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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