30 Lessons for Living – sound advice from 1,000 older people

Some valuable insights and home truths about life as seen by older people. It comes a new book called “30 Lessons for Living” reviewed here in the NY Times, that offers practical advice from more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project.

Here is a summary of their most salient thoughts:

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.

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 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 AGEING “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.”

Maintain social contacts. Avoid becoming isolated. When an invitation is issued, say yes. Take steps to stay engaged, and take advantage of opportunities to learn new things. Although many were initially reluctant, those who moved to a senior living community found more freedom to enjoy activities and relationships than they had before.

To those who worry about dying, these men and women said the best antidote is to plan for it: Get things organized, let others know your wishes, tidy up to minimize the burden on your heirs.

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.

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.”

Even if their lives were nine decades long, the elders saw life as too short to waste on pessimism, boredom and disillusionment.

Great advice. Great insight. Great initiative.