You're listening to the live happier longer podcast episode 78. Welcome to the live happier longer podcast. This podcast is equal parts information, inspiration, education and motivation, all dedicated to increase longevity and improving overall quality of life. I'm your host, Molly Watts, and I'm here to help you build the habits of a happier longer line. Let's get started.
Well, hello and welcome to another episode of live happier longer.
I am your host, Molly Watts, and welcome or welcome back.
I am broadcasting today from a very sunny Oregon, I've been leading up to this for a couple of weeks and wow, I gotta tell you, it is going to be an absolutely gorgeous day today in the next few days, look wonderful as well, very warm. But hey, I'm all good with that. Bring it on sunshine.
Today on the podcast, I am so excited to have this interview and to be able to share it with you, I am joined by Nancy Davis Kho,
Nancy is a freelance writer and author, a podcast host, her podcast and blog are called mid-life mixed tape, and it's great. She's been blogging since 2011, so well established blog, podcasting since 2017. and today, I wanna talk to her about her book that just got published called The thank you project, and it's such a wonderful idea, it was such a wonderful project, and the book itself is fantastic.
You are going to love learning more about how you can incorporate a Thank You Project in your own life, what it's done, what it meant to Nancy, and how it fits so well with creating that habit of gratitude that is so important for living a happier, longer life.
Here is my conversation with Nancy Davis Kho.
So Hello, Nancy, nice to hear your voice. Molly thanks for having me.
Thank you so much for joining me, I'm so excited to have this conversation and to learn more about the thank you project, and I appreciate you taking the time to sit down too, the... And my audience, I'm so happy to be here because I too would like to live half year longer, so... Right, right. It was just a...
I mean, I, I, I need more hands.
Well, you definitely are very attuned with daily habit number four, which is give, and that is all about gratitude, and one of the reasons that I wanted to talk with you is about this book is because not only do... I love the fact that you did it and that you decided to write a book about it, but I think it's wonderful, a wonderful primer for people that are trying to create a habit of gratitude. So one thing I wanna ask you about that first, and this book is called The thank you project, and basically you talk about your experience writing thank you letters over the course of a year, and tell me a little bit more about the history of it, and then I'll ask my question are.
Sure, so I was coming up to my big 50th birthday, and it occurred to me that, number one, I had a lot to be thankful for. My husband, I have been married a long time at that point or to... So girls were feeling great, my parents were around, and I think by the time you get to that number on the birthday chart, you realize that you shouldn't take that stuff for granted, you shouldn't assume that everything is gonna be going fine and probably... We've all suffered hardships at some points in our lives, we certainly see people we love go through hard things, and so we know in a kind of a deeper way, I think at the mid-point that these things are not to be taken lightly. So I decided that the way I wanted to commemorate that birth a year was to write one letter every week to someone who had helped or shaped or inspired me, because I know that I am where I...
I am in my life because I've had good friends, good teachers, wonderful parents, a lot of support from a lot of different kinds of people, and it just felt appropriate to me, I guess, in a way to de-mark that year by reminding myself of who those people were and letting them know that I appreciated what they had done to my life, and I really started to Sophie, we found a lot of four thought Molly, it wasn't like, I'm gonna do this thing that will change my life.
Backed into it, I guess, in the sense.
And what happened was it in a very challenging year, and if you read the book, there's a lot of... I faced a lot of loss that was unexpected, and it went from being this kind of joyful, Oye, I get to write a letter to this friend this week too, I feel so sad and anxious right now, I need to write a thank you letter because I know that I will feel better by the time I finished writing it, and so the book is meant to be a blueprint for readers to do their own thank you project, and I try to make it very non-judgmental, very much like, here's what I did. Here's how some other people who did similar kinds of initiatives structured there, so you can fit it to however you want, there's a lot of the science in it because I knew... And my experience was that every time I wrote a letter, I felt better, I felt calmer, I felt more resilient, more connected, and I wanted to understand exactly why that was, so I was able to interview psychologists, social scientists, about what the actual brain processes are... What was the... Why did I feel better? And so I try to include that too, because I didn't want anyone to think, Oh, that's great for her. So she wrote letters and she felt better that that wouldn't work for me.
Yeah, it will work for you about science, and I try to write something that would be kind of fun and entertaining because I think the last thing, even before the pandemic, the last thing any of us needed was like, you should write your thank you letters, you know what? You do have anything. It was kind of a... Right, I just...
I mean, I had fun writing the letters, I found it a really joyful thing to do, and I don't want readers to understand that it's not just another thing on your to-do list, and it's more an invitation to reflect on who's been nice to you in your life, that's not a bad thing to think about it, that's not a bad way to peering your meditation time.
No, absolutely not. And as I shared with you a little bit, you don't wanna nag people, but the premise that you get to live a happier, longer life, from my perspective, you don't get there without actually having a plan in place. It's not something that just happens in a vacuum. You don't just wake up in your 85 and you've managed to successfully have this happier, longer life. What I realized from watching my parents take two very different paths towards aging was that my dad actually did have a plan, and part of that plan, whether he thought about it ahead of time or he just did things naturally, he had things that he did regularly and consistently, and they have proven. They have born out... Is just her 92. he still calls it off... That's awesome.
Yeah, exactly. And he's still growing. He's still learning. He's still optimistic, and I want that in my life. That's what I wanted.
And so when I looked at his life and really distilled that information, daily habit number four, give, expressing gratitude was something that he does naturally and is something that then I... Like you wanted to understand if there was actually science there to back it up, and it turns out there is... He is one... Yeah, there's actual science that not only likes it to improved happiness and better optimism, but it actually can increase your life, you increase your longevity. So it's like, Okay, these are a win-win scenario, but what I love about your project... And that's what the question I wanted to ask was. So it sounds like it had a very organic beginning, and you didn't set out to... Although you are a writer, you didn't set out... Did you set out to write a book?
Oh gosh, no, I asked.
There was a big period of time. I think I signed the last letter and didn't, aside from, as they say in the book, the one place I am nage is that you have to keep a copy of every letter or you write, because looking back over what you've written is a really great... When you're having a low day, just re-read a couple of think You know it, stand, remind yourself who your support network is, and that can be really healing and so that was the only way...
I finished the letters, everyone take out my thing and flip, throw it and didn't think about it more than that, and then about six months later, I was sitting at a birthday party for somebody who... For a 50, it was a 50 birthday party, and somebody else was about to turn 50, took me aside and said, I heard you did this thing where you wrote letters... What was that about? And I was like, Well, I was pretty self-planet rest letters, and she kept asking me questions, what did you write? Who did you rate you but about... And I was like, Well, I guess I think it's pretty solo entry, and then another person asked me, and by the time a third person asked me at a different... And all different... In all different environments.
Ask me how to do it, I said, Well, make... It's not as self-explanatory as I thought, and maybe it would be helpful for people... For me to put all that information, but everything that I learned in short, flat in the curve, which is an iron of tractor right now, a flat in the curve toward how to write. As you say, I am a writer, so the writing of the letters was not necessarily as challenging for me as it might feel for other people, so I wanted to make it easier for other people... Yeah, and frankly, whoever you are, whether you're right or or not, thank you, the idea of think, you know, it's gonna be pretty fraught, and in fact, when I do readings, I often start by asking people if they have ever a binge... Right, a thank you letter or being their own kids try to thank you letter and virtually every hand goes out because it's not always the most fun thing to do, to sit down and write that formula.
Thank you for the go, I use it for it. We had the little formula. We used fittest was small. Yeah, I actually didn't even think about that because you're right. I have a bad memory, a very bad negative association with physically writing thank you notes because money, grandmother red line, you know, and sun the back to you, 'cause my dad... Oh my gosh, no, that's happened. Words, that's horrible.
