Is this the secret sauce of a good life?
“What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”
Dr. Karl Pillemer and his team have amassed over 1500 responses to this question from America’s elders as part of the Legacy Project. Their answers are chock-full of practical advice and insight. While you may not want to ask one of his elderly subjects to program your DVR, their insight is timeless and relevant for all ages.
Here are some of their essential life lessons:
1. Say it now:
Express yourself. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you. Don’t assume they know how important they are to you. You don’t want to regret not having said it.
2. Show up:
Be there for your friends. It is always tempting to stay home but you will never regret having made the effort to be there for a friend in good times and in bad. Your support means the world and you will be glad you made the effort.
3. Be actively kind:
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction,” said John Stuart Mill. Go out of your way to be kind. You will never regret it.
4. Travel more:
Get out there and see the world was a recurring theme Pillemer encountered in his interviews. Not only did the elderly he spoke with say they enjoyed traveling, they also savored the memories for years to come.
5. Don’t worry so much:
“I wish I hadn’t worried so much,” was a common theme. Many respondents expressed regret over needless worrying about things they could not control and, looking back, viewed it as a waste of time.
6. Think small:
Savor the micro-moments. Appreciate the simple things like a warm dog on a cold night and a beautiful sunset.
7. Say “yes” to opportunities:
As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Take advantage of opportunities to try new things and don’t be afraid to fail. For the most part, the elderly Pillemer interviewed regretted what they didn’t do, not what they had done.
8. Be social:
Push yourself to stay actively social and engaged. The most social elderly adults are also the happiest.
9. Find work you love:
Do something that means something to you. Work hard at something that suits your strengths. Not one person said get a job based on the financial rewards.
10. Life is short:
It might sound like a cliché, but almost all the people Pillemer interviewed echoed this theme and declared it to be, “the one thing young people must know.” Don’t spend your time playing video games or scrolling through Instagram, they cautioned.
Bottom Line: Time is valuable. Use it well and don’t waste a minute.
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and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College.