Distilling the Wisdom of Elders: Lessons for Living

Jan 14 2012 Published by under Articles,Good Ideas

On Happiness—Almost to a person, the elders viewed happiness as a choice, not the result of how life treats you. A 75-year-old man said, “You are not responsible for all the things that happen to you, but you are completely in control of your attitude and your reactions to them.” An 84-year-old said, “Adopt a policy of being joyful.”

The New York Times just published a delightful article by Jane Brody titled, “Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets”. The article summarizes advice from over 1,500 older Americans that were interviewed by the Cornell Legacy Project—an initiative to capture “lessons for living” on topics such as love, marriage, work, money, health, compassionate living, values, war, peace and more from 70+ year olds across a variety of economic, educational and social strata.

So, what did the interviewees have to say?

  • On Careers—Take the time and energy to find the work you love. For more on this read what Bertrille has to say.
  • On Raising Children—Spend time with your children even if you have to sacrifice in other areas. Don’t play favorites and lay off the comparisons. See more tips here.
  • On Regrets—Be honest, travel, make that bucket list and start acting on it now summarizes what the interviewees have to say according to the Project’s founder and chief researcher Dr. Karl Pillemer.
  • On Aging—Adapt to getting older with a positive attitude. See what Rebecca (92) and Sharon (76) have to say about aging here.
  • On Worry & Stress—Life is short. Learn to live in the moment rather than fixate on long term plans. For more on this, read what John (70) has to say here.
  • On Everything Else—Visit the Legacy Project and make sure to take in a few video interviews.

For a gal (me) new to her 30s with a strong penchant for future planning, I found the advice of the elders soothing and refreshing (especially the bit on travel… just have to figure out the whole “focus on present bit!”). More than that, it was a reminder to call my grandmothers! Finally, the article reminded me of how important it is for educators and education institutions to think beyond books, standards and exams and to get learners 1) to explore and identify what makes them happy, 2) to listen to their intuition and 3) to make the most of now.

“The world is our oyster!” Now, there is a lesson for living!


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