Ask Your Elders While There’s Still Time: Six Great Questions

This year, I lost two important elders in my life. Ruth was my undergraduate mentor – a professor who took meNEWS  under her wing many years ago and brought me into the field of gerontology. Helene came back to my university 20 years ago, got her degree in her early 70s, and worked with me as a research assistant into her 80s. She remained a trusted friend and advisor. Both of these remarkable women passed away this year, leaving us with wonderful memories.

But in each case, they left us with something more: a statement of their lessons for living. And that’s because I interviewed both of them for the Legacy Project. Their friends and families now have a record of the advice they offered to younger people for living a happier and more fulfilling life, learned over their long lives (87 and 89, respectively).

In this post, I urge you to do the same – before it’s too late.

One goal of the Legacy Project is to encourage people to talk with elders – older family members, friends, neighbors –  about their lessons for living. But people wonder about the kinds of questions we used to get elders talking about their advice for younger people. We’ve got an answer – and now is as good time as any to ask your family’s elders (or your older friends) about there lessons!

After interviewing hundreds of older people about their advice for younger generations, we were able to identify questions that work well to get the conversation started. These six questions were particularly thought-provoking for our respondents and brought a wide range of interesting answers.

1. If a young person asked you, “What have you learned in your ____ years in this world,” what would you tell him or her?

2. Some people say that they have had difficult or stressful experiences but they have learned important lessons from them. Is that true for you? Can you give an example?

3. As you look back over your life, do you see any “turning points”; that is, a key event or experience that changed the course of your life or set you on a different track?

4. What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

5. What can younger people do to avoid having regrets later in life?

6. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

And after you’ve talked with your elder – don’t forget to post some lessons on our “Share Your Lessons” page!

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