EP 164 | Do People Get Happier as They Age?

EP 164 | Do People Get Happier as They Age?

Welcome to episode 164 of The Retirement Years on Profit Boss® Radio! In this episode, we’re exploring the unexpected ways that aging affects our happiness. 

If you do a Google search for the word “midlife,” you’ll instantly be greeted by the autofilled word “crisis.” It’s a time when almost everyone asks themselves, “Is this all there is?” and finds themselves facing new challenges, both internally and externally.

However, as you’ll hear from my guest today, midlife is also an extraordinary time. It’s a time of lasting friendships, of greater confidence, and of having the wisdom to do remarkable things. With a deeper understanding of where all the negative tropes around midlife come from, you can find happiness not just in it, but in the decades to come.  

Today, I’m joined by Nancy Davis Kho. She’s the host of the Midlife Mixtape podcast and the author of The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time, who is here to share what she learned from her own pursuit of happiness. 

So, if you’re ready to bust the myths about middle age and better understand what happiness is really all about, this episode is for you. Tune in to Profit Boss® Radio today!


Here’s what you’ll find out in this week’s episode of Profit Boss® Radio

  • Why midlife – the period between 30 and 60 – is a really great phase of life to be in.
  • What the happiness curve is, why it’s consistent across species, and how it forecasts our ability to become happier as we age.
  • How to measure success as we get older – and how this moment in history is giving so many people perspective.
  • How Nancy cultivated gratitude at a challenging time in her life – and why choosing to not madly pursue happiness actually makes us happier.


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Hilary Hendershott: All right, Nancy, welcome to Profit Boss Radio. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. 

Hilary Hendershott: Nancy, rather than shelter-in-place, I’m calling this my retreat-for-health because words are important. So, how is your retreat-for-health going?

Nancy Davis Kho: My retreat-for-health is great. I’m just really trying to take it day-by-day. That’s been my takeaway. So, whenever I asked myself this question, I think as everyone, does everyone who I’m responsible for, are they healthy today? And in fact, they are. My 86-year-old mom has moved out of her COVID-infested nursing home in with my sister and is healthy and is doing great there in upstate New York. And my college kids are home finishing up their years at the kitchen table, which is not how anybody thought this term was going to go for them but you know what, I know where they are. Everybody’s healthy. 

Hilary Hendershott: And they have fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Exactly. And they only have the beer consumption that I’m allowing so I think we’re all trying to find silver linings and I do think this kind of regrouping and thinking about things in really simple terms, am I healthy? Are the people I love healthy? You know, do we have a roof over our head? It’s kind of nice to bring it back to basics in some ways. 

Hilary Hendershott: Keep it simple. Be happy with the simple things. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Exactly. 

Hilary Hendershott: So, you’re a podcaster and an author and a very talented writer, by the way. Let’s just get the tough stuff out of the way. According to you, I’m in my middle age. I’m 43. I’ll be 44 this year, but according to you, anyone between 30 and 60 is actually in their middle age. Is that right? 

Nancy Davis Kho: That is correct, Hilary, and I’m just going to lay it out for you young like the 32-year-olds who just had a heart attack. Here’s the deal. I’ve got a couple of business degrees. I’ve studied statistics. Also, I’m a GenXer and we are cynical by nature. So, when I sat down and was thinking about who I was aiming my, initially, it was a blog called Midlife Mixtape and now it’s a podcast as well. And I was thinking about, like, honestly, midlife so let’s pretend we’re all going to be 100. Okay, let’s pretend. We’re not, but maybe you listening, you’re going to be 100, let’s just say so. Well, then the midpoint is 50 and then you assume you’ve got three phases of life youth, middle age, old age. Divide that 100 into threes, you’re really middle-aged by the time you’re 33. And by the time you’re 66, you’re already to the next phase, which I don’t want to talk about yet. 

But the thing is that was my theory that gets proven with every episode of The Midlife Mixtape Podcast is midlife is a really great phase of life to be in. There’s so much good stuff that comes out of having experience and wisdom and having more confidence. So, I’m trying with my show and with the blog to make people who are approaching middle age or who are in it themselves focus a bit more on what are the positives because the narrative around midlife is usually so negative and It’s all about the midlife crisis and the sandwich generation and all these other things that these kinds of tropes about how terrible it is and that has not been my experience. Of course, there are things that are terrible. Of course, there have been things that have not worked out during this phase. But it’s countered by the fact that people tend to have more confidence. They tend to have more experience and more efficient at things. Their friendships are longer. So, there’s more support. So that’s really where I try to talk about the years between being hip and breaking one as I call it.

Hilary Hendershott: I love that phrase. I actually haven’t heard about midlife crises recently. Has that use of that phrase sort of petered out? Is that less common now?

