Saturday, December 1, 2012

Charting the path to a better life

The Washington Post recently featured the work of Karl A. Pilemer, a Cornell gerontologist, in a special column, “12 Ways to Live a Better Life.” Pilemer’s twelve ideas, identified by surveying elderly persons that he believes have especially rich lives, provide a handy checklist for individuals who wanted to live abundantly:

1.      Marry someone like you, someone who shares your basic values

2.      Act as if you will need your body for 100 years

3.      Stay connected with other people

4.      Be able to look everyone in the eye (be honest)

5.      Say yes to opportunities

6.      Travel more

7.      Send flowers to the living

8.      Share time with your children

9.      With adult children, you must often compromise

10.  Take advantage of the time you have

11.  Find freedom

12.  Don't waste time worrying about growing old

Three caveats help put that list in perspective. First, the list is not comprehensive. Other factors may be important, e.g., developing one’s spirituality. Second, Pilemer does not claim that list as formulated represents a set of universal priorities. Individuals will find various factors more or less important, e.g., adults without children will find items 8 and 9 irrelevant. Third, nobody can assure another person’s happiness or abundant life, i.e., life comes without any guarantee. Not everybody, for example, will have the opportunity to travel.

Given those caveats, perhaps the checklist’s greatest value is to stimulate self-evaluation. What good choices have you made, i.e., what choices have you made that have enriched your life, expanded your horizons, brought you joy, enabled you live more abundantly? What future choices can you make that seem likely to achieve the same results?

In an era when religious leaders regularly bemoan the commercialization of major religious holidays, Pilemer’s list helpfully reminds us that life’s most treasured moments can rarely be bought but must be lived and savored in the moment.

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