So one people, I just wanna dispel the assumptions that I... So I think I'm a naturally fairly positive person, which has more to do with humor, probably not anything else, but I am not somebody who had this big gratitude practice before I did this, I'm not somebody who just is Pollyanna running around thinking... Every single person I see, I...
I got better at doing that in writing the letters, and it's one of the things I really like about your show is that you talk about it in terms of habits, because it is something you learn, and you've probably found this in the... In the science you've looked at, but every time you write one of these gratitude letters is in fact, any time you stop and make a deliberate expression of gratitude, whether that's in writing, whether it's saying it out loud as I or even just thinking it in your head, you're rewiring your brain. Be more positive. And what this psychologist say Is the neurons that fire together wire together.
Yeah, so with every letter I wrote, and remember I wrote 50 of them, I was getting more and more efficient at finding positive things about around me, and that was the thing that really changed for me, is I think I got much better at looking at any negative situation or negative person in my life and thinking, Okay, what's the good that came the King from from this, and it certainly has come in handy during the pandemic, I can remind myself with quickness when I start spiraling and thinking, we're never gonna be a believer homes, again, I can think, Well, you know, my college kids are home and I did not expect to have this extra time with them as an empty nest for sure.
I don't love doing all the extra cooking and laundry M whatnot, but they're gonna be going again and it's gonna be permanent when they go and see this extra time. It's really a blessing. And if you... In the book, I talk a lot about how the first letters it were to family and close friends and the obvious ones he would think of to write too, but the better I got and the more efficient I got it. Looking for positive things, I started thinking Well, you know if you're talking about Health shaped or inspired the people who had helped chair inspired me.
I learned from negative example, I think most people have a few relationships where they can say, Well, I won't do that again. And that's a good lesson.
Yeah, so I talk about writing to former friends, ex-friends and girlfriends, terrible bosses, who you might have quit a job because they were so awful, but maybe you found a better job and you don't have to mail the letters. And that was the realization, I think I hit it at about letter 25 or so that, Oh, I can write these letters, I feel all these physical benefits of gratitude, I feel more positive and more relaxed and centered when I write it... Not when I send it, it's not the person's reaction to it that gives me that good feeling, although that was always great if I got a nice direction... That was like the cherry on top. But I didn't expand it.
But if I can get this feeling is just by writing and not sending them, that opens up a whole list of names of people I can write to and just not be in touch with, so I do think that it built a habit in me of being better at looking for things to be positive.
Well, yeah, I even ask a question or to just just give them on a lot... No, I did it a lot. And that's all good. You did, and I loved it because honestly, you're preaching to the choir, one of the things that is foundational here for five per life, and this podcast is the science behind all of this, and I'm a geek about it all, I really enjoy it. And those neural pathways that you're talking about, there was a lot of time spent in science, really, it wasn't until the early 2000s that neuroscientists actually understood that people of advanced age could still create uneasy that or bring... Never stops growing in that you can keep doing that right up until the very end, and what you're talking about is really the bottom line, the core at being optimistic and resilient, and as we approach aging, as we get older, it becomes even more important to... To foster optimism and to understand that you can't... I agree with you, I'm not a Pollyanna. That's one of the things in having a podcast that's live happier longer, one of the reasons that science is so important to me is that I'm not naturally a Operon either, I'm not like... I don't walk around and go, Oh, happy to just doesn't... It doesn't happen like that. For me, what I am so excited to share and really it reinforces me listening to you, is that this habit can be formed by you in a very dedicated manner by doing the actions, you can reinforce the neuro pathway, and that's just really good news, it should be really great news for anybody. It's like, you know what I mean? If you don't, if you don't walk around and it's being happier doesn't mean that like never has any negative complications, the things are just gonna be rainbows and altos from here on out, it's all about a reframing, and it is about resilience and about maintaining optimism despite the things that are going to come along or...
I have to laugh because at some point... And I looked at the back of my book, I really is. It had been... It was categorized, the span can orazio was Yelp.