Nancy Davis Kho: If you go to Google, that is always the first thing that comes up. I think there’s a lot of good research that’s coming out. I’ve had some really interesting guests on the show, like Jonathan Rauch, who wrote a book called The Happiness U Curve and it’s about this natural biological phenomenon where happiness levels tend to dip down when you’re in your 40s and then they start to climb up again when you’re in your 50s. That book I highly recommend it. It’s really fascinating but what he figured out was not only is it consistent across cultures. It’s consistent across species. Chimpanzees, whales, there are multiple mammals that have midlife crises and what it is that I think is so interesting, it has a lot to do with expectations of happiness. So, when you’re young, you tend to think you do. You have your whole life in front of you. Things are going to go the way you want them to go. Everything’s going to work out exactly the way you thought. And then life beats you up a little bit and sometimes things fall short and there’s divorce, there’s loss or whatever there is. 

And then what happens is your expectations get very low, and you start thinking nothing’s going to work out for me. That’s kind of the lowest part of the U curve. Nothing’s ever going to be good again. And then when you have low expectations and a good thing happens then that makes you happier because you were surprised. So, as you get older and good things continue to happen, you keep being surprised and that’s why overall your happiness levels get higher because basically, you’ve level set expectations and you can be surprised and delighted when good things happen for you.

Hilary Hendershott: So, I was going to ask you about the Happiness U Curve, because I saw that in your book and I think that and I’m aware of the dangers of anecdotal evidence, but if I think about my own life, when I was in my 20s, I sort of felt like the world was my oyster like anything can happen. It’s all possibility and then each one of the things I wanted, a career that defines me, a good husband, I had kids, I had all that happen, but then it’s weird in the way that it goes from possibility to reality because now it’s no longer possibility. That space is filled. And I sometimes wake up and I think I should be really, really happy. I have the life I designed and it’s strange to me that I experienced a lot of dissatisfaction not with my husband, he’s great, but it’s like kind of like meh. It’s just I got it. So now what?

Nancy Davis Kho: So, Hilary, let me just compliment you because you are right on time with where you are in the happiness U curve. And actually, he wrote that book, he had won a National Magazine Award, which is the most prestigious award you can win in the magazine writing industry. Jonathan writes for Atlantic and a few other really top-level publications. He within like two weeks of winning that award was like, “Is that all there is?” and it’s exactly what you’re talking about because every time you achieve something, you’re also closing the door on something else. So, when you were 20, and you thought you could go 17 different ways, that’s a different sense of hope and ambition than when you’re 45 and you’re married, and you’ve got kids, and this is your career now. And you can be doing great in that but there is this little sense of loss that goes along with what else could I be doing or the reality of achieving things doesn’t always feel like what you think it was going to. And so, I guess the takeaway on this happiness U curve is there’s just been a ton of research done on this that shows that really, you will get to a point where that will be all it is and you’ll be happy for it like it will start to get better. 

What happens is you shift your mindset from one of wanting to achieve things to wanting to connect, and it’s about valuing relationships and valuing people in your lives becomes a much more popular way to measure success as you get older, just because that is what’s important. And again, I think this pandemic is driving this message home. I mean, we are with the people we love, wherever we are, honestly, whether it’s in our apartment or I think for a lot of us, it’s kind of that reminder, like this is really what matters. And maybe you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 to achieve that to maybe you can start accessing that knowledge a little bit earlier, thanks to 2020 being so bad.

Hilary Hendershott: Yeah. Everyone’s talking about what’s the new reality the pandemic will bring. Maybe we’ll all reset expectations based on connection and relationships. I’ll definitely pick up a copy of that book. Did you set out to become a maven of midlife happiness? How did that happen? Or do you disagree with that moniker?

Nancy Davis Kho: Oh, God. Well, first of all, no. I mean, so my degrees are in international business and I was determined I was going to be a big international businessperson, and I did have that career for the first 15, 17 years. And then I was approaching 40 and maybe I was having that, you know, is that all there is? I think the feeling I was having was I am a very analytical person. I’m a kind of pragmatic person and there was nothing in me that was feeling creative. And that didn’t sit well. And so, I decided I always loved writing, and I just kind of let it go so I started writing when I was 40 and pitching essays and taking writing classes and joining writing groups. And I realized that’s the thing, at least for now, that fills me in a way that my business career wasn’t. So, just to fast forward, I started the blog called Midlife Mixtape because I felt like, first of all, for GenX, a mixtape is a very easy-to-understand artifact. You understand when someone says a mixtape exactly what they’re talking about, piecing all these different things together, and I think that’s a good description of midlife where you’re trying to balance parenting and being a partner and having a career and try to keep some relationships with your friends. And so, that construct to me was meaningful. 

And then just in writing the blog, I found my writer’s voice. I think I found my authentic writer’s voice just because I was putting out so many essays on the blog, and then eventually that morphed into a podcast. And no, I did not set out to do any of that. There’s a lot I can talk about in terms of writing how projects led one to the next to the one that is finally now published and out in the world. But I think the thing I did right was kind of follow where my curiosity was leading me both in terms of topics and in terms of how I felt comfortable expressing them. I know when I first started the podcast, I wondered if I was giving up on myself as a writer because I had to put a lot of energy into the podcast but that’s where the conversation wanted to be. I felt like I had been writing my own stuff on the blog for so long and I wanted to introduce different voices. And that’s what the podcast does. And now I just mix it up whatever I feel like is the place for whatever the creative outlet, for the creative energy to go.

