A.J. Jacobs has written a number of bestsellers, including The Year of Living Biblically, The Know-it-all, and The Guinea Pig Diaries.

A.J. Jacobs is also an agnostic.

But, in this interview with Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project), Jacobs explains how giving thanks before every meal makes him happier, and how remembering death helps him to live!

What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
A.J.: Saying prayers of thanksgiving (even though I’m an agnostic – go figure!) I give thanks at every meal, reminding myself of all the people and things that brought this food to my plate. The farmer who grew the blueberries, the guy who picked the blueberries, the truck driver who drove them to New York, the woman who designed the boxes, the woman at the deli who sold them to me. The list goes on for some time. But gratitude really is like a wonderdrug. It just makes you happier.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
One thing I find helpful is to have a memento mori on my computer desktop. Memento moris are reminders of death, and were popular in the Middle Ages when paintings often included skulls and other symbols. So I have a JPG of a skull on my computer. But I didn’t want it to be gruesome, so it’s a fun, multicolored skull – a design I downloaded from some site. It puts things in perspective. It helps stop the small-stuff-induced sweating. Reminds me to enjoy my life and my family while I’m here.

The Apostle Paul helps us make sense of this. He says that when unbelievers, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, they show the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). Yes, that knowledge is suppressed and distorted (Romans 1:21-23), but it still presents a valuable point of contact and the greatest encouragement to evangelism.