“I would look at the next name on the list and I would spend a whole week just thinking about what specifically have I learned from this person. What good advice have they given me? When did they help me? How am I different because I know them?” — Nancy Davis Kho


  • How Nancy executed her year-long project of writing one letter of gratitude a week
  • What was hard, easy, and surprising about the project
  • How we can start a similar gratitude project
  • The project’s lasting impact on Nancy
  • Nancy’s observations from her experience interviewing mid-lifers on her podcast


Nancy Davis Kho is a speaker, author, and podcaster whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon.com.

She is the author of The Thank You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time, published by Running Press in December 2019. On her podcast Midlife Mixtape, Nancy covers “the years between being hip and breaking one”. Midlife Mixtape won a 2020 Iris Award as Podcast of the Year and was included in Wall Street Journal’s list of 8 Podcasts for Anyone Nervously Facing Retirement.

Nancy and I talked about her experience and takeaways from the year-long project that was the basis of her book. She offers such practical tips about how and where to start, and why she encourages midlifers especially to undertake a similar project.


The Thank You Project, written by Nancy Davis Kho
Midlife Mixtape, podcast hosted by Nancy
Who We Are Now


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I thought, well, I didn’t get here on my own. I am really fortunate in large part because I’ve been helped along the way by various people. So this year I’m just going to take every week and write one letter to someone who has helped, shaped, or inspired me over the last 50 years.

I wanted to understand why every time I finished a letter, I felt better. I would feel my shoulders sink. I would feel this sensation of warmth in my chest that I came to learn is called elevation. I would feel my breathing rate kind of slow down. It turns out there’s tons of science on the links between gratitude and happiness, gratitude and better physical health. Better sleeping, better asthma control, lower blood pressure. It’s almost like our bodies are really optimized to work from a state of gratitude. We really do better when we take the time to acknowledge the good things around us.

What I was doing was rewiring my brain to be more efficient at looking for the good things around me. Scientists say the neurons that fire together wire together. If you spend some quality time every week just thinking about the good things in your life, your brain gets faster at doing that.

I had a couple of arbitrary rules. One page only. I didn’t want to go on and on. And the second thing was that I was not allowed to have an expectation of a response.[My] job is to write the letter and express the gratitude.

There’s some research that shows that people tend to overestimate how awkward they’re going to feel in sending it, and they underestimate the impact on the recipient.

I think for people in our stage of life, don’t sleep on it. If you want to tell people you’re grateful for them, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait.

The story that gets told over and over is how much less unsettled we are by change. Because we have seen change. We have endured change.

There are so many interesting things happening around us. Let’s not take it for granted. Let’s mark it as it goes by.


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