We’ve all heard the phrase: Youth is wasted on the young. But what if, at any stage of our life, we had access to the wisdom that comes with experience? This is precisely the idea that led Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University to compile a catalog of wisdom from our elders. He calls it “The Legacy Project; Lessons for Living from the Wisest Americans.”
Dr. Pillemer interviewed a thousand older Americans about the lessons they’ve learned through living a lifetime- and the responses they had to offer surprised him. Here are a few pieces of hard-won advice Dr. Pillemer has safeguarded for future generations:
On Love :
1. According to our elders (some of whom have been married for upward of 60 years!), in matters of love the small stuff is the big stuff. Perhaps it’s true that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff- when it comes to real small stuff at work or in the mishaps of social gatherings- but when the small stuff is the everyday minutia that makes up a lifetime of our relationships, it carries big importance. Being positive with your partner and staying engaged rather than being dismissive, these are the things that breathe life into a long-term commitment.
2. Another surprising finding? While it’s true that opposites attract, older couples advise us to pair up with someone similar to ourselves. According to Dr. Pillemer, “based on 40, 50, or 60 years of marriage the elders say say: Marry someone a lot like you. Opposites attract, but they don’t make for long marriages. Find someone of similar background, interests, and most of all values.”
On regret at the end of life :
3. What insight do our seniors offer about regret? Dr. Pillemer says “what they regret most in life is worrying too much.” According to those with years of experience to back them up, what we tend to worry about tends never to happen. The things that really challenge us are things we didn’t see coming to begin with.
4. Through his research Dr. Pillemer also discovered: “You are going to absolutely regret what you didn’t do rather than what you did.” So if someone offers you an opportunity and you don’t have a good reason to decline, then do it! The Legacy Project’s research shows that our elders encourage taking risks.
5. Another big regret? Dishonesty. I guess the old adage hits the mark: the truth will set you free.
Eager for more good advice? Check out Dr. Pillemer’s books: 30 Lessons for Living; Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans and 30 Lessons for Loving; Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage.