Gratitude and the Global Supply Chain

December 21, 2021

Students learn about the science of gratitude - and one person's effort to express gratitude to every person along the supply chain who made their morning cup of coffee possible.

To the teacher:  


Research shows that one way to take our stress down a notch is to cultivate gratitude as a nurturing self-care practice. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis has been associated with enhanced optimism, better sleep, fewer physical ailments, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Try it yourself so you can more authentically guide your students in a similar activity that is included in this lesson:

  • Think of something you are grateful for. It can be anything large or small (see some examples in the opening ceremony below). Just direct your mind to go there.
     
  • Consider how it makes you feel. Take a few moments to sit with that feeling before moving on to the rest of your day.
     

Taking charge of our thoughts in this way can shift our feelings in a positive direction. Those more positive feelings can lead to a shift in behavior—we might become more calm and thoughtful, for instance.

In the classroom, this practice can result in a calmer environment that can lead to improved outcomes. Just imagine being grateful for those outcomes ... and feel your stress levels drop!

In stressful times, gratitude can often provide some level of comfort or support.  So many of our students have lost loved ones in recent months and years.  So many families have lost jobs or homes. These family and community stresses can create much distress and sadness for young people too.

In this lesson, students will learn about the science of gratitude. They will then consider the story of one person’s effort to express gratitude to every person along the coffee supply chain who made their morning cup of coffee possible. In the process, students will learn about the global supply chain and consider all the people it takes to bring us the goods and services we use every day.

Consider watching this two-minute video before facilitating the lesson: The Science of Gratitude

Coffee Gratitude
 © Copyright Philip Halling, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License


Opening Ceremony


Invite students to share one thing they are grateful for.  It can be anything, large or small.  Think about family, friends, health, time off from school, being back in school, being back in person, sunrise, sunset, a (warm) bed, a (warm) shower, a tap that “produces” water on command, etc. Consider a warm cup of tea, coffee, or other beverage in the morning, juice perhaps. Or a smile or a hug from a caregiver.

If you use restorative circles in your school, use a meaningful talking piece to send around as an invitation to share or pass, while other students practice mindful listening.

Pay attention to your students as the comments are shared. Often students respond to each other in agreement. Smiles may appear on their faces as a feeling of gratitude permeates the room. If the energy in the room becomes more positive, consider pointing that out and/or asking students what that activity was like for them. How did it make them feel? 

If you are using a circle format, send the talking piece around a second time with this prompt.

Share with students that for many people, these are challenging times. Research shows that one way to take our stress down a notch is to cultivate gratitude as a self-care practice. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis has been associated with enhanced optimism, better sleep, fewer physical ailments, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.



What’s a Supply Chain?


Tell students that soon we’ll be learning about one person who launched a very ambitious, global project to express his gratitude for something he loves: his morning cup of coffee.

The story involves something called the “global supply chain.”

Ask your students:

  • What is a supply chain? 

Summarize what students share and add anything else from the Investopedia definition below as needed:

A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific product to the final buyer. This network includes different activities, people, entities, information, and resources. The supply chain also represents the steps it takes to get the product or service from its original state to the customer. Companies develop supply chains so they can reduce their costs and remain competitive in the business landscape. Supply chain management is a crucial process because an optimized supply chain results in lower costs and a faster production cycle.

Next, ask students:

  • Why has the global supply chain been in the news recently?

If students don’t come up with stories about supply chain problems, ask them:

  • How might the Covid pandemic have affected the global supply chain?

Elicit and explain that as CNBC notes:

The rapid spread of the virus in 2020 prompted shutdowns of industries around the world and, while most of us were in lockdown, there was lower consumer demand and reduced industrial activity.  As lockdowns have lifted, demand has rocketed. And supply chains that were disrupted during the global health crisis are still facing huge challenges and are struggling to bounce back. This has led to chaos for the manufacturers and distributors of goods who cannot produce or supply as much as they did pre-pandemic for a variety of reasons, including worker shortages and a lack of key components and raw materials.

Besides the pandemic, there are other, more local and regional, reasons why some supply chains may be disrupted. Around the world, small and large businesses are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

Explain that in today’s lesson, we’ll be exploring one supply chain, in particular—that of how coffee makes it into our local coffee shops, restaurants, and coffee cups.



The ‘Great Coffee Gratitude Trail’


Invite students in small groups to read the segments below from interviews with A.J. Jacobs about his latest book Thanks a Thousand in the Guardian, Guernica, and The Next Big Idea Club.

Also see this pdf of the segments and questions.

Each small group will read a different segment. Give the groups a few minutes to first read their segment, then discuss it based on the reflection questions that follow each segment.   

