094: How to cultivate gratitude & happiness- with Nancy Davis Kho

By December 3, 2019The Simplifiers Podcast

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When was the last time you received a handwritten letter in the mail? My heart skips a beat when I get one. The idea that someone took the time out of their busy schedule, found some stationery, took it to the post office, and then sent it off with love means so much to me. (Obviously, I don’t feel the same way when someone sends me a bill.) Yet, when I get a letter, I’m eternally grateful and it likely sits on my desk for months to come. Every time I spot it, I get the warm and fuzzies. And maybe that’s the secret to life?

My special guest today is author Nancy Davis Kho and she’s simplifying how to cultivate gratitude and lasting happiness in your life by writing one letter at a time. Nancy has found healing through writing and her latest book, ‘The Thank-You Project,’ recounts her experience of writing thank-you letters to 50 people, places and pastimes that have shaped her lifetime so far. If you’re looking to heal old wounds or cultivate more gratitude in your life, this episode is for you.


Nancy Davis Kho simplifies how to cultivate gratitude & lasting happiness.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How she defines the practice of “deliberate gratitude” and why it has the power to be restorative in our lives and mental wellness
  • How writing thank-you notes (even ones you DON’T send) can help you create more resiliency, happiness and connection in your work and life
  • What the “Thank-You Project” is and how to try it yourself in 3 simple steps… see, say, savor
  • How to decide which letters you could write first and why
    • Who has helped me and how?
    • Who has shaped me and how?
    • Who has inspired me and how?
  • How to decide which letters to send and which not to send… and why
  • What profound life lessons she learned in this year-long experiment that helped her change the trajectory of things, in a good way

In my own life, I’m starting to realize the joy that can be found when I reconnect with beloved people from my past. When you muster up the courage to check-in, touch base, and write a letter from the heart, good things will come in return. Even if you write the letter and never send it, your heart softens, gratitude rises, and release happens. 

Lasting happiness isn’t a fluke… 

It’s something that you can cultivate and is within reach today. So, pull out your journal while listening to this one… you might find yourself inspired to write (and possibly, send) a letter to a loved one soon.


My challenge for you this week:

How are you going to take what you’ve learned in today’s episode and will you vow to write one letter this week, in an effort to cultivate gratitude & lasting happiness? How can you incorporate this practice into your work or life? Share it with me, privately or publicly. Snap a photo of you doing the thing, and tag @thesimplifiers on Instagram for added accountability and support!

Links, books and apps mentioned:

Book: The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time – Nancy Davis Kho

Book: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell

Podcast: How to master the art of thoughtful gift giving, featuring John Ruhlin – The Simplifiers Podcast

Favorite quotes from this episode:

[03:24] “I realized that sitting down once a week [to write letters] was my reset button. And it was this chance, no matter what was going on around me, to realize that I’ve had so much help in my life. I’ve been so supported. I’ve had hard times in my life, at every juncture. [Yet,] someone’s been there to give me an assist and what a gift to sit down each week and write.“

– Nancy

[04:24] “This deliberate practice of gratitude resets your parasympathetic nervous system and it gives you this feeling of warmth in your chest and you feel more connected, you feel more relaxed.”

– Nancy

[09:07] “I think for the writer, it gives you a chance to, you know, deliver gratitude means really looking at those relationships and just thinking about what did you take away from it that’s helped you to be where you are.”

– Nancy

[10:04] “We’re evolutionarily adapted to look for negative things. It’s what keeps us safe if we’re attacked by a bear. But the problem is if you’re always going around waiting for the bear attack, you’re not (necessarily) having a very enjoyable life. So this is a very easy exercise that just kind of retrains your brain. You’ve got to write a letter this week, look around at the people in your sphere and think of the good things they do for you. And suddenly next week, it’s a little easier to do that and it gets progressively easier.”

– Nancy

[32:22] “I think the purpose of writing a letter like that [to someone who’s done you wrong] is to help you say, ‘okay, I was given this lousy set of circumstances and I picked three diamonds out of it and this is how those three things that I learned helped me help me where I am today.’ And good for me for taking what could have otherwise been just a wholly, terrible situation and realizing that there were some important things I needed to know out of that.”

 – Nancy

Win 30 days of accountability coaching with Mary! (valued at $2000 USD)

The Simplifiers just recently crossed the 50k downloads mark, with listeners in 100 countries around the world. WOW!

As a way to say thank you, we’re doing a giveaway this month, gifting one lucky listener a full month of accountability coaching with me for FREE in the month of January 2020!

If you’re the winner, for the entire month of January, you and I are going to be running partners. You set your one BIG goal and I will help you achieve it.

Choose the Gold or Platinum option by Friday, December 20, 2019 and I will choose one person (at random) to WIN. Drawing will be held on Saturday, December 21st, so don’t delay.

I’m lacing up my sneakers and ready to run alongside you as you #dothething.

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About Nancy

Nancy Davis Kho is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, US Magazine, The Rumpus, and The Toast. 

She’s been recognized as a Voice of the Year in the Humor Category by BlogHer and was the inaugural champion of Oakland’s Literary Death Match. She covers “the years between being hip and breaking one” at MidlifeMixtape.com and on the Midlife Mixtape Podcast, available on all major podcast platforms. 

Nancy’s book The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time from Running Press is available December 03, 2019.

Where Nancy hangs out online:

Website: daviskho.com

Facebook: @midlifemixtape

Instagram: @midlifemixtape

Twitter: @midlifemixtape

Nancy’s vote for the perfect guest on The Simplifiers Podcast:

Tiffany Klein – Owner and Event Planner at Rosecrest Special Events has been planning and hosting parties, big and small, for more than 20 years. Her ability to create one-of-a-kind event experiences in the Bay Area is like none other.

Nancy Davis Kho

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