Nancy Davis Kho, an Oakland-based writer and author of "The Thank You Project," wanted to do something to mark a milestone 50th birthday back in 2016. She thought back to all of the people who've affected her life over the years and then decided to write each of them a simple but detailed thank-you letter.
Each Friday, Nancy would sit down to write a page-long letter. Many were sent to family and friends. Others were written to places, like her beloved city of Oakland, or to her hobbies. Nancy even decided to write thank-you letters to ex-boyfriends or unsavory bosses, who also helped her learn important lessons.
"We learn things through positive and negative examples," Nancy said. "You don't have to send the letter. They don't need to know any of that. But it's a good way to re-frame stuff and foster a sense of self-empathy that you did the best you could at the time."
Nancy said there have been a lot heartwarming reactions from letter recipients — her father even framed his. But Nancy, who is a mother of two, said the most important part of her "thank-you project" was the writing process itself. Each time she sat down to think about what to put down on paper, she felt an instant sense of calm.
"I could instantly feel my shoulders relaxing and my jaw unclenching," said Nancy. "No matter how many horrible things had happened this week, I could think 'OK - I have this one person in my corner.' It was a really amazing way to do a reset."
There's a growing body of research suggesting that expressing gratitude has positive health effects. Some researchers recommend keeping a journal and jotting down things that affect your life in a positive way. It's a way to help you rewire your brain to become more aware of other positive things around you. Nancy said that refocus has made a huge difference in her life.
"I do think it has made me a lot quicker to find the upside in whatever situation I'm in," said Nancy. "I inadvertently stumbled into something pretty powerful."