Ask each group to assign a reporter who will take notes to share out with the rest of the class.  Back in the large group, the students who were assigned as reporters will share with the rest of the class, two or three main ideas that came out of their discussions. 



Reading Segment 1, from the Guardian  


A.J. Jacobs:

“For most of my life, I rarely thought about my coffee, unless it spilled on my jacket. But the last few months have forced me to change that. A recent study showed that gratitude causes people to be more generous and kinder to strangers. Another study summarized in Scientific American finds that gratitude is the single best predictor of wellbeing and good relationships, beating 24 other impressive traits, such as hope, love and creativity.

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.

For most of my life, I rarely thought about my coffee, unless it spilled on my jacket

I knew the idea was absurd on one level. It’d be a major headache. It’d be time-consuming and travel-heavy. But it might make me more grateful, which would, in turn, make me less petty and annoyed. Because I needed to be less annoyed. I’d estimate that in my default mode, I’m mildly to severely aggravated more than 50% of my waking hours. That’s a ridiculous way to go through life. I don’t want to get to heaven (if such a thing exists) and spend my time complaining about the volume of the harp music.

I decide to do this project in reverse, starting with my local café and working my way backward to the birth of the coffee. And so I set out on the Great Coffee Gratitude Trail…”

Questions

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings about what you just read?
     
  2. How does the gratitude mentioned in this segment relate to how we opened today’s lesson?  What are your thoughts and feelings about that? 
     
  3. What did A.J. Jacobs set out to do?  What was his goal? Why?
     
  4. What did he find and how did it impact him?
     
  5. What are your thoughts and feelings about what A.J. Jacobs set out to do?
     
  6. What additional connections and reflections do you have when reading this?


Reading Segment 2, from Guernica


“The psychological value of gratitude is no surprise—these days, it is basically a commonplace. But moments of gratitude can have underrated benefits on physical health, as well. Science bears this out: studies show gratitude not only inspires generosity but also helps patients recover more quickly from surgery and improves sleep. Yet practicing acts of gratitude, some so simple as saying thank you, has become a lost art. Excuses are many. We are too tired, feel rushed, or, in a bad mood. Ironically, these missed opportunities for gratitude can boost our own happiness.

In his latest work, Thanks A Thousand, author A.J. Jacobs sets out on a gratitude quest to improve his own attitude.

The mission? Thanking everyone involved in the production of his most essential need: his morning cup of coffee. Or, as Jacobs puts it, that “water with a tiny bit of black powder” that costs three bucks.

Crisscrossing the U.S., Jacobs and his journey do more, however, than exhibit the importance of gratitude. He empathically humanizes the coffee supply chain: the myriad people in dozens of countries who create the product … [many of us] so badly need. The thank yous are far-reaching and often humorous: from the inventor of Zarfs, the official name for those cardboard sleeves that protect our fingers from burning, to Kaldi—the ninth-century Ethiopian goat-herd, who, according to legend, discovered his goats giddy from coffee berries.

But gratitude isn’t always ethically simple. Jacobs also found himself thanking Exxon for facilitating his coffee’s arrival, as the company simultaneously helps destroy the planet. The process of recognizing oneself at the end of the supply chain opened up questions about global commerce.”


Questions: 

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings about what you just read?
     
  2. How does the gratitude mentioned in this segment relate to how we opened today’s lesson?  What are your thoughts and feelings about that? 
     
  3. What did A.J. Jacobs set out to do?  What was his goal? Why?
     
  4. What did he find and how did it impact him?
     
  5. What are your thoughts and feelings about what AJ Jacobs set out to do?
     
  6. What additional connections and reflections do you have when reading this?

 

Reading Segment 3, from the Next Big Idea Club


A.J. Jacobs:

“I tried to thank a thousand people who had even the smallest role in making my cup of coffee possible.

The origin of the idea was that I had started this ritual before meals, where I would say a prayer of thanksgiving. But I’m not really religious, so instead of thanking God, I would try to thank some of the people who made my food possible, like the farmer who grew the tomatoes, and the cashier who rang them up.

My son, who was 10 at the time, wisely pointed out that this was totally lame, because those people can’t hear me. He said, 'If you really cared, you would go and thank them in person.' I was like, 'That is a nice idea—and a good book idea!' So he earned his supper that night, and that’s what set me off on the journey of going around the world thanking people for my cup of coffee.

And I went wide—so I thanked the obvious people, like the farmer of the coffee beans and the barista. But I also went out to meet the truck driver who drove the coffee beans. I called the woman who did pest control for the warehouse where my coffee beans were stored, and I said, 'I know this is a little strange, but I just want to thank you for keeping the insects out of my coffee.' And she said, 'Yeah, that is strange—but thank you. I don’t get a lot of appreciation.'