>I was lining the...
I don't know, it is a conical I retired... You've ever met... And I think that has something to do with generationally anger, and I think that we do tend to be a little bit spital, and I'm not somebody I also say I'm like a repressed last from way back, I haven't done a lot of therapy or anything like that, I'm not somebody who runs around spouting new age, I'm a very pragmatic person, and if this can work for me, and if I can actually step back and tell you that... Yeah, I feel happier is a result of this, it can work for virtually anybody, 'cause I'm not wired that way, I'm not somebody who is just like...
Actually, all say I'm a person of faith. I'm a member of a very liberal Episcopal Church here in Oakland, California, and that informs it as well, but I don't want you to think that I get into this with my, I don't know, worries or whatever, if this works and it's easily replicable and it's extensible... One of the things when I did all that research and I was like, Oh, that makes sense. That's why that warm feeling in my chest every time I finished a letter that's called elevation, it's quantified at... You really get this sense of your heart opening a little bit and Oh, my shoulder saying, Well, that promise to do with the fact that the blood pressure goes down when you are gratitude and all these things. And then I got to the end of writing my book and I was like, Why don't I stop writing thank you on... Or is it 50? What a stupid thing. Just stopped doing so, started and I'm not quite as regimented as it was, it's not every week, but I can tell you... I know when it's time to ready thank you letter, it's when the shoulder start going up again and I'm feeling anxious about the state of the world and like I know what... I know how to fix this. I need to think of somebody who has helped me and tell them that I saw that and I appreciated that, and it works every time.
Yeah, and I love that, and of course, we do talk about it as a daily habit, expressing gratitude, and the expression part is what I think is so important, not only in what you just said about writing thank you letters, but also the science backs up that it's writing, it's saying it's... Actually thinking it out loud, we have a journal and me, a planner journal where you can literally track it every day and spend five minutes in just making a note of gratitude or thing... Thank you. But what I like about... And I know, I'm sure in the book... And you think it's better to say, Thank you, then to say, I love you. To someone, well, or not is not better, maybe it's...
I don't know better. I think it's a different way to do it, and I think it's a very meaningful way to do it. I think as I wrote about how for Mother's Day, and now with Father's Day coming up, I think the same, telling people in our lives exactly what they did, how it made you feel and how it impacted you down the line is such an interesting thing for people to read or to know... And I have to say since writing this book, I have received... I've been on the receiving end is really beautiful letters for old friends who found the book and read it, and s and send me thank you letters, which was not why I wrote the book, so it was like a total bonus.
But there are times where people have said, You helped me when you did this, I'm like, We really... I had no idea, I didn't know. And there was one incident in particularly that I think goes to show how powerful his letters can be when I was a software college or I was going into my sprayer, all my closest friends and proffer housing, and I was the loser of that game of musical chairs and I didn't have a roommate and I was a little free not... And these girls who I barely know had a quad, there were only three of them, and they were like, Can... You could live with us. I'll be fine. I didn't really know them at all, and it was a really good year. They were lovely, and the nice thing was they had different sets of friends than I did, so I met a ton of new people that year, and I was really grateful to them that they have... So on a young welcoming and kind we, one of them stay friends with them forever, and one of them wrote thank you letter, and she said, I'm so grateful to you because that was the year that my music sense of abilities opened up. You were always dragging me to concerts, you were always playing music for me that I hadn't heard, and I've got such a better taste in music because you loved me, and I was like...
I thought I was the taker that whole... I hear, I didn't think I had one single time to get to those girls, and it turns out I did, and it made me feel that about myself, I was like, Oh, I wasn't just a charity case, I was a good DJ in that apartment, you know what?
Remind me of something wonderful about your book is all of your suggested songs and your Spotify, I see a as a playlist for the thank you project. Just tell me a little bit more about that. Obviously, Music's just a big part of where you... Your whole life, I know both reading and music for you, but it's all the...
