Neil Pasricha, OUR BOOK OF AWESOME: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together

Neil Pasricha, OUR BOOK OF AWESOME: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together

Zibby is joined by repeat MDHTTRB guest, motivational speaker, podcast host, and New York Times bestselling author Neil Pasricha to discuss Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together. Neil talks about how the Awesome series came to be (from a few unfortunate life events, to a positivity blog, to TED Talks and one million copies sold), the carefree structure of his books, and his vision for a multi-voice audiobook. The two also discuss the future of reading in a time of fractured attention spans and phone addictions.


Zibby Owens interviews Neil Pasricha, about his new book OUR BOOK OF AWESOME: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together.

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Neil. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together.

Neil Pasricha: And dads don’t have time to read books.

Zibby: You have such an amazing story. We’ve talked about it before, but it was a long time ago. Maybe listeners now haven’t heard, and they don’t know why you’ve started this whole Awesome series of books celebrating the little moments of life in all the different ways that you do, which is wonderful. Would you mind giving your backstory of how you got started and then how you ended up at this book?

Neil: Absolutely. My mom’s from Nairobi, Kenya. My dad’s from Amritsar, India. They had an arranged marriage in England in the 1970s. They moved to Canada to a shady suburb of Toronto called Oshawa, Ontario, where I was born in 1979. When I grew up, my parents told me that, you know what, just work hard. Then you have a big success. Then you’re happy. Follow the normal life plan. I did. I did everything I could. I graduated from school. I had good marks. Went to university, Queens University for anyone is listening who’s a Canadian. It was Queens. I went to Queens. Then I went to Harvard Business School down in Boston. I know it’s an alma mater that we share. I come home to Toronto. I’m married. I got a good job. I’m working at Walmart. I’m manager of leadership development. Everything’s going according to plan. This is in my late twenties. Then everything falls off the rails. In the span of a few days, my wife tells me she no longer wants to be married to me, and my best friend takes his own life. These two things propagate a sense of listlessness, depression, anxiety, overwhelm, everything all at once, partially amplified by the fact that I hadn’t experienced a tremendous amount of setbacks before.

I immediately sprung into twice-a-week therapy at my mom’s strong suggestion and started a blog called as a way to try to cheer myself up. For the next one thousand straight weekdays, I went to a website called, and I wrote about wearing warm underwear from out of the dryer, playing on old, dangerous playground equipment, getting called up to the dinner buffet first at a wedding. Nobody read this website except for my mom. Although, one day she sent it to my dad, and my traffic doubled. Then it got bigger and bigger and bigger. I started getting hits on things like or and, just to throw a bunch of names out there for people that are surfing online in 2008. The blog got a hundred million hits, won the Webby Award for best blog in the world from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Then I was approached by ten literary agents. I went with Erin Malone from William Morris Endeavor. She conducted a five-publishing house auction to turn my blog,, into my first book, which came out in 2010 from Amy Einhorn publishing, which was at that time a division of Putnam. It was called The Book of Awesome. They printed six thousand copies of the thing, Zibby. Despite the blog being popular, six thousand, that seems like enough books, right? It sold a million copies.

I say that with a stunned — I’m still surprised. A number of things totally fell into place all at once. It helped that the world, like now, was riddled with bad news. It punctured the zeitgeist with a dose of sort of cynical positivity. Of course, I was writing from how I was feeling. It wasn’t just Pollyanna. When I talked about old, dangerous playground equipment, I’m talking about burning your legs on hot slides and falling in the cigarette butts. I actually have this sense of self that I had when I was going through my depression baked into these awesome things, so they come across quite acerbic sometimes. Of course, Heather Reisman made it a Heather’s Pick in Indigo Canada. I had a TED Talk. I was invited to do a TED Talk right after it came out. Then that thing went viral. All these things fell into place together. To this day, now twelve years later, I have never — I’ve written ten books and journals to this day now. Nothing’s come close to that first one. It’s like Tuesdays with Morrie for Mitch Albom. It’s my first book. By the way, people often ask me, what are you going to do? You’re never going to top the success of your first book. I draw upon a paraphrased quote from Diablo Cody, who was an ex-stripper from Minnesota who wrote a movie called Juno, which ended up getting nominated for best picture. She was asked, how are you going to top Juno? She said, I’m not, and I never will. The fact that the first movie I wrote became a best picture relieves me from the obligation of ever worrying about it. I like to think, Zibby, that I have had the chance over the past twelve years to just explore with my writing. I got lucky earlier. It doesn’t happen often. Lightning struck me. I’m very grateful.