Hilary Hendershott: Has allowing your creative self-expression to flourish and beginning to study or be a medium for the conversation about happiness, has that made you more happy?

Nancy Davis Kho: Well, I think what made me more happy was the thing that I did that the book is about. So, my book came out last December. It’s called The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time. And what happened was I was coming into the year I was going to turn 50 in 2016, I’m a 1966 baby, and I decided I wanted to do something to kind of mark that milestone because that’s a big one. That’s my halfway point to 100 when I turn 100. And so, I decided I would write one thank you letter every week to someone who had helped or shaped or inspired me and it wasn’t because I was going to get a book deal out of it. It wasn’t because I thought I needed to be happier. I just felt like it was a pretty easy way to acknowledge that I had been helped because I felt very fortunate. My husband and I had been married for a long time. Our kids were good, our parents were around, and I just wanted to acknowledge my good fortune. So, I started writing these letters once a week. I would just sit down and pick somebody and say thank you for this thing you taught me that I still use in my life or that great piece of advice you gave me or the way you support my friends and my family. 

And anyway, what happened was it became a terrible year. I ended up having some really hard personal challenges that year. My dad died suddenly. My mom has dementia. Dad was her caregiver. And so, suddenly we were scrambling to figure out what was the best way to take care of her. Two weeks after dad’s funeral, the oldest kid left to go to college for the first time. So, it was just like, bam, bam, bam, I was getting pummeled. And I realized that the one thing I could rely on whenever I was feeling grief or anxiety or stress was that if I sat down and wrote a thank you letter, I would feel better. I knew that this was this perfect way to spend half an hour, an hour, whatever it took, and kind of get my breathing back to normal, have my shoulders sink down. And so, it was just this really restorative calming thing and I wanted to tell people how to do it because by the time I reached 50 letters, I was writing letters to cities I lived in because if you think about what has helped or shaped or inspired you, where you have lived can be one of those things or books I love, that everybody who knows me knows I love Jane Austen. I’m looking to see if I have any of my Jane Austen paraphernalia in my office. I have a ton of it. 

And so, you can write these letters and get the benefit of gratitude without necessarily having to mail them. So, by the time I had finished that, I really did feel happier. I did feel like I was much better at looking at a negative situation or a relationship and being able to turn it around and say, okay, what’s the good thing that came out of this? And so, that was the incentive for me writing the book. I wanted to give people a way to do that for themselves that’s not naggy. It’s not like you have to write your thank-you notes. It’s more about who are the people who have helped you along the way, how have they done that, and could you take a few minutes to think about that in a deliberate way? Because it rewires your brain. It really like there’s a lot of science in the book and I loved doing the nerdy science research part of this. But there’s so much research that says that taking that deliberate pause to identify the positive things in your life rewires your brain so that it becomes easier and easier to do that. 

And so, I do think at the end of that I’m both more efficient at figuring out what the gratitude is and it’s a hard time now. I’m not going to lie. I’m not like, “Yay, pandemic. Even that’s great.” But guess what, like I know to stop and look around and think, what are the good things? Well, I know where my family is. They’re under my roof. That’s a good thing. 

Hilary Hendershott: And they’re drinking less beer. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Exactly. Exactly.

Hilary Hendershott: And I admit, I feel a little pummeled by the spend time in gratitude message. When I saw your book, I thought, “Okay, that’s all fine and well. She did the right thing. She wrote 50 thank you letters. Great. Good for her.” This is like this elusive gratitude mindset that I can’t quite seem to get. And don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent time being grateful for things. It’s just mostly I live in this experience of like, what’s undone? What’s insufficient? What problem do I need to fix next? That’s mostly my mindset. But then I bought the book and I’m reading it and the experience of reading the book is very different than thinking about what it must have been like or what must be in there. Because you write about the details of the very specific details of things people did and just the very introduction, you write the letter to your dad. I mean, maybe you want to be a better parent. It was like, “Okay. This is not the experience I was expecting to have.” 

And so, I think people are seeking happiness and is the route to happiness gratitude? Or is gratitude the thing we can get consistently in an action proactive way? How do you articulate the difference between a mindset of gratitude and happiness which seems so elusive?

Nancy Davis Kho: Well, first of all, I’m glad that was your experience of the book because I was clear from day one that I did not want a book that made people feel like they have one more thing to do on their to-do list. And the second piece of it is if one more person tells me that this is the way you’re going to get through the pandemic, like organize your spices, do some sewing, write some thank you letters like I would punch myself in the face for saying that. So, really, I don’t want to add to anybody’s very understandable pandemic-induced anxiety. You don’t have to worry about writing thank you letters, but what I will say is that the science taught me, you know, I was able to talk to scientists at the Greater Good Science Center here up the street at UC Berkeley. There’s some other great research out there from University of Virginia. And basically, what the science has found is that even thinking gratitude thoughts, without ever writing them down, can turbocharge your ability to find things to be grateful for and that it leads to higher levels of happiness. 

