home from Walmart, where I work every day.

I wouldn’t be following my own advice if my life changed, because all I’m telling everybody to do is to stop and appreciate all the awesome things they have in their lives already.

Q – So does that mean you’re still perfectly happy working at Walmart and driving your rusty car home to a small apartment? Do you want that to be it forever? When is it okay for your life to change?

A – Well, I’m not perfectly happy, I’ve never been perfectly happy, and I don’t think anybody ever is perfectly happy. I think ‘perfectly happy’ is something that we keep telling ourselves we need to strive really hard to obtain, but stress, anxiety, pressure — those are normal, day-to-day things in our lives.

I mean, you’re going to fail a test. Somebody near you is going to get sick. You might get fired from a job. Your dog could get hit by a car. Your relationship could end. Your mom or dad could die.

It is not about having perfect happiness, because that ain’t possible. It’s about remembering how lucky you are to be alive, remembering how many small pleasures you have to be thankful for, and remembering, if you’re having a bad day, that it will pass, because it passed the last time.

Flipping open The Book of Awesome, reading 1000awesomethings.com, writing your own awesome things down, or talking to other people about the highlight of their day, helps us all remember how lucky we really have it.

I don’t preach perfect happiness.

I preach living an awesome life.

Q – Since the success of the blog and the books what kind of responses do you get from people?

A – Well, The Book of Awesome has given me so many new experiences which I’m so thankful for. I mean, I really am the same guy, and if you doubt that for one second, I’ll introduce you to my girlfriend or my parents or my co-workers, who will tell you all my flaws pretty quick.

But what’s been cool is that I have preachers writing me emails saying, ‘I read The Book of Awesome in sermons.’ I have teachers saying, ‘We created The Wall of Awesome in our Grade 3 classroom, and every student every day starts and finishes the day by writing one awesome thing, and it’s really changed their perspective.’

I have big companies saying, ‘We want you to speak with our CEO.’ I have lucky opportunities where I can talk to 10,000 people all at once, in a big arena, about how to see awesome in their own lives.

But for me the beautiful thing about all of that is, I’m learning so much by doing it and I love meeting people and seeing how a positive attitude is really so close to being attainable for many of us. I mean, many of us are already there, but to actually be in a bookstore and talking to 15 people about a book is actually pretty profound, and it feels good.

I’m certainly very, very, lucky and thankful for those opportunities.

Q – Has it been hard to fit all of that in around your life?

A – Yes, I don’t sleep as much as I probably should, don’t go to the gym as much as I should, and don’t cook as much as I should.

So yes, it is hard to fit it in, but at the same time, we all have 168 hours in our week. You have that many hours, I’ve got that many hours, Barack Obama has that many hours, Lady Gaga has that many hours, the Pope has that many hours.

We all get the same time.

You can’t buy any more of it and you can’t get less of it, either.

And if you divide 168 by three, you get three buckets of 56.

It works out perfectly that, if you sleep eight hours a night, that’s 56 hours a week, so one entire bucket is sleep. It works out perfectly that if you work about a 40-hour week, maybe 45 or 50 and some commuting time, there’s a bucket there of 56 hours.

So you’ve got the third bucket to play with. You’ve got 56 free hours a week.

Some people might spend their 56 playing hockey. Some people might spend their 56 taking care of their kids. I just choose to spend my 56 writing about awesome things.

Q – You’ll be addressing a predominantly tech-related audience at our Tech Leadership Conference. Starting and growing a tech company can be pretty all-consuming. What do you think Waterloo Region tech entrepreneurs can learn from your experience?

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.