Monday, January 16, 2012

Wisdom from the elderly


New York Times’ columnist Jane E. Brody recently summarized a few of the lessons from 30 Lessons for Living, a new book by Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. (“Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets,” New York Times, January 9, 2012)

These are the lessons that Brody identified as most important:

ON MARRIAGE A satisfying marriage that lasts a lifetime is more likely to result when partners are fundamentally similar and share the same basic values and goals. Although romantic love initially brings most couples together, what keeps them together is an abiding friendship, an ability to communicate, a willingness to give and take, and a commitment to the institution of marriage as well as to each other. … “Too many young people now are giving up too early, too soon.”

ON CAREERS Not one person in a thousand said that happiness accrued from working as hard as you can to make money to buy whatever you want. Rather, the near-universal view was summed up by an 83-year-old former athlete who worked for decades as an athletic coach and recruiter: “The most important thing is to be involved in a profession that you absolutely love, and that you look forward to going to work to every day.” …

ON PARENTING The demands of modern life often have a negative effect on family life, especially when economic pursuits limit the time parents spend with their children. Most important, the elders said, is to spend more time with your children, even if you must sacrifice to do so. Share in their activities, and do things with them that interest them. Time spent together enables parents to detect budding problems and instill important values. …

ON AGING “Embrace it. Don’t fight it. Growing older is both an attitude and a process,” an 80-year-old man said. The experts’ advice to the young: “Don’t waste your time worrying about getting old.” Most found that old age vastly exceeded their expectations. Even those with serious chronic illnesses enjoyed a sense of calm and contentment. A 92-year-old who can no longer do many of the things she once enjoyed said: “I think I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. Things that were important to me are no longer important, or not as important.” …

ON REGRETS “Always be honest” was the elders’ advice to avoid late-in-life remorse. Take advantage of opportunities and embrace new challenges. And travel more when you’re young rather than wait until the children are grown or you are retired. As Dr. Pillemer summarized the elders’ view, “Travel is so rewarding that it should take precedence over other things younger people spend money on.” Create a bucket list now and start whittling it down.

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.”

2 comments:

Ted said...

Can you get them to teach tis at every school? Right now we seem to be teaching the opposite on most of these.
One exception is even if you love to go to work and love your job, there is a time to let it go. It seems too many people want to work until they fall dead doing the job.

George Clifford said...

I agree - life has chapters and some people don't realize that moving on to the next chapter may bring more joy and flourishing than attempting to hold on too long to the current chapter.