So, I think the answer to your question is don’t worry about the happiness. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to control that. You’re not forcing it into being. But what I hope the book does is invite you to think about different people in your life and how they have helped you and that’s exactly why I approached it the way you’re talking about. So, the first part of the book really gives nuts and bolts like here’s how you can write an opening paragraph and here’s how you can organize it. Because I think people get intimidated by the idea of sometimes people who weren’t writers don’t necessarily know what would make a good thank you letter or what they should include in there. So, I did try to give some really practical tips from that standpoint. But most of the book is just saying here are some kinds of people in your life to think about who might deserve a thank you letter and here are some examples of what I did. And it’s not like a collection of my 50 letters. In fact, I went out and found a few other people who had done similar initiatives because I wanted to make sure that I reflected other people’s approaches. I have somebody in there who did 100 thank you letters in 100 days, which would have made me break out in hives but for her that was great. And somebody else who had been working on for a year was still working on her letters. 

And I just want readers to know that there are no thank you note police. You can do whatever pace you want. You can write and never send any of them. You can just think about them and never write them. I mean, it’s really up to the reader. But, yeah, I did try to say like, is there a doctor in your life who has taken good care of you or your family members? As a parent, I’ve got two daughters. I wrote a letter to my kids’ pediatric nurse because the pediatricians that their practice cycled through but this one nurse was at every single appointment ever took either try to and she knew their health is, I mean, obviously, she understood it better than I did, but she knew it equally to me. And so, I could say to her, “Jen, do you think her coloring looks off,” and she had context and she’d be like, “She’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Or she would say, “You know, let’s do this or that.” And for a parent to have that kind of an ally in the medical field, really that made my job as a parent much easier. And so, that’s the kind of thing where you can be very expansive thinking about the different kinds of people who have made your life different. 

Maybe the guy who makes your latte back when we could go to places and get lattes, maybe that guy starts your day off with a smile in a way that sets you on the right path for the day. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing to be a life-changing thing. 


Hilary Hendershott: Okay. Welcome to this week’s MoneyWise Segment designed to make you smarter than your neighbor. As we head into wedding season, I think it’s important to understand the insurance implications of coupling up and, of course, love and marriage sometimes ends in divorce so I have insurance expert, Nick DiUlio, of InsuranceQuotes.com here with me to talk about the insurance policies you need and when to get them as you couple up. And then should the unwanted happen at the end of the day, you have to split up, he’s going to tell you what to expect then too. Nick, welcome to Profit Boss Radio.

Nick DiUlio: Thank you for having me.

Hilary Hendershott: Okay. So, when along the romantic timeline should two people consider insurance conversations?

Nick DiUlio: Once they know that they will be getting married. There is really little room, I shouldn’t say little room, but there is some room for civil unions and non-marriage relationships to wind up resulting in folks sharing the insurance burden with one another. But for the most part, this really becomes a conversation. Once you’re engaged and you know that marriage is definitely on the horizon because you’ve got a lot of different things to consider.

Hilary Hendershott: Okay. But if you’re living together, if you’re cohabitating, living in sin as it were, you need renter’s insurance, right?

Nick DiUlio: Sure. If you’re living together, you should definitely have renter’s insurance, if you’re renting your apartment or whatever the case may be and, obviously, if you own then you have to have homeowner’s insurance.

Hilary Hendershott: Correct. Okay. So, the question has been popped. The ring is on the finger. Now, what kind of insurance do we consider first?

Nick DiUlio: I would first consider health insurance, that both people in the partnership take a look at what their current health insurance landscape is. Let’s say you’re both covered by an employer, then you first have to look into whether or not that employer will cover a spouse which most do. And if you find out that you both have the option of covering the other person, then you do a little bit of a cost-benefit analysis and figure out what is the more financially viable or economically prudent choice to make. For instance, my wife and I are both, I am a professor of journalism at Rowan University. She’s an elementary art teacher. We both have the option of health insurance, but hers is frankly just better and more affordable so we go with her. So, you definitely want to figure that out. First and foremost, I would start with health insurance.

Hilary Hendershott: Great. And what comes after health insurance?

Nick DiUlio: Then is the ever unpopular topic of life insurance that really just folks don’t, for obvious, for understandable psychological reasons, just put off or don’t think about, but once you have decided that you are going to get married and potentially begin a journey of say owning property together, owning investments, you’re now combining your financial lives as well. And it’s really, really important that at that stage of life, you look into a life insurance policy that would protect your partner, your future spouse, if in the event you wind up passing before you would expect to. Again, it’s not popular, but marriage is the perfect life changed moment for you to actually sit down and look at life insurance options. 

Hilary Hendershott: Yes. And I talked about estate planning in the last episode of Profit Boss Radio. So, we’re having a lot of eye rolls right now about life insurance, wills, estate planning, but get it done and then you’re protected. Okay. So, life insurance handled. Talk to me about insuring the ring.

Nick DiUlio: So, that’s something that you can do through your homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance if you don’t actually own a home. You would get additional riders on a homeowner policy for particularly valuable or uniquely valuable or expensive items whether it’s an engagement ring or you collect expensive art or you have some sort of hobby where you collect expensive items of one kind or another. That’s where you would go for insurance on the ring. And it’s a fairly simple process and I always hesitate to give numbers because it’s going to depend on the value of the ring and the type of homeowner policy you have but we’re talking about really just some extra change on a monthly, an extra $10, $15 to add that writer on your homeowner’s policy, so you make sure that that ring is insured.

