Priceless Advice from Older Americans
Our elderly loved ones have decades of experience to pass on to future generations. Will we listen?
Professor Karl Pillemer of Cornell University founded the Legacy Project to gather seniors’ sage advice and responses to the question: ‘What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” Read our favorite pieces of priceless advice below.
20 Pieces of Priceless Advice from Older Americans
Dr. Pillemer and his team – who specialize in gerontology and human development – have interviewed more than 1,500 seniors in the U.S., archiving their responses, posting videotaped interviews on YouTube, and publishing their advice into critically acclaimed books: “30 Lessons for Living and 30 Lessons for Loving.”
The Legacy Project inspired us to ask our own readers what their favorite pieces of priceless advice were.
We recorded their responses and are sharing them with you here:
1. Act like you will need your body for 100 years.
One of the most important lessons Dr. Pillemer learned from seniors is that, “It’s not dying you should worry about — it’s chronic disease.” He quoted 84-year-old Charlotte who said:
“What you do when you’re young, it will haunt you when you get old. If you’re young, take care of your body, live right, go to the doctor and keep yourself in good shape. Don’t abuse your body in any way, shape, or form.”
2. Being old is much better than you think.
Many seniors reported that they are happier now than ever before. 93-year-old Cecile said:
“I am much clearer now. I say that as an older person — not just as an adult, but as an older person — things are much clearer. I was just telling my daughter, ‘I think I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life.'”
3. Celebrate your successes.
A Place for Mom reader, Carol V., says:
“Give yourself a break and learn to give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve done something well.”
4. Choose a spouse with extreme care.
Many seniors talked about regrets during Legacy Project interviews. Feelings of regret were most commonly voiced by those who rushed into marriage with the wrong partner. Dr. Pillemer writes:
“Although many people delay getting married, all of us know young people who have rushed into relationships. Sometimes people fall head over heels in love; others feel that their ‘time clock’ is running out. For anyone seeking a mate, the elders tell you to be very careful — and don’t rush in.”
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
A Place for Mom reader, Carmen R., says:
“Things are not as important as you make them out to be, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember that things don’t make you happy, people do.”
6. Exercise your patience.
A Place for Mom reader, Robin G., says:
“Be patient. Better things are coming.”
7. Experience new things.
A Place for Mom reader, Janet A., says:
“Experience life and travel. Have more self confidence to go out and and experience new things!”
8. Have more confidence.
A Place for Mom reader, Micheline W., says:
“Be more confident in yourself. Know that you are worthy of love and respect. You are young for such a brief time in life, have the confidence to enjoy it and have fun, but be smart.”
9. Know that happiness is a choice, not a condition.
Dr. Pillemer writes, “The consensus of the elders is that we can’t wait for external events to bring about happiness.” He goes on to quote 86-year-old Cheryl who says:
“I came into this world with nothing, my experiences are only mine, and I will leave this world with nothing. The only one I can change is myself. You must learn to create your own happiness; you cannot depend on others to do it for you.”
10. Know your worth.
A Place for Mom reader, Ida O., says:
“Really know your worth and know that you deserve so much better.”
11. Listen to yourself.
A Place for Mom reader, Heidi C., says:
“Listen to yourself. That is all. If I would have listened to myself and my intuition I would have avoided much unnecessary heartache. But, there were valuable lessons learned and for that I am thankful.”
12. Make the most of each day.
A Place for Mom reader, Marcy A., says:
“Make every day count.”
13. Never say “I wish…”
A Place for Mom reader, Bonnie C., says:
“Believe in yourself and never say ‘I wish I would have.’ Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow a dream and today is a present.”
14. Never stop growing.
A Place for Mom reader, Jodye W., says:
“Always take care of yourself and never stop growing or learning.”
15. Save for a rainy day.
A Place for Mom reader, Sandy B., says:
“Always save a portion of your paycheck, because a rainy day is sure to come.”
16. Spend more time with family.
A Place for Mom reader, Cheryl B., says:
“Love and spend as much time with your family as possible. Share how appreciative you are to have them. So glad I did this with both my parents who are gone now – I was very blessed.”
17. Start a bucket list.
A Place for Mom reader, Johnnie B., says:
“Enjoy your life, so there will be no regrets. Remember to start a bucket list early, very early!”
18. Take the high road.
A Place for Mom reader, Mary Ann D., says:
“Taking the high road may be tough, but you’re going the right way! Try to hang in there.”
19. Try to listen to your elders.
A Place for Mom reader, David H., says:
“Try to listen to your elders and parents when you are young – remember that they only want the best for you.”
20. Understand that parenting is all about time.
Older Americans had one piece of parenting advice that appeared time and time again. According to Dr. Pillemer, “The elders tell us that there is one great contribution to lifelong closeness for which there is no substitute: Your time.” He quotes 78-year-old Betsey Glynn who says:
“It’s so important, while your kids are growing up, to be with them and support them. Because otherwise you don’t really have a clue what their direction is, what they like and don’t like and what they want to give their time to and what they’re doing with it.”
What lessons have you learned from the older Americans in your life? We’d like to hear your advice and any stories you’d like to share in the comments below.
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