Life Lessons from Those Who Have Lived It

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I chose to major in business only after ruling out a bunch of other things.  After graduation I went to work in corporate America, and quickly discovered that it just wasn’t for me.  Some people told me I was crazy for quitting, because I’d never have the financial stability that I had in this job.  They were right, but quitting and starting down a new career path in health education is a decision I’ve never regretted.  To me, it was more important to be happy and less important to be financially well-off. 
Every day I struggle with how to make my life as happy and fulfilling as possible.  There are never enough hours in the day to do all of the things I want to do:  work, have hobbies of my own, spend quality time with my spouse and each of my children, and the list goes on and on…  So I just try to prioritize and make the most of the time I have, because I never want to look back on my life with regret. 
Cornell University runs a program called the Legacy Project.  The professor who runs the project has collected practical advice from over 1500 Americans on a variety of topics over the past 8 years.  All of the subjects are in their 70’s or older, and were asked to share the most important lessons they have learned from their lives.  A book based on the project, called “30 Lessons for Living:  Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans”, was recently published.  
Some of the highlights from the book include the following lessons:
Parenting:  What matters most is spending time with your children and being involved in their activities.  Even if it means sacrificing in other areas of your life to be a large part of theirs, participants said it’s worth it. 
Aging:  Most said aging came with a feeling of calm and contentment, even when they weren’t in good health.  They recommended staying social with family and friends, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn new things.
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.”
I’ve always loved spending time with my grandparents and elders in my life because I learn so much from them.  Things that seem stressful or really important at this point in my life might not be as big of a deal 50 years from now, and they’ve been able to give me that perspective.   
What kind of lessons have you learned from the older people in your life?  As you age, what kind of lessons have you tried to pass on to the younger generation?

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That might make you change the way you live your life. Report
I am 64 now . staying healthy & fit so that I can enjoy my golden years and not aching years. I would say to all . chase peace !!!! Hunt it as gold . Report
Despite all the bitter pills of life, one can choose to be happy and joyful. Knowing that Christ offers us salvation is the best reason to rejoice!
My father taught me to choose to be happy--- He was an angry, ill tempered man and I always feared him. I knew I did not want to be at all like him. So he gave me a lesson "in reverse"... I guess. We can be hurtful towards others, or we can express a joyful nature, and be kind and pleasant to all our associates. God blessed me with a wonderful faith in HIM and He is my source of peace and joy. I truly appreciate each day as a gift!

