10 Favorite Life Lessons from Seniors

Sometimes I’m really jealous of people who have senior citizens in their family. My parents had both died by the time I was 18, so I never knew them as an adult. And I only knew one of my four grandparents, but she was gone before I was 5 or 6 years old I think. So when I look around and see people who have seniors in their lives, I often wish I could switch places with them. (To be completely honest, though, sometimes my wife’s mom will call her because she “can’t find her program that was on that one channel that one time.” And I’ll usually just go outside when that happens.)

The thing is, I don’t think our society appreciates seniors as much as we should. Why aren’t we one of those societies that reveres old people and the wisdom they carry around? I know that not all seniors are the same. Just like people of all ages, you got those who are kind and gentle and caring, and then you got some who seem obsessed with embracing and spreading hate and conspiracy theories. I’m just saying that we have this entire group of people who have lived an entire life and have really good lessons to pass along to the rest of us, if we would only listen.

About 10 years ago, my wife showed me an article about life lessons from senior citizens. It was part of something called the “Legacy Project” at Cornell. It was so eye opening, but obvious at the same time. These were things that you’d look at and say, “Well, yeah, of course,” but then why don’t we “younger” people just do those things? I have no idea. Maybe we need to hear these these over and over again for us to take action. (And by the way, by “younger” I mean people who go “I’m not a frontline worker or over 65 so I can’t get my the COVID vaccine yet.”)

Resources like the Legacy Project are just packed full of good stuff from seniors. Here are just 10 of my favorites that I’ve come across.

10. The Little Things

“A morning cup of coffee … a brightly colored bird feeding on the lawn, an unexpected letter from a friend, even a favorite song on the radio. Paying special attention to these ‘microlevel’ events forms a fabric of happiness that lifts them up daily. They believe the same can be true for younger people as well.”

Karl Pillemer, Founder of the Cornell Legacy Project (Source: Legacyproject.Human.Cornell.edu)

9. Exercise

“Exercise, to me, is totally unnecessary. I think it’s mostly overrated.”

A 100-Year-Old Doctor (Source: Mentalfloss.com)

8. Comparing Your Life

“Don’t compare. You’ll never be happy with your life. The grass is always greener.”

A Centenarian (Source: Mentalfloss.com)

7. Travel

“Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be.”

A Centenarian (Source: Mentalfloss.com)

6. Success

“Success is capitalizing on economic opportunities yet treating others with over-reaching kindness.”

Henry A. Gilbert (Source: Time.com)

5. Belief

“I’m not saying you have to practice one religion or another, or not practice one religion or another… I’m just saying that you should figure out what you believe in and live it completely.”

A Centenarian (Source: Mentalfloss.com)

4. Mentors

“The stuff you’re doing right now in school, you’re learning from people who know something you don’t know. Continue that throughout your life… Just develop relationships with people whom you can observe, even from a distance, and see how they accomplish things. The way I look at it: in life, we probably make 95 percent good decisions and about 5 percent messed-up decisions. A large part of our lives as adults is fixing the mess of those few wrong decisions, and you can minimize them by just having people in your life who will challenge you and make you think twice, who will say, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound right to me.’”

Allen Ebert, 73 (Source: Ideas.Ted.com)

3. Generosity

“Generously assisting other people to the extent that we can is a major way people are able to feel a sense of control. Whether that was helping other people during the Great Depression or assisting the war effort during WWII. Generously helping others is a very good, self-interested strategy.”

Karl Pillemer, Founder of the Cornell Legacy Project (Source: Legacyproject.Human.Cornell.edu)

2. Marriage and Family

“Tell your spouse and children that you love them every day, no matter how you feel.”

Ralph Linsalata (Source: Time.com)

1. Happiness

“When I think back over my career, I am struck that my fondest memories are of people rather than experiences, places, or accomplishments.”

J. Lawrence Wilson (Source: Time.com)

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