Now I have ended up getting remarried. On the flight home from my honeymoon, my wife Leslie told me she was pregnant. I spent the next nine months writing a three-hundred-page letter to my unborn child called The Happiness Equation. I don’t know if people are watching this on video or not. I can’t quite reach it with the wires, but it’s right behind me. It’s the blue book. That’s The Happiness Equation. I’m realizing that I’m thin-skinned. I get a bad email, I’m destitute for days. I wrote a book about resilience. That’s the resilience equation. It’s titled as You Are Awesome. Then now twelve years later after running away from the project and the concept forever, I have decided that in this era of algorithm-infused addictions — endless social media strife, I believe, is really causing massive problems in our society, higher-than-ever rates in human history of anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide. I’m telling you, all four of those things are at all-time highs. I was like, we need another one. I need it too. The pandemic’s been horrible. I wrote Our Book of Awesome. It is a brand-new, 432-page hardcover from Simon & Schuster. Yes, I changed publishers. Long story. We could talk about it. My editor left the company, so then you don’t have a home. I’m really grateful that Simon & Schuster was like, we want it. I wrote a new one. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever written. It includes tons of them written by me, awesome things like texting your husband to do something when he’s upstairs and you’re downstairs, adding a gift note to yourself in your online order, carrying the ice cube tray — You don’t do that?

Zibby: I don’t do that.

Neil: It’s so great when you get it. You’re like, oh, yeah. “Dear, Zibby, I thought you’d like this. From, Zibby.” Carrying the ice cube tray from the sink to the freezer without spilling. Finally unsubscribing from that annoying email you’ve been getting forever. I write these things. What I usually do is I add between one and one thousand little — like a write-up, almost like a blog post. I purposely stick them in the book without table of contents, without any index, without any dedication, acknowledgments, about the author, photo of the author. Why do I strip all that out? Because I want it to feel like just a giant thing that pops you into a good mood whenever you need it. For example, if you were to read “Finally unsubscribing from the annoying email you’ve been getting forever,” it goes, “Let freedom ring from the felt-covered walls of cubicle farms. Let freedom ring from the dimly lit university dorms. Let freedom ring from phones at the back of the train. Let freedom ring from laptops at the back of the plane, but not only that. Let freedom ring from daily coupon deals. Let freedom ring from annual donation appeals. Let freedom ring from local sponsorship requests, and let freedom ring from spammy marketing contests. And when this happens, when we let freedom ring, let’s all join hands and say, free at last. Free at last. Look at this empty inbox. We are free at last. Awesome.” They aren’t all Martin Luther King speeches. Since I mentioned that one, I thought I’d read that one real quickly. That’s it. That’s the whole freaking thing. Maybe you’re like, no wonder the first book did good. It’s not even a book. It’s just a bunch of stuff stapled together. That’s all it is. I just came back to it because I needed it myself. I know from the research — we could talk about it if you want. There’s all kinds of research on gratitude. There’s all kinds of research on awe. There’s all kinds of research on journaling. There’s all kinds of research on sharing positive things socially. All those things looped together means if you pick up the book, you’re going to be happy. It’s as simple as that. It works. It’s medicine.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. Did you record the audiobook? I have to ask.

Neil: Yeah, I did, but this book, I wanted it to be by “Neil Pasricha and friends,” as I can’t even say my own name right. Neil Pasricha and friends. The publisher said no. They’re like, “Legally, it’s not ‘and friends.'” Although I wrote eighty percent of them, I had over ten thousand submissions over the past twelve years from people writing their own. I wanted some of those voices and those comments and those ideas to be in this book. I weaved them in. They amplify throughout the book. It ends in a culmination of awesome from around the world. The last ten pages of the book are written on a different color paper. It fades to black. The awesome things get smaller and smaller. Even the back page of the hardcover is just another two hundred awesome things in one-point font. That’s the whole back cover. That’s it. That’s all it is. I want it to feel like a cacophony of awesome amongst and between all these positively looking people around the world.

