Rochester, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester native Nancy Davis Kho is inspiring people all over the country to write thank-you notes to those who have impacted their lives.
She started this ripple effect with her book, “The Thank-You Project.”
A News 8 viewer read the book and decided to write 70 thank-you letters to 70 people for her 70th birthday.
That viewer sent a letter to Adam Chodak.
Adam reached out to Kho for an interview.
Here’s some of what they talked about:
Adam Chodak: So how did this idea come to you?
Nancy Davis Kho: The idea came to me the year I was celebrating a milestone birthday and I thought it would be an appropriate way to mark the occasion and make it a little different than every other year by sending a thank you to someone every week to someone who had helped, shaped or inspired me. So that was my only plan. I thought I’d write a weekly thank you letter to somebody who had changed my life for the better, with whom I had crossed paths in the past and it really snowballed from there.
AC: What’s one of the more surprising responses you received?
NDK: One of the more surprising responses was from writer Bob Sheffield. He writes for Rolling Stone and I just love the way he writes about music and life together in a way that’s so unique and uniquely him, and I sent off that letter not expecting to get any response at all. He ended up speaking at a writer’s conference in Texas actually and my sister-in-law was there and bought one of this books and said would you sign it for my sister-in-law Nancy Davis Kho and he said, I know Nancy, she wrote me a thank you letter and the inscription in that book I will cherish for the rest of my life. It obviously made an impression on him and it made me think it’s worth doing this and it’s worth reaching out to people you might not be in daily contact with.
AC: You’re from Rochester did any of your thank you notes come here?
NDK: I must have broken the back of the Rochester mail carriers. I sent so many to Rochester. My family is still there in the area. I have so many friends from growing up in Brighton. And as the project went on and I realized that I didn’t have to just write letters to people, I starting writing letters to the cities that had shaped me. Writing the letter to the City of Rochester was one of the favorite ones I wrote, because it gave me a chance to think about who I am as a person who has lived in California for 23 years, really reflects who I am growing up in Rochester for the first 18.
AC: How should people approach writing a letter like this?
NDK: So it’s really pretty easy. You just do the same three steps over and over. I broke it down: see, say and savor. See is just spend some time thinking about the person to whom you want to write, what are the lessons they taught you, what are the ways they’ve inspired you, how is your life because you know them. And don’t rush that. You can make it kind of slow and just think about all the ways they made your life better. You’re already making your brain more efficient at finding good things around you.
The second part is say, that’s writing the letter. And I kept going back to the same template over and over. People don’t need an award-winning letter, they just want to hear in your authentic voice that they matter, that they’ve made a difference and I tell people to just sound like you. That’s who they want to hear from.
The third step is savor, and it’s where I tell you to keep a copy of letter you write because when you’re having a low day some time in the future, when you’re feeling like you’re out of resources, you can pull out those letters and remind yourself you’ve got a team supporting you, you’ve faced heart things before and people came to your aid. It’s a really great way to remind yourself of the resources and resilience that you have.
AC: I think most people can understand the immediate benefit of doing this. You feel good reaching out to someone else, but you talk about long-term happiness derived from a project like this…
NDK: Some of the long-term benefits, I wanted to understand… After I wrote the 50 letters, this was back in 2016, I knew I looked at the world differently. I knew I was more efficient at not dwelling on the negative. I was much quicker in a negative situation to figure out what were the positives that came out of it. So part of the book included some research into the brain and it turns out the more time you spend focusing on good things, the more time you spend looking for the positive in the world around you, your brain actually rewires to continue to do that, so by writing these letters you’re giving yourself skills that will pay off over the long-term.
I’ll tell ya the book came out December 2019 shortly before the pandemic. I did not intend to write a book that might help people weather the pandemic a little more easily, but I’m glad it came out when it did because I know from readers that sitting down when things were feeling really scary and negative, sitting down to write a letter was an effective way to pass that and remind yourself that there are good things around you still.
AC: What did you think about an anchor from your hometown talking about your idea not even knowing it was from you?
NDK: I got goosebumps when I saw you talking about that thank you letter. And the woman who wrote the letter to you, Jill, was kind enough to reach out to me via email to tell that that had happened so I was able to go look at the clip. I really got goosebumps because that’s exactly what I hoped would happen when I wrote my book that people would acknowledge the good people around them, then those people might be encouraged to do it, then those people might be encouraged to do it and to watch you do exactly that and spread the circle a bit wider in my hometown was just the greatest thing. I’m so grateful to this for starting this ripple in Rochester.
AC: Obviously you’ve written other works, you have a podcast, a lot of it talks about mid-life. How has that developed for you? How are you enjoying this process?
NDK: Well, I didn’t become a writer until I was already in mid-life. Actually my first job was at Kodak so I started off at a business career, but I kept coming back to this topic in mid-life watching people tackle new things and really feeling gratified by these skills that they had accumulated up to this point in their lives. So much about the narrative in mid-life is about mid-life crisis and everything’s terrible and you’re at the bottom of the happiness u-curve and so all of my writing — and I do have a podcast called Mid-life Mix Tape — I try to share stories of what’s good about the years in between being hip and breaking one, because I think there’s a lot, some sad, terrible things too, but we shouldn’t have to suffer those without enjoying the good stuff. So that’s what I’ve tried to do with my writing and the podcast, and it seems to resonate.