In one sense, thanking a thousand people is insane. But on the other hand, I could’ve gone to a million. Think about the guy who drove the truck—you’ve got to thank the people who paved the road, and the people who painted the yellow lines on the road, so the truck didn’t veer into oncoming traffic. And then the guy who made the paint, the guy who made the chemicals for the paint… It was an amazing lesson in how much goes into everything.”


Questions: 

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings about what you just read?
     
  2. How does the gratitude mentioned in this segment relate to how we opened today’s lesson?  What are your thoughts and feelings about that? 
     
  3. What did A.J. Jacobs set out to do?  What was his goal? Why?
     
  4. What did he find and how did it impact him?
     
  5. What are your thoughts and feelings about what A.J. Jacobs set out to do?
     
  6. What additional connections and reflections do you have when reading this?

 

So What Does the Coffee Supply Chain Look Like?


Pull this image of the coffee supply chain up on the board.  

Invite students to reflect on it as they think about their small group discussions. Open up a large group discussion, using some or all of the following questions:

  • What stands out to you about this image?
     
  • How does the image connect to the discussions you had in your small groups?
     
  • Are there other supply chains that you don’t usually think of that are important to you and the way you live? 
     
  • How might you change your thinking about those based on today’s session?
     
  • What additional connections and reflections do you have about our lesson so far?

In the interview, A.J. Jacobs did with Guernica, he shares: “Coffee really is brilliant at showing the good and the bad of the supply chain. We are so incredibly lucky to have all these products, and we never think about where they come from. I am a capitalist overall, but there’s incredible suffering and horror along the supply chain. I wanted to show both sides.”

In his book, A.J. Jacobs notes that by one estimate, if everyone in the supply chain earned minimum wage, a cup of coffee would cost $25.

Ask students:

  • What are your thoughts about Jacobs’ statement that we are lucky to have the products we use – and yet “there’s incredible suffering and horror” involved in bringing them to us?
     
  • Think again about the supply chains that are important to you and the way you live? 
     
  • How might you change your thinking about those supply chains based on today’s session?


Sustainable Supply Chains


If there is time, share with students this 1.5 minute video entitled “Sustainable supply chains to build forward better.”

Explain that this video promotes an initiative to make certain parts of the global supply chain more “inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.” The initiative is sponsored by the European Commission and International Labor Organization. 

Elicit and explain that:

The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union (EU). It proposes and implements policies for the EU.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency that is headquartered in Geneva. The ILO’s mandate is to advance social and economic justice through setting international labor standards. Founded in 1919, it is the first and oldest specialized agency of the UN.

As they watch the video, invite students to keep in mind their discussion about supply chains so far. Note: the text on the screen moves quickly. If needed, share this transcript of the video.

After viewing the video, ask students to think again about products that are important to them and the way they live. Ask:

  • What are your thoughts and reactions to the video?
     
  • Does the video change your thinking about your relationship to those products that matter to you and the people who make them?

 

Closing Ceremony


In the Next Big Idea Club video, the interviewer says: “Gratitude is hard to keep up with, because when things are done for us well, they’re kind of invisible.”

A.J. Jacobs responds:

One of my first interviews was with a barista who works at my local coffee shop, and I thanked her for the coffee. I asked her, ‘What’s it like to be a barista?’ She said that it’s not an easy job because people wouldn’t even treat her like a human being—they would treat her like an ATM machine or a kiosk. They wouldn’t even look up from their phone, just thrust their credit card out in her direction. She said that just made her feel terrible. And as she’s telling me this, I realize that I’ve done that dozens of times.

So I made a pledge that when I deal with a human being in the service sector, I am going to look that person in the eye and say thank you. It’s good for that other person to be recognized as human, but it actually makes you feel better, too. So there is a selfish motivation for looking someone in the eyes and saying thank you.

Invite students to consider a person in their lives who provides them with a service that they appreciate – perhaps without realizing it, until now.

In a go round, invite students to share who that person is and what they might say to this person, if they ever met, or the next time they see them. Invite students to be specific.


 

Extension Activities 
 

These activities aim to expand and deepen our gratitude.


Letter of Gratitude

Invite students to write their own letter of gratitude using this activity guide: How Can We Thank Those We Take for Granted? The activity was created to accompany a TED Radio Hour segment with A.J. Jacobs. Before inviting students to write their letter of gratitude, consider showing the following 7-minute video:  An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Gratitude  

Practicing Gratitude Project

Invite students to think about a product that enriches their lives and all the people involved in bringing it into their lives. As a class project or a homework assignment, ask them to come up with a plan for practicing more gratitude in their lives. This might or might not be related to the product they appreciate and those who make it possible.