I put “and friends” on the cover. I recorded the introduction. I recorded about fifty of the awesome things myself. Like the book itself, I wanted the audiobook to continue to amplify and reflect more and more diverse voices. We hired as many actors as the publisher would let me, which is eight. I was inspired by the audiobook for Lincoln in the Bardo, which has 132 people in it. I don’t have the same budget that George Saunders has, I guess, so I got eight. The eight people plus my voice amplified throughout the book. It feels like a conversation amongst people talking about positivity. I wanted that to be the vision. Like any artist, like any writer, we’ll see how it ends up. I’m talking to you before pub day, which is December 6th, 2022. If after pub day that actually worked, then great. If it didn’t, as always, I tried.

Zibby: Testing is good. That’s the only way you really know.

Neil: That’s the only way you really know. We tried other things. We made the book a bit smaller this time, a little bit more pocket-y size. We kept it as a hardcover because we want it to be giftable. When you give a Book of Awesome to a teacher or to a sick family member in the hospital, you want to communicate, I care about you enough that I got you something hard, for some reason. You wouldn’t give someone an audiobook. You wouldn’t give someone an e-book. Paperback and hardcover are really the only giftable book formats. Are they not?

Zibby: True. You think it’s an insult to give someone a paperback?

Neil: I do not think it’s an insult to give someone a paperback. I’m saying paperback and hardcover the only giftable formats. Although e-book and audiobook are skyrocketing in popularity, have you ever given one as a gift? I don’t think so.

Zibby: No, but I think that’s because they don’t have the right packaging for it yet.

Neil: That’s what I’m saying.

Zibby: They could totally do a better job.

Neil: This is a market opportunity for Moms Don’t Have Time To media.

Zibby: I’m on it. I’m putting it on my master list.

Neil: No, but seriously, there’s a real opportunity here. Look, if someone gave me a giftable — there’s tons of audio originals that you can’t hear anywhere else. If I want this specific Michael Lewis book or Adam Grant book that’s only in audio, I should be able to get that as a gift. Then receiving that gift should invite me onto the platform.

Zibby: You could give them as a gift, but it’s just an email. It’s not fun.

Neil: That sucks. It’s a notch below gift card, which is already bad because it’s a little piece of plastic. What you really want is something that is wrapped in a box. Maybe this is us being too capitalistic and commercial or something.

Zibby: I don’t think so. I think we got to run with this one. I’m loving it. I think you could print out custom barcodes with the unique thing. You would just scan it, and you’d get your audiobook.

Neil: If you want to go really big, you give someone an audiobook device.

Zibby: And headphones.

Neil: Headphones, yeah, that’s a good way to do it.

Zibby: You should actually go to the Beats people and ask if you could put your book in with the packaging.

Neil: See, now you’re talking. It’s something like that. Then you get some physical — also, the other thing I’m pointing out here in my mental exploration with you on this is that I can’t listen to anything on my phone. My phone is full of temptation. It’s full of temptation. I don’t know why Oprah’s going around telling people that they should be reading on their iPad. Well, I do. Apple paid her a hundred million dollars, but she shouldn’t be doing that. iPads feed you endless texts, messages, alerts, notifications. Single tasking is the new multitasking. If you want to read a book, good luck getting through Anna Karenina on a device that can text you every ten seconds. Don’t tell me airplane mode because it’s also just the bright screen. from Australia says if you look at a bright screen an hour before bedtime, your brain doesn’t produce as much melatonin overnight. In fact, evolutionary biologists are suggesting that you actually get an increase in energy after you turn off the screen because your primal brain wants to get the cave and the fire set up before you go to bed. What I’m trying to say is we need to get back to reading in formats and ways that are easy on our eyes, that are, ideally, off screens, and that are single-tasking devices, which, luckily for all of us, books satisfy, actual paper books.

Zibby: Are we trying to bring back the Walkman? Is that really where we’re headed?