Hilary Hendershott: Perfect. And one piece of advice I saw in an article that you wrote that I have given in the past myself is about saving your receipts for jewelry, taking photos of the things that you own, and putting those photos in a folder online. So, if your house burns or is robbed, you can say to your insurance agent, “This is what I used to own. This is what needs to get replaced.”

Nick DiUlio: Absolutely. I tell people all the time, this is one of these super nerdy things, pieces of advice that I give, but anytime you experience a life change like marriage, it’s a great time to do a sort of personal inventory of your valuable items and do exactly what you said and just do it once and just have it there in the event of some sort of calamity.

Hilary Hendershott: Yeah. And one piece of advice I also saw I want to sort of circle back to is that when you get married, it’s considered a life event and you’re able to change your health insurance with your employer, but that time period expires.

Nick DiUlio: It does. There is a window of time and it’s going to vary. And this is one of the reasons why I say health insurance should be number one, because don’t just think, “Well, we’re getting married in the spring. We’re getting married in the summer and we’ll kind of figure out our health insurance thing after we’ve gotten married,” and then your post-marriage and maybe there’s a honeymoon and there’s, again, maybe a purchase of a home and all sorts of other things happen and you forget to look into it and you realize that you missed that window of opportunity to enroll your spouse in your employer’s plan.

Hilary Hendershott: Right. So, don’t forget. Okay. There’s obviously auto insurance. You need to decide on an auto and insurance provider. Anything special about getting combined auto insurance that you want to point out for listeners?

Nick DiUlio: Not especially. The number one piece of advice that I would give is that you should combine both. If you both have a vehicle, combine those two vehicles under a single policy with one provider. You are going to get substantial discounts for doing that and it’s really kind of a no brainer. Don’t necessarily just jump in on whatever provider one of you happens to have. This could be an opportunity to shop around and get some quotes for your two vehicles and see what you get but having both vehicles under a single policy. And also rolling that into if you do have homeowner’s insurance, if one of you has a home or you buy one together, lumping it all together is your homeowner’s and your two vehicles is really going to maximize the discounts. 

Hilary Hendershott: You can bundle it and then you might end up with an insurance agent who knows your name because you spend more money with them than the average insured person. And you could be like me where my insurance guy calls me every time my husband gets a speeding ticket.

Nick DiUlio: Yeah. No, it’s funny. When I got married, and we bought our home together, we did all this stuff and it was the first time that I felt like I had an actual relationship with my insurance agent. It’s been five years now and he still checks in and he’s easy to get a hold of. It’s a great thing.

Hilary Hendershott: It is nice to have someone who knows you and will be able to take care of you. 

Nick DiUlio: Yeah. 

Hilary Hendershott: Okay. So, what about if the couple decides to split up, you have to get divorced, what do they need to know about insurance then?

Nick DiUlio: So, there’s a few things that are important. One of which is that in the event of a divorce, if you are sharing health insurance, your health insurance once you’ve signed those papers and the divorce is finalized, you will immediately be dropped from your spouse’s plan once that divorce is final. So, whoever is being covered by the other person, hopefully, that makes sense, that person needs to figure out what am I going to do once we are divorced, once I’m no longer covered under my spouse’s plan. That is essential. And it’s very easy to lose track of that because you’re in the middle of a divorce. You’re spinning 1,000 plates. It’s emotionally difficult. That’s something that could definitely slip through the cracks. So, make sure that you are prepared to make those choices. 

Hilary Hendershott: So, you don’t find yourself without health insurance. 

Nick DiUlio: Exactly. Exactly. 

Hilary Hendershott: All right, perfect. And then obviously, update the beneficiary designations on your life insurance. 

Nick DiUlio: Correct. Yes. That is definitely something that you need to make sure you re-evaluate once divorce is on the horizon, and you need to make sure that, yeah, like if your spouse was your beneficiary, you maybe need to choose someone else. A few other things to keep in mind, children under 18 cannot legally receive life insurance payouts. And so, you need to be very, very careful about knowing, okay, where will this policy, where will it pay out, and to whom in the event of my death if it’s no longer going to my spouse?

Hilary Hendershott: Great. Nick, anything I forgot to ask about today?

Nick DiUlio: No, I think that covers it.

Hilary Hendershott: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, and thanks to insuranceQuotes.com. We appreciate your time. 

Nick DiUlio: Thank you. 

Hilary Hendershott: All right. 


Hilary Hendershott: And seemingly small things can make a massive difference. And it’s an opportunity to acknowledge those as well. I mean, like the latte guy. A smile isn’t that big of a deal, but it can really impact you. And you did other things that I thought were really great in your writing of the book. You said you turned your daily 30-minute run into a 60-minute walk.

Nancy Davis Kho: That’s right. I needed more time to think and be away from the house.