I had a... Yeah, I've had a blog called midlife mixed tapes since 2011, and I added a podcast and the Maoist I started out in 2017. so for me, yeah, music is a huge part of my life, in fact, one of the letters I wrote was to the live music industry, that was one of my... Thanks. Started thinking of all the bands I went... Right too. And then I was like, No, I don't have aright.
So I summarized, but I do, I love to go, I've always loved music, and I still try to go to a concert. Every month, this has been actually the hardest, probably I'm hard part of the ADEM for me is knowing that I can go see a live show in safely until sometime in 2021 fingers grow, so it's actually a quite painful, but I've been doing...
've been watching a lot of Zoom concerts. Yeah, that they love a... Yeah, and it is my ladies on the podcast, I was supposed to go So pondering play this week in San Francisco, obviously the show a cane, but I got the lead singer on to the middle, so... Awesome, yeah, he's a great guy.
I mean, I don't know how many... I just, I'm always on someone ask a question, I almost always have to like, Okay, don't answer in a song, and so it made a lot of sense to me the way the book is structured.
The first part is, here's how you organize your thank you project, here is how you write a letter and just tries to be instructional, cause I like that point easier, but the whole rest of the book is here are groups of people to whom you might wanna write in your own life, here's some people to think about... And I wrote it that way in part because I knew full well. A lot of people aren't gonna write the letters at all, but even just reading about those categories of people will help them think about who that could be, and that again is going to that a roll rewiring. Even if you're just thinking about it, you're already doing some of the work, but at the end of each of those chapters, I would think... As I was thinking about medical professionals, I was thinking Dr. doctor give me some news, I got... And then when I was thinking about... Oh, right into your pets, 'cause I wrote to my dog, I was thinking I love Larsson called Lester by Niel fan that I just loved that he wrote to his domain, and so I was like, Can I just put a playlist for each chapter and the editor said, it was fine, and I will tell you, I spent as much time on the playlist as I actually put in the word to book, so... And yeah, all on Spotify, so people can listen to it that I love that. I think that makes it even... It's really do. For me, it makes it even better. I think not only do I love the music part of it, but just inherently, but again, the organic part of it, and it's something that's important to you, and I think it just shares more of your journey and why, and who knows you might help somebody discovers the music that they never have. Which would be wonderful too. I hope so. I will tell you on, I'm laying down the challenge, if there's any song writers or before us listening, please someone write a song about a teacher that isn't smut, because all the songs about teacher... I wrote to my wonderful AP English teacher and I didn't really want to death for teacher to her, so it needs more choices, that's a...
Oh, I love it, I love it. Well, Nancy L. day I really could. I think that there is so much wisdom in this book, and I know there were hard letters that you wrote, there were some that were easier for you to write, you share so much of yourself, you've got this wonderful underscore of humor that runs through... Even in our conversation, but the Book of two, and I just appreciate you taking the time to the sit down and talk with me about it. I'm gonna link in my show notes how to get to the big life mixtape blog and the mid-life mixed both. So I appreciate that, and I know that people will enjoy learning more about the tank project, I hope that even by us talking about this and sharing it, that people will create... Start creating the habit of gratitude in their lives, it is a... What could be simpler? Lose your old associations with the thank you note and just express gratitude, tell somebody that you're thankful for them and why you're thankful for them.
Well, thank you so much, I consent better myself. It's not a hard practice to put it here and it really will be profound and lasting benefits, so I appreciate the chance to talk about the book to you, Molly.
Absolutely, thanks so much, Nancy.
Thanks for listening to the live half a year longer podcast. If this podcast is helping you and you'd like to go a little deeper, maybe track your progress on your habit building, you should check out our five for life planner, the planner is 13 weeks, undated, and you can start literally at any time to create the habits of a happier, longer life. It'll keep you motivated and it'll keep you accountable, and hey, it's affordable, so go to shop dot five for life, dot co .That's shop.fiveforlife.co and enter promo code PODCAST for a special discount.
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