Learning From Experience

By Robin Bush, ISR Communications

Gerontologist and Cornell professor Karl Pillemer’s book, “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans” is filled with the life wisdom he gathered from interviewing thousands of senior adults who had survived crises (from pandemics to world wars, the Great Depression and more) and found the resilience to go forward. His premise is that older people have unique and valuable knowledge of living well through hard times. “They have lived life and learned from it.” When he asked each participant what they felt were the most important lessons they had learned over the course of their lives, he distilled key lessons that “serve as an excellent guide to life for people of all ages.”

He received advice on marriage, careers, child-rearing, growing old fearlessly and well, avoiding serious regrets throughout life, and “how to make the most of life, remaining happy and fulfilled despite inevitable loss and illness.”

Many described being happier than they ever had been in their life. They concur that growing older is uncharted territory, with no roadmap, which allows them to see aging as an adventure. So, what are some of their pieces of advice for traveling this uncharted road? 

Take the Long View

Learn from problems, or the problems overcome you. Learn that life is good. Be calm. This is a moment in time, and the present will one day be a memory. With resilience, we recover and move on. Be honest and say yes to opportunities.

Be Generous

We did it together. Assisting others builds the understanding that you are not alone. Be grateful for what you have. “I believe it is important to have arms outstretched, holding one hand up to the person who is giving you a lift up, and one hand down, giving someone else a helping hand up.” – Jane Hillard, age 90

Don’t Worry, Prepare

If you don’t worry about every little thing that might go wrong, you make space for everything you love and enjoy. Worry wastes time and increases suffering. Instead, take action. Preparing for the worst makes you feel empowered. Knowing you are doing the best you can helps you worry less.

Small Daily Pleasures

Don’t take things for granted. Despite everything, life is worth living, even when the big things go wrong. In times of crisis, it is important to savor the small pleasures; these help uplift you. Lighten up. Spend your time well. Happiness is a choice.

We are not born with resilience; we learn it from adapting to and learning from life experiences. If you want to increase your resilience, focus on looking for the silver lining, keeping perspective, asking for help when needed, making every day meaningful, being proactive, and looking for the lessons you can learn from each situation. And most importantly, listen to those who have more lived experience than you do. With age comes wisdom.

The Latin term “carpe diem” is often said today to mean seize the day, but it is actually an agricultural phrase meant to convey pluck or harvest the day. Think of each day as unharvested pleasure and attend to the joy of being alive.

“There is not enough time in our lives to trade off the gold of our existence for the dust of what-ifs or what-if-nots..the ultimate connection with those we love is what truly graces our lives.”  – Bessie Sherman, age 86.

Mr. Pellemer’s book is inspiring and full of truth for all of us at any age.