Neil: That’s funny. When I’m saying single tasking, a Kindle is a single-tasking device. When Bezos came up with that, he had a pretty famous quote. He wanted people to have a device that only read books. That was the point. He used e-paper so it was easy on your eyes. Remember the ads? You can read them even in bright sun. The whole captivating proposition was that you could read it on a beach. If sand fell on it, it didn’t wreck the screen. You can’t do anything else on it. I actually applaud the Kindle, ironically, because it prevents you from trying to do anything else. Of course, the accessibility’s wonderful. I get lots of emails from readers that are like — they want it in big font. That’s totally fine. My eyes are on the cusp of falling apart, so I can now totally relate. I’m forty-three. I just got glasses again after laser eye surgery fifteen years ago and thinking my eyes were fixed forever. Turns out I was wrong. Now I’m back in glasses world. Now I want big font.

Zibby: My font is embarrassingly large. By the way, my mother flew here yesterday from Arizona. She was like, “Zib, I was ready to listen to your audiobook. The man next to me, we couldn’t figure it out. All it kept saying was, sample, sample, sample.” Finally, I was like, “Mom, did you ever buy the audiobook? You know, you have to buy it.” She was like, “Um…”

Neil: She listened to the sample.

Zibby: It’s not so user-friendly, I feel like, the audio apps.

Neil: I can never get my parents to figure that out. I just give them a book. When I started my podcast, “3 Books,” one of our values was, real books on real pages. I got critical emails from people saying, that’s not fair. My original value was, real books have real pages. Audiobooks and e-books are beautiful mutants. That’s what I called them. I got really called out by that, so I deleted that value. Now I think you can read any way you want to read, as long as you’re reading. You know what, Zibby? You probably know this. Most people probably don’t. Fifty-seven percent of Americans read zero books last year. That’s from the American Time Use Survey. It’s the highest number in history. That number has doubled since the 1980s. Let me say it one more time for people listening. Fifty-seven percent of Americans, the vast majority, read zero books last year. Meanwhile, our time on our cell phones is over five hours. Our screen time per day is over eleven hours. Don’t look at me and say, of course, it is. Seven years ago, it was eighteen minutes per day on our cell phones. It’s skyrocketed. The attention spans that we’re fracturing with TikTok and other social media is truly horrifying.

I applaud the work of Jonathan Haidt, who lives somewhere down the street from you at NYU, H-A-I-D-T, who’s working on a book called After Babel and just wrote a recent cover story in The Atlantic called “How Social Media is Fracturing the Mortar of Society.” He was just featured on 60 Minutes together with Tristan Harris, who’s the founder of the Center for Humane Technology, talking about how — I’ll give you just a couple of examples, Zibby. The age of allowing people on social media is twelve. That age was come up with in the 1990s far before the technologies that we’re protecting our kids against were developed. Turns out these technologies can actually affect the developing brain. We really shouldn’t allow people on social media until at least sixteen. It should be more like nineteen or twenty-one. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be thought of as anything different than alcohol, for example, in terms of what they do to the long-term ramifications of a brain. Because, as Kevin Kelly says, these technologies are only five thousand days old, we don’t know yet, the long-term ramifications. That’s just one, that we should be increasing the age. The second thing is, every single social media platform needs to have baked in, a time use. Time-use warnings and shut-offs should be baked into the — does anyone feel good after four hours on Instagram? No.

Zibby: I have a time-use alert on my Instagram.

Neil: What do you make it for? How much time a day?

Zibby: I make it for an hour a day.

Neil: One hour a day. I do that on my fantasy football app. I make it for fifteen minutes a day. The only problem is when it pops up and says, “You’ve had fifteen minutes,” I can press a button right there that says ignore.

Zibby: I do. I do ignore it, but then at least I know. I know I’m hovering close to the line.

Neil: I know, but what I’m saying is this is you, a very aware and conscious, tech-savvy person who’s running a podcast and, of course, is running a big media thing all through Instagram. You have come up with a thing for — the average person, and I’m speaking of my own family and friends, they got no chance. It comes down to the default settings. When you first get an Instagram account or a TikTok account or a Twitter account, it should say, maximum, one hour a day. Otherwise, if you’ve got a compulsive personality like me, you’re wrecked. I’ll tell you Zibby, I have to not only delete all those apps from my phone, which I do. I have to then give my actual phone to my wife Leslie on Friday and say, “Do not give this to me until football starts on Sunday.” That’s forty-eight hours I have to give her my phone every week. I’m compulsively addicted to it. It’s bad. I’ve also deleted my email app. I’ve deleted any news media. I’ve deleted all social media. I have nothing on my phone that can get me. Otherwise, I won’t stop. I read a hundred books a year. The only way I can do it is by being hardcore on deleting everything else on my phone.

