Take advantage of the most important life lessons over 1000 elderly Americans learnt over their lifetimes, and apply them to your life.
I was a mess at 18.
The priorities I had, and the knots in my head did me no favours.
I’m 31 now, and even by just living an extra decade, it’s extraordinary how much extra wisdom I’ve gained.
Imagine then, what I’d learn by the time I’m 90.
Researcher Karl Pillemer in his book ‘30 Lessons for Living‘ interviewed over 1000 Americans aged 65+ years to find exactly that.
His goal was to answer: What are the most important life lessons we can learn from the elderly that we can take advantage of, and apply to our lives now?
Here are the Top 5 most important lessons.
1. Time is of the essence
Life is short and we need to start acting like it. Especially when viewed from 80 or 90, it will seem like only yesterday that you were coming out of high school. Your time on Earth is going to fly by.
This knowledge isn’t meant to scare or depress you, but to get you to act and use this to your advantage.
- Prioritise your time and don’t waste it – treat it as a precious resource.
- Treat each day as a gift. Appreciate the joy and pleasure in just being alive. The elderly say young people are always looking to the future, pushing for more and achieving more. While this is natural, it makes us lose sight of the present, and the pleasure, beauty, enjoyment and love our daily lives can bring.
- Bring your focus back to the everyday, appreciate it and learn to savour these moments because they won’t be here forever.
- Don’t put your dreams off for some future date, as that date may never come. There are no wheelchair ramps to the bottom of the grand canyon. Start doing the things that are important to you right now.
2. Happiness is a choice, not a condition
While you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react to it.
One of the most important life lessons we can learn is that happiness is a choice, not something that just happens.
Not letting yourself be happy is also one of the most common deathbed regrets.
You can choose to focus on positive emotions rather than negative ones, optimism rather than pessimism, openness instead of listlessness.
Lots of unpleasant things are going to happen to you in life, and when they do you have two choices. You can mope and sulk and feel sorry for yourself, or you can put on a brave face and get on with your life.
Sometimes it takes a lot of self-pity before you can get going with the rest of your life, but the sooner you can manage it, the more you will discover that life is worth living after all.Marguerite Renaud, 80
You have the power to change and influence your own attitude in spite of life’s problems, even in the face of tragedy.
By consistently and intentionally moving towards the positive perspective every day.
Once you realise happiness is an outlook and a decision you can control, and you intentionally focus on all the good in your life instead of the bad, you will find joy in spite of what life throws at you.
3. Time spent worrying is time wasted
Older people say we spend too much time worrying. It’s a waste of energy and our lifetime as worrying makes no difference to the outcome whatsoever.
On top of that, worrying poisons the present moment and blocks positive emotions from moving in.
If you really have a hard time stopping worrying, they suggest you try this:
- If the future is uncertain, take a shorter-term focus and take it one day at a time.
- Prepare or plan for the situation you are worried about rather than just worrying. Planning ahead and preparation can significantly reduce your worry e.g. researching as much as you can about a possible surgery, practicing your speech before a public speaking event.
- Do what you can in the realm of your control and let the rest go. Learn to accept reality rather than fighting it. That bad thing that you can’t control may happen to you, but that’s life. If you can’t do anything about it, accept it and do the best you can with what you can control.
4. Think Small
Sometimes being happy is about being able to appreciate the small things, rather than always looking to big events in our lives to keep us content, like finding our soulmate or getting that desired promotion.
This important life lesson ties into the first one – life is short. When we fully realise this fact, it makes sense to look to, and adopt an attitude of gratitude for life’s simple pleasures.
What’s different about ageing is that you don’t have fifty more years when you’re seventy. That’s the difference—limited time.
And the main thing that results from that knowledge is gratitude. The grateful knowledge that today is another day. Every day I say, “Yes, I’m alive.” And every night I say, “Thank you.” I always pick the most simple, most mundane thing to be thankful for, because that’s where it’s at.Renata Moratz, 77
Don’t put off your happiness until some anticipated future milestone.
While it isn’t bad to look and plan for the future, there are untold benefits to finding contentment in the little gifts that our daily lives bring. This may include the beauty of a flower, a cup of morning coffee or the feel of sunshine on your skin.
Adopting this view means you can find joy even when the big things go wrong. These everyday moments are all pleasures to savour and enjoy.
It takes most people a lifetime to realise this but you can start early and reap the rewards. You’ll have decades more to enjoy life and find the peace it brings, rather than always looking to some future achievement to allow yourself to be happy.
5. Have faith
The elderly say developing a spiritual dimension, whether that’s your own form of spirituality or organised religion, brings about greater happiness in life.
Of course, not all of the elderly agree on this, some were perfectly happy without faith in their lives but it seemed they were a minority (no more than 50 out of 1000+ that were interviewed).
The elderly recommended faith as a vehicle to happier lives for two main reasons – it provides a sense of community, and it can help you cope better with hard times.
I am not religious so I am not sure how I feel about this lesson. If you have a strong support network and can keep it that way, then you can reap these same benefits.
Relationships are really important to our wellbeing. You can find these without participating in a religious community though this makes it easier, as the community is already pre-packaged there for you.
Pay attention to the relationships in your life and make sure you take the time and effort to maintain and keep them into old age.
Bonus life lesson: The Golden Rule – Love, compassion, empathy
The final important life lesson is a bit of a bonus.
The book mentions this lesson comes up time and time again expressed by the elderly in various forms, more so than any single piece of advice.
The lesson is to show empathy, compassion and love for others. Treat others as you would like to be treated, try to understand their perspective, walk in their shoes and treat others with kindness.
Rather than be critical, seek to empathise as you never know what other people have gone through.
It is about recognising we are all comrades on life’s journey and connecting with others is part of the beauty of being human.
Do any of these important life lessons resonate with you? Or inspire you to make a change in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.