Live in the moment and above all, take care of your self and know the Lord for yourself as well. You are your own best and worst enemy! Report
I learned to live so that I won't have any regrets. I try to learn something new all the time, treat others like I want to be treated. Spend more time on fun, relaxing things with my family. Life is too short and it's the only one we have. We need to make a difference. No one says I should have spent more time on my job,etc. but people regret not having spent more time with their family. Now is the time to do it. Report
Some wise words in this article. I have learned from those before me that life passes too swiftly -- enjoy today and love the people around you. Report
My Mother says, that Life is a Blessing and its the only life we're given, so make the most of every precious day and treat it like its your last day on earth. Report
I'm 62, so I've learned that this is the ONLY life I'll ever live so I enjoy each and every day. I tell my children to never ever stay in a unhappy relationship, as you do a wrong to the other person and life is to short to waste on being unhappy. I tell them to have a JOB SKILL that other people don't have, and that education is always worth it once it is finished as no one can take it away from you. You should go to school to learn how to learn, and then teach yourself for the rest of your life. Report
Great article and Wonderful Advice. Grandparents can be the best teachers for their grandchildren. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Report
Great information Report
This article is so timely for me. I recently made a decision to move back to Florida in August. I realized life is too short to be unhappy. Time for some Joy in my life!!! Report
Now that I'm over 60 (surprise to me!!!) I think the most valuable lesson I have to pass on to my sons and to the students I teach is that you are the sum total of the decisions you make, not of the words you say...... and that while others may not hear my words, they hear everything I do... so I am careful to try to make my actions fit my values and beliefs. Report
Great advice. I think I'd like to read the book. Report
Wow! The advice from the comments are almost as good as the article.
I have had the privilege of working with elderly people for 25 years. So many have told me that they never regretted trying new things but only things they didn't do.
Great points! Report
We have always tried to teach our kids that time together was more important than things: game night, movie night, going out to eat once a week with everyone taking turns picking the restaurant. Now that they're young adults, they still would rather come home and spend time as a family than going out. Report
I hope to accept aging as a part of life and keep joy as my choice! Report
I have moved more than 4 times in my life because I wasn't happy. Now I am happy and glad I did it, I have one life why not do what I want to? Report
I remember my grandparents and their belief that "stuff" wasn't as important as people. I am doing my best to move in that direction!!! Good blog. Report
Happiness is truly a choice. Life so oftens throws us curves....we can sway or stand can have a smile on your face either way. Report
Jen: I had to laugh when I read this statement of yours: Every day I struggle with how to make my life as happy and fulfilling as possible. Seems contradictory to "struggle" to make life happy! I know you didn't mean it literally. And the advice from the Seniors will hopefully make it easier for all of us to make priorities! Report
My father was my hero. During his life time he taught us the importance of helping others, the poor, the sick and the lonely. Little emphasis was placed on material things but much emphasis was placed on doing the right thing and that's what makes me happy. I really love the above article, unfortunately wisdom comes with age.."if only"....if only we had the wisdom at 20 that we have at 80, wow what a wonderful thing that would be! Report
The elderly certainly have a lot of wisdom in their many years. I love the one about how happiness is a choice. Report
My father's parents lived near us when I was growing up. I loved being with them because they made life fun and they did it with the simplest things. They were quick to play a game of cards with us or to take us for a walk. On summer evenings my grandfather would often call us to say, "Come one over, I just brought a watermelon home," and we would jump into the car and go eat watermelon on the back porch together. They even made chores fun with their patience and humor, and we enjoyed helping in the garden, sweeping the floor or hanging the laundry out on the line. In addition, they loved to take us to visit their own siblings, so I felt very connected to my extended family and loved those Sunday afternoon visits with the relatives. What I remember most with them is laughter and love. Report
My Mom was the youngest of 5, and I was her youngest. I didn't really get to know my grandparents. Basically, they were old & sick and then died. :( Report
Insightful blog. The most important and loving person I ever knew was my beloved Granny. She lived to the ripe old age of 105 y/o and thrived for all but the last 2-3 years. I learned soooo many valuable life lessons from her that I try to pass on to my grandchildren. Thanks for sharing your life lessons. Report
Great article. I love the bit about happiness being a choice. It's so true that our attitude makes all the difference. Report
One of the most important lessons I learned from my grandparents was that religion is important and that traditions are legacies, but to not let it dictate to common sense. To always question religious doctrine until I liked or at least was comfortable with the answers I found. My grandparents were raised as Orthodox Jews, they raised their children as Conservative Jews and my parents raised us as Reform Jews. The family learned to keep the politics of religion out of the religious discussions and we learned to be comfortable with the teachings of our faith. It was our grandparents that instilled that in us. I have never had a crisis of faith because I was taught to question doctrine, question tradition, and be comfortable with religion. Report
If we don't have a daily positive attitude for ourselves and our loved ones, how can we expect others to. :-) Loved this blog. My parents always taught me that if I want something, I am the person in control of that. I hope to teach that to my step children. Report
Sounds like an interesting book. Hope to read it someday.
My husband is almost 80 and suffers from old age health attacks. But has maintained his humor, and family relations. Faith in God has helped him also. He´s a joy to be around.
Wonderful advice. Live each day with as much positive attitude as you can muster. Be kind to yourself. Don't forget to laugh and smile. Report
When I am old... scratch that. NOW. I tell people to not take out credit cards and to buy things outright. Only have $1000 and need a car? Guess you'll get the one that's not as pretty.

It took three years to destroy myself financially, and 10 years to get back on even ground.

Kids: Don't finance. Save instead. Report
I was privileged to know all four of my grandparents, as well as one great-grandparent. I cannot begin to tell you all the wise nuggets I gained from them. One great tidbit that I observed, rather than heard from them, was that they remained active - even after "formal retirement." They gardened, walked, danced, and socialized. They did not grumble or suffer from self-pity, but were interested in others and always wore a smile. I have been truly blessed by them. Report
My father taught me to see the value of each and every peron in his life. He knew how to appreciate every one. Now as a teacher, I find this lesson coming back to me on a daily basis. I hope that I live out the lesson that he taught me. Report
WOW!!! This is how I have lived all my life! I decided at 14 JOY was a choice!!! Made a big difference in my existence!!!
Wonderful bits of truth. :-) Report