At a vegan restaurant in downtown Toronto, 31-year-old Neil Pasricha surveys the crowd gathered there for Sunday brunch and reels off a list of awesome things:
The bawling baby had stopped crying.
The waitress knows who has ordered what at our table.
Drink sleeves, especially since the vegetable juice he'd ordered turned out to be piping hot instead of chilled.
Smelling fries without having to eat them.
Pasricha is pretty good at listing awesome stuff since he could be considered the Guru of Awesome. This Harvard Business School graduate is the author of a New York Times bestseller, The Book of Awesome, and its sequel, The Book of (Even More) Awesome, which was released recently and has already charted.
The Book of Holiday Awesome, which looks at festivals like Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Id and others, is scheduled for an October release. Also ready for publication is a 2012 Calendar of Awesome. There's an iPhone app of Awesome. He's much in demand as a featured speaker at events, rubbing shoulders with the likes of GE's CEO Jeff Immelt.
All of that can be traced back to the blog he started three years ago, called '1000 Awesome Things', during a fairly awful time in his life. He had just moved to Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, his marriage was in trouble and his best friend from Boston, Chris, had attempted suicide.
So, he decided to enter into therapy, self-imposed, of writing about one awesome thing every day, in June 2008. "I was trying to just put myself in a good mood. I wasn't thinking very positively at that time. I decided to spend a little bit of time every night after I get home from work and focus on one thing to cheer myself up," he says.
It also helped him cope with the stress that came the following year. Both relationships ended, in divorce and suicide. "I had never experienced that much heartbreak and heaviness in my life," he says.
As with most personal blogs, 1000awesomethings.com, was, in the beginning, just a minor blip on the Internet. "Nobody read it except my mom and I joked that the traffic doubled after she showed it to my dad," says Pasricha. His mother is an Indian from Nairobi and his father came to Canada from Tarn Taran in Punjab. Pasricha was born in Oshawa, near Toronto.
Soon enough, Pasricha's website started attracting some awesome attention and won a Webby, the online equivalent of an Oscar. "I got flown to New York City and when I came home, there were all these literary agents waiting for me, literally in my inbox," he said. '1000 Awesome Things', Pasricha points out, is aimed at being "universal" and "positive", with a hat tip to the sort of observational humour that made Seinfeld a superstar.
The first awesome thing he listed, at number 1000 (it's a countdown to number one) was the Broccoflower. In that inaugural post, Pasricha wrote, "It was hilarious. A green cauliflower labelled as a Broccoflower. The bizarre misfit child from two of nature's most hideous vegetables."
Thereafter, the list grew daily. Some examples included Finding money you didn't even know you had lost; Sleeping in new bedsheets; The day you first realise you can drive; Wordless apologies; Finishing your last exam; and Taking the day off on your birthday.
Pasricha's list of awesomeness has reached the 180s and he expects to complete it by April 2012. Until then, he said, "I haven't reached my goal." Obviously, there will be even more books (of even more) awesome.
Part of the success could be that the books of Awesome bring together gentle humour and good vibrations. Pasricha gets tons of fan email, from preachers and teachers and everyone else who keep them on their nightstand and dip into them as a mood enhancer.
However, once he does reach number 1, Pasricha plans to deal with a few things he's neglected somewhat during the awesome period. "I've become a terrible cook, I don't exercise enough, I don't spend enough time with my family," he said. Plus, more time with his girlfriend.
Part of the agenda could be experiencing India, which he has never been to so far. "I would love to do speaking engagements in India. I've been waiting for a time in my life to spend a good amount of time in India. I don't know the country," he said.
For now, the countdown continues. The list of awesome continues to flourish. Pasricha's books jostle for space on the bestseller lists.