Patsy’s List for Living: What I’d Tell My Grandchildren

Patsy, 90, offers advice to her grandchildren (and young people of all ages). Some of the advice she gives is unexpected, and it shows us how life experiences from 70 years ago can lead to highly relevant lessons for living.

I’d like my 16 grandchildren to learn a few of my favorite things that helped me live a good life. Not necessarily in order of importance, these include:

Be moderate in your eating and drinking habits. Eat everything in moderation and step on a scale daily to ensure you are maintaining your ideal weight. Drink the drinks you like, but use moderation in carbonated drinks, especially cola drinks that harm your teeth. As a teacher, I often placed a child’s first tooth in a glass of cola to show it disappeared in about a week.

Engage in after school activities from the time you enter school through high school. Participate daily in whatever you enjoy – sports, dance, music, art, drama, science, writing, etc. These activities will not only keep you busy but help you get into college.

When you get advice from a smart source, take it. In the long run it could help you. During WWII, my college advisor said, “Someday, Patsy, you may have to work.” I took his suggestion and earned a Masters in Education and Government and so became qualified to teach in any school in the country. Eighteen years later as the single mother of six, I was able to get the “perfect single parent job” – a teacher with the same schedule as my children.

When opportunity knocks, go for it – even if it necessitates moving. As a teacher I moved from St. Petersburg, FL to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. to Los Angeles, CA, to Santa Clara, CA.

Don’t buy anything you can’t pay for on the spot. Use a credit card and pay it off at the end of each month. Never waste money on interest. Except for my house, I buy everything for cash, including my car.

Start your children with savings accounts when they receive their first allowance or gift of money. Encourage them to save all or part of all the money they receive or earn and amaze them with compound interest. My parents encouraged me to do this so on my 16th birthday I was able to buy a $1600 car (a new Buick in 1937) for cash. And it all started with 5 cents per week in a grammar school savings program.

Teach your children the sounds of the letters of the alphabet before they go to school. They will then be able to sound out most of the words in the English language. They can succeed as early as two or three years of age. Knowing how to read enables you to learn everything else. I taught Remedial Reading this way for 20 years and every one of my students learned to read.

I’m sure I will think of other things I have learned in attaining my good life. But these came to mind immediately. I note that most are not generally taught today. I hope that some of the methods I used in achieving a good life will help others do the same.

Don’s List For Living: One for the Refrigerator!

Don, 77, offers a clear and succinct list of the lessons he’s learned throughout his life. Another good “refrigerator list!”

1. Apply yourself to everything you do.

2. Always be fair and honest

3. Be sociable even to those you may not like.

4. Greet everyone with a smile.

5. Always remind your family that you love them.

6. Be an optimist.

7. Always look for the good in people.

8. Life is for living. Enjoy it to the full.

9. Respect other people’s points of view.

10. But be prepared to fight for what you believe in.

11. Take time to smell the flowers.

12. Never get into debt.

“It All Boils Down to Choices”: Marge’s List of Lessons for Living

A profound list of lessons from Marge, 84. Two pieces of advice stand out to me: “It all boils down to choices. Make a bad one in a few seconds, and live with the consequences for the rest of your life.: And: “Those who make a plan for their lives have an advantage over those who just float merrily along.”

I write poetry for children and for the old. The media generation escapes me. I really would like to know what is going on, but it all seems as alien as the planet Mars. What could I tell them out of my experience that would have any meaning for them?

The world has changed in so many ways, most of them unhealthy . Perhaps the Indian elders are able to talk to their youth, since they have the tribal background and are traditionally respected. In my 84-year-old case, I feel that I have lost their attention. If I could re-capture it for fifteen minutes, I would say this:

It all boils down to choices. Make a bad one in a few seconds, and live with the consequences for the rest of your life. When you are young, lots of the choices have to do with sex and relationships. Use your head, and go carefully.

If you have a chance, get as much education as you can, because it gives you options you would not have otherwise. Find out what your strong suite is, and follow up on it. Don’t be afraid to seek advice . If words are your thing, and you think you might make a writer, don’t wait until you are 70 years old as I did.

Those who make a plan for their lives have an advantage over those who just float merrily along. This, in fact, is what I did, and I had a wonderful ride – but if someone had asked me “What do you want to do