Zibby: Wow. I think that we forget sometimes that social media is — I don’t even know why we’re talking about this, but it’s fun — that it’s a choice. The convenience, like getting everything delivered — it’s almost the holiday time. When your book is coming out, it’s mid-holiday season and everything. It’s not as fun to just go on random websites and buy things. It’s so much more fun to go to a store, interact with the people, pick something out, have that experience. What is productivity, really? Productivity comes at a cost.

Neil: Yes. I just bought a book literally yesterday by Jason Guriel called On Browsing. The last name is G-U-R-I-E-L. It’s tiny, little, skim thing. I also am a big fan of the work of David Sax. His last name is S-A-X. He has a book called The Revenge of Analog. He has a follow-up about it coming. You should really have him on.

Zibby: Oh, I have that here. I have that right here. Anyway, go on.

Neil: I’m just saying I think that what you are talking about, what I’m talking about, what David Sax is talking about, what Jason Guriel is talking about —

Zibby: — The Future is Analog. This one, The Future is Analog.

Neil: That’s the new one. That’s it exactly. You might notice my name on the cover, as I blurbed it.

Zibby: I didn’t, but he’s coming on.

Neil: Great. I’m happy to hear that because he’s a fellow —

Zibby: — He took you off the cover. I hate to tell you. Maybe it’s on the back cover. It’s on the back cover. There you go. You were demoted. I’m sorry.

Neil: What does it say?

Zibby: It says, “There is magic in live.” Do you mean life? Live. “There is magic in live. There is magic in real. There is magic in analog. This book is a loud and much-needed back crack for our twisted, techno-obsessed society.” Ooh, much-needed back crack, that’s awesome. By the way, I still didn’t even read the one thing I wanted to read you from your book. This is my favorite that I’m taking away and maybe listeners can take away. “When your friend returns your book, and they actually read it. Books are personal sanctuaries of secret silent moments, lifting you up, sending you sideways, stirring emotions deep in your soul. Reading a book feels like an invisible adventure. So when a friend returns your copy and tells you they loved the book too, it’s like they were on the adventure with you. Let’s expand this adventure together right now because we’re all here celebrating life’s little moments. Smile, and sense us all around you as we smile and sense you. Welcome to our book of awesome.”

Neil: Aw. What page was that on? Twelve or something?

Zibby: Twenty-one.

Neil: Twenty-one. Okay, I got the numbers backwards. The reason I asked for the page number is because up until that point of the book, readers will observe, if they read Our Book of Awesome, that I wrote all the awesome things. That little tweak is because the next awesome thing has comments on it. Then you start to hear the other voices of other readers around the world. Then there’s letters as the book goes halfway. Then near the end of the book, those people start to submit, which means the awesome things have little bylines on them. As you probably also noticed because you’re an astute reader, there’s easter eggs, meaning that some pretty cool nonfiction authors, if you’re in this space, like Oliver Burkeman who wrote Four Thousand Weeks, or Seth Godin who lives up the street from you who wrote endless books like Linchpin, or Ryan Holiday who’s the Stoic philosopher, they wrote awesome things. I just put them in. Emily McDowell wrote one. It’s just fun. It’s just fun, a smattering of awesome, a much-needed back crack for our negative-obsessed society. I’ll just reuse my own blurb on my own book.

Zibby: We should all blurb our own books. I think that would be great.

Neil: We do. Everything is written by us, ultimately.

Zibby: I know. That’s true. I guess everything else, all the copy. Neil, this is amazing. I view another million-copy hit on our hands here. This is a perfect gift for everybody who is scrambling for a holiday gift or a New Year’s gift or Valentine’s or whatever you’re looking for, birthdays. Our Book of Awesome, Neil Pasricha “and friends,” in italics, and now we know why. Thank you for coming on, Neil.

Neil: Thanks for having me, Zibby. Keep up the wonderful work. You are amplifying reading to the world. We need it. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. You too. Buh-bye.

Neil Pasricha, OUR BOOK OF AWESOME: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together

OUR BOOK OF AWESOME: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together by Neil Pasricha

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