In the Legacy Project, we asked over 1200 Americans the question: “As you look back over your life, what are the most important lessons you have learned that you would like to pass on to younger people?”
Sometimes the respondents went on at great length about a lesson. But other times they came out with a straightforward principle for living. Some of these “pearls of elder wisdom” took my breath away and stayed with me. Here are a few of the “short but sweet” lessons we heard from the elders.
Remember that life is short. When you’re tired sleep. When you’re hungry eat. Better yet — eat, drink and be merry. And do good things for others along the way. It makes everybody feel better.
Believe passionately in something. And I’m not sure that it matters too much what it is. But I think it’s very important to feel commitment, and to get energy and sustenance from that commitment. It could be religious, it might be environmental. It really could be anything. I think having passion and being willing to express it is important.
Learn to live in the moment. I certainly feel that in my own life I have been too future oriented, and it’s a natural inclination, of course you think about the future, and I’m not suggesting that that’s bad. But boy, is there a lot to be gained from just being able to be in the moment and be able to appreciate what’s going on around you right now this very second. And I’ve more recently gotten better at that and appreciate it. It brings peace. It helps you find a place. It’s calming in a world that is not very peaceful.
I think not putting off too long to do something, there certainly are things to do at certain times in your life that you can’t do at others. There are no wheelchair ramps to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so, if you want to get down there, you still have to go when you’ve got two little feet.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when I was younger I paid much too much attention to what everybody else thought. That I didn’t always do what I thought was best. I often did what everybody else thought I should be doing. And every time I stood my ground and did what I thought I ought to be doing, I did better
When there’s a ‘problem,’ it’s more helpful to assume it’s yours than someone else’s. Yours you can fix. Someone else’s you can’t.
What about your lessons? If you’re an elder and want to share your wisdom, or a young person who has learned something from an elder, please post it on our “Share Your Lessons” page!