Hilary Hendershott: Yeah. And when I run, I can’t think. I can listen to a podcast, but I can’t think. It’s too hard. But you said you let your mind freely wander and you were experiencing gratitude and thinking about the little details of things you are grateful for. I mean, that had to be meditational. That had to impact your day.

Nancy Davis Kho: Well, very much so. I mean, so my schedule was I would write my letters Friday afternoon. Honestly, I would open a beer. It was my cocktail hour on a Friday afternoon and I would write a letter to one person by the end of this person’s place or pastime because I wrote a letter to the live concert industry, which is something I love. But I would know that I had to write this letter every Friday so that whole week I would just think about that person. You know, my friend, Dawn, who is my physical therapist, and she was the one who said to me, “Your frozen shoulder is not healing with the physical therapist you’re going to. You need to come see me.” And after one session, I could move my arm again. And I’d been in pain for a year. And so, that’s just one little example but the fact that I can actually retrieve dishes from the upper shelves again, that made a difference in my life. So, I wanted to put that in the letter to Dawn. And I go dancing to this 80s alternative night in San Francisco every now and again, Cat Club. Check it out. I DJ there now too, sometimes.

Hilary Hendershott: You’re kidding? 

Nancy Davis Kho: No. I do. 

Hilary Hendershott: Very cool. 

Nancy Davis Kho: And Dawn will always do that. I just call her and she’s like, “I’m in my car on my way to get you.” And so, all week long I would think thoughts about my friend, Dawn, for instance. And it did work already, as I characterize it in the book as kind of a prayer or meditation. It was just a chance to feel deeply grateful for this person who I knew and think about doing that for a childhood friend or for a teacher you had or for the place you love to go on vacation. It’s a chance to really wallow in some wonderful memories. And it’s also a chance to look back on negative things in your life and reframe them a little bit. So, I talked about there’s a section of the book where I wrote to ex-boyfriends and I didn’t mail any of those letters but I decided partway through that, if you think about people who teach you lessons, you’re not always learning those lessons from positive experience. You have to have a couple of frogs in your past if you’re going to recognize the prince. And oh, my husband’s going to be so happy that I just characterized him as a prince. I’m going to make him listen to this. Prince-like. 

Anyway, so it was kind of fun to go back and think about these relationships I’d had that hadn’t gone anywhere, ultimately. But at the time I was with them, well, first of all, there was a reason I was with them. It wasn’t like I had, it gave me a chance to go back and say, “You didn’t make a mistake dating that guy.” When things were good, they were great because he taught, he was really nice to your mother or he taught you to drive a stick shift or whatever the thing is or the things are that you got out of that relationship. And you can write the letter, put it away, nobody ever needs to read it and it has given you a chance to go back and look at what was the good stuff that came out of that that still rides with you now. And I think it’s a real path to forgiveness both for yourself and for other people.

Hilary Hendershott: I think I was that frog for a few people. I’ve had my frogs but I think I’ve been a frog and I think about…

Nancy Davis Kho: I think we should all have a goal to be a frog at least a couple of times, right? And have some fun. 

Hilary Hendershott: Put a checkmark in that box. And I think about when I transferred into – I went to Santa Clara University and I was a communication major. I went to Community College before that and communications like speech communications like argumentation and debate, and I transferred to Santa Clara University and I’m a communication major and then I find out in the first week communications there is television, radio broadcasting, so completely different. So, I’ve sort of transferred into this four-year university under the wrong major and I’m directionless, and I just ended up in this microeconomics course. And I kind of felt like I was getting religion like I felt like I was learning truth that I already knew. And I changed my major to economics that quarter and economics changed my life. I went to Washington DC. I now have an MBA but everything, all the fundamental background I have in what I do as a financial advisor comes from that formative education. So, I was thinking about that when I’m reading your book and I think I’m really grateful for that mistake I made and that professor, that microeconomics professor who…

Nancy Davis Kho: I’m getting a chill. I love this because that’s so cool. You have these little things that in the moment, I think that’s part of what’s beautiful about this too is you’re doing it with some years of perspective, and maybe this ties into the midlife message but I didn’t know when I was in Germany that that was going to be the thing that enabled me to get into the graduate school for international business, which was the thing because I met my husband there, which is why I have two daughters and you can’t know it as it’s happening but you can look back and be grateful that that’s how the path unfolded. That’s so cool. You could write a letter to economics.

Hilary Hendershott: I could write – I wish I could remember that guy’s name. He was really good looking. I used to sit in the front row so that was an additional benefit.

Nancy Davis Kho: It’s not a bad thing. You don’t have to send every letter.

Hilary Hendershott: You talked about in the book how expressing gratitude is an act of acknowledgment that much of our happiness comes from the outside from other people and other things. I guess when I think about those people and things in my life that have made the biggest difference, I don’t necessarily get happy, per se, I get really touched. And what I’m really present to is how random it all seems. I just feel like small like a part of the massive entropy and randomness. And there’s definitely like a difference. So, happiness for me is I get happy when I beat my friends playing the celebrity game on games night. And so, I think about, do you fear that thinking about the randomness of it and how it can all be unwound so quickly could have a reverse effect?

Nancy Davis Kho: That’s a really good question and it’s not one anyone’s asked me. So, let me think about that for a second. I think rather than going down that route, I might instead focus on the fact that even if one of those relationships were to be unwound, you have a bunch more. And the one place where I am very naggy in the book is I say that if you write a thank you letter, you need to keep your own copy of it. Because at the end, you’ve got this stack of letters that has physical weight to it. This is my team. This is all the different people who have helped me. These are very different people that don’t necessarily have anything in common except me. They wanted to help me. They’ve impacted me in some way. And that’s a very reassuring pile of letters to review. So, I recommend that you get them all bound together. I took it to the coffee shop. By the way, I did not handwrite my letters so you don’t make that your reason you can’t do this. My handwriting is awful, too. So, I typed mine in Word and then I sign to them. So, I just had all my letters put together in a little thing, and I keep that pamphlet basically on my nightstand and I still flip through it all the time because it’s such a wonderful reminder like, “Oh, yeah, my college roommate was there for me when I needed her and my aunt who’s 92 is always there for me. And this place that I’ve gone to vacation since 1968 is there for me.” 

And like you’re that mosaic. Nobody else is going to have that same collection of letters. And how cool is that? And I guess, I mean, it absolutely is about the randomness. Who else could have brought that group of people, places, and pastimes together? Just you. And the last letter that I asked people to write is to themselves to acknowledge, to thank yourself for being not for being perfect. None of us is perfect. And you’ve just written a whole bunch of letters that are evidence of the fact that you needed help, you did screw up, you needed advice. And that I think can be a little intimidating for people to think about sifting through all those places where you needed that support. But at the end of the day, you knew who to go to, you knew who to reach out to for help, and that’s amazing. And so, that’s the last letter is to yourself to say good for you, look at the team you pulled together.

Hilary Hendershott: Wow. That’s impactful just thinking about it, writing a thank you letter to myself. And then you’ve got this podcast about, well, is it accurate to say it’s about happiness in midlife? 

Nancy Davis Kho: Well, I think it’s about midlife with all its warts. When I tell people when they come up, so the tagline is For The Years Between Being Hip And Breaking One, so we do try to have a sense of humor about things. And my first question on every episode is what was your first concert and what were the circumstances? Because I love live music so much, and everybody has a good concert story. So, Hilary, what was your first concert? 

Hilary Hendershott: That would be New Kids on the Block.

Nancy Davis Kho: So jealous. Fantastic. 

Hilary Hendershott: At the Shoreline. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Oh my God, the perfect place to see them too.

Hilary Hendershott: Yeah. And then afterwards, we chase their limo down to Casa de Fruta and I actually got a picture with Jordan Knight in the convenience store at Casa de Fruta.

Nancy Davis Kho: Yeah. I’m going to need to see that after we talk, but I always tell guests like let’s talk about all the parts of it. So, if there are things that are hard about being in midlife, let’s acknowledge that too, because it’s ridiculous to put a glossy face on everything. There are some hard things. But what I’m really attracted to and I think where the interviews are most interesting are where we talk about what about being in midlife makes you a better performer or makes you a better social activist? This week I’ve got Kelly Hurst who is the founder of an organization called Being Black at School that does racial justice training for schools and she only started this work in her 40s. And we talked about why it took so long and could she have done it in the way she’s doing it now, if she hadn’t had that level of experience? And the answer is no, like, she had to get a certain amount of institutional knowledge before she could turn around and be effective at this stuff, and she’s very effective at what she’s doing. 

So, I think that’s really interesting to just look at. And it’s always, always something about the fact that I feel confident to say what I don’t know like I don’t know is something that comes a lot more easily when you’re in your 40s and 50s than it does in your 20s when you’re still trying to convince everyone that you’re not an imposter and that you know everything or people say I feel a much deeper connection like I did the one job for a while but the whole time, the second thing was calling me and that’s my own experience. I had a good business career. I don’t regret a day I spent doing that but it was the creative writing piece that I can engage with midlife that is most meaningful to me. So, I think there’s a lot of lessons that come out of having the experience. And I always say I wish people in their 30s would listen to this show because I think it would take the fear off. They would start to find the things to look forward to about being in midlife. 

So, I think happiness is a byproduct of it but I think for most of us at midlife, we’re not just madly pursuing happiness. It’s like, “Oh, I’m happier now that I have more confidence and that I can say when I don’t know things and that I know when to ask for help,” that kind of thing. I guess that makes me happier too.

Hilary Hendershott: I do have a lot more confidence and to the point where I have to stop myself from starting emails with the phrase, “I’m confused about…” I’m confused when I read what people say so often, but then I think to myself, you should probably articulate that a different way. It’s okay to say I don’t know. I’m not sure if starting half your emails with, “I’m confused about…” is a good thing, Hilary.

Nancy Davis Kho: This is my advice for you, Hilary. Get a text thread with other smart, middle-aged women where you can say, “I need to tell you what this dumbass just asked me to do,” and then you like get it out and then you turn around and put your professional game face back on.

Hilary Hendershott: So, what you’re saying is… 

Nancy Davis Kho: What I hear you saying is, but I think it’s pretty important to have other smart middle-aged women be like, “Oh, yeah, that is a dumb thing. That that is silly.”

Hilary Hendershott: So, I have a personal one here. You’ve been publishing about your inability to sleep and you had a podcast episode about it. What have you learned about improving sleep? I am desperate and I’ll do anything.

Nancy Davis Kho: So, I think you’re probably referring to the episode when I had Ada Calhoun, who wrote the New Midlife Crisis. Oh, gosh, I’m blanking on the name. Women’s New Midlife Crisis and it’s basically about how GenX women are in the sandwich generation and how we’re managing our kids and our parents and all of this stuff and why we have so much on our minds and here’s the thing. It’s a great book. I’ve got to look up the actual title now or can you put it in the show notes in case I’m butchering it? 

Hilary Hendershott: I will definitely put it in the show notes. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun who’s delightful. She’s a really amazing writer and I wanted to read it either way. I too was eager to the answer to that question and Ada does not really provide it. However, what she does do in the book and in my interview with her is normalize and say that if you’re a woman in your 40s, and you’re not sleeping, you’re not alone. You have good reason to feel anxious. There’s a lot out there and this her book came out in January so this is before everything else hit the fan, but what I would say is all the stuff they tell you to do like the yoga and getting your exercise and eating healthy like there’s a lot you can do to help but it also may just be a phase where you’re not sleeping great and I’m a fan of naps. That is my advice. I am a very avid napper. All my friends know it. They call it taking a co. 

Hilary Hendershott: Actually, it’s so funny. My husband’s nickname in high school was nap attack. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Your husband was ahead of his time. 

Hilary Hendershott: He really is, honestly. He has two full-time jobs and he naps every day. He really is a genius.

Nancy Davis Kho: I think you’re asking the wrong person for advice. That’s the guy you need to go to.

Hilary Hendershott: But I sleep next to him every night and he knows I’m up like eyes wide. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Yeah, because you’re solving the problems of the world in the middle of the night. I mean, honestly, especially now I am certainly up at 4:00 thinking about what are we going to do today for my mom, and my second semester senior is not going to have a college graduation so how are we going to make that special for her? There’s all kinds of stuff to think about but I will give you this one little tip that actually I learned in the course of research for my book. Think of… I can’t say it in English. So, I’m just going to try. Think of three things that you’re grateful for. And sometimes that makes it easy for me to fall back asleep. If I just sit lay there in bed and think of three things that I’m grateful for and they can be small, like I’ve got warm sheets on my bed or I have a good breakfast to look forward to or I’m reading a book that I love. That actually works for me almost every time. So, try it and tell me if it works for you. 

Hilary Hendershott: There’s a podcast called Sleep With Me where he speaks gibberish for an hour every episode. 

Nancy Davis Kho: I would throw my phone across. Are you kidding me? I hate him. 

Hilary Hendershott: If I put the volume on really low sometimes it puts me to sleep. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Speak gibberish to me and I’ll punch you in the nose. No.

Hilary Hendershott: Okay. Any other core messages to my midlife years listeners about satisfaction happiness? Or is it just take it all with the warts?

Nancy Davis Kho: No, I’m just going to tell your midlife listeners that I stand in awe of them. They’re holding up half the sky, especially if they’re women. They are making sure their parents and children and older relatives and younger relatives are getting through a difficult time and I imagine they are doing it at the expense of their own sleep and their bank accounts and everything else and my hats are off to you. And I will tell you what I tell myself and my friends. This is all temporary and nothing is permanent. Not the good stuff, not the bad stuff. So, try to take a moment, find what you can be grateful for now. It might not be as much as you’d hoped because this is an unprecedented time but there’s always something there and that’s all you need. You just need to get from this day to the next day and it will get better. And I’m just in awe of you and I think the 80s music was the best music and luckily, we have that 80s and 90s music. 

Hilary Hendershott: I personally am done with the 80s music.

Nancy Davis Kho: You didn’t mention that there are playlists in the book, by the way. Every chapter of the book ends with a playlist and you can find them on Spotify. So, if you want to like quick listen to what I was thinking about when I was doing the family playlist or the friends’ playlist, just look on Davis Kho at Spotify and jam out. Have a family dance party.

Hilary Hendershott: Okay. Family dance party coming up.

Nancy Davis Kho: Quarantine dance party.

Hilary Hendershott: The podcast is called Retreat for Health Dance Party.

Nancy Davis Kho: So, RFH.

Hilary Hendershott: The podcast is called Midlife Mixtape. Where else can people find you?

Nancy Davis Kho: I’m at DavisKho.com is the best place to start. You can get information about the book and find the podcast and the blog there as well. 

Hilary Hendershott: Great. Thanks for joining me today. 

Nancy Davis Kho: Thanks so much for having me, Hilary. It was great.



Hendershott Wealth Management, LLC and Profit Boss® Radio do not make specific investment recommendations on Profit Boss® Radio or in any public media. Any specific mentions of funds or investments are strictly for illustrative purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice or acted upon by individual investors. The opinions expressed in this episode are those of Hilary Hendershott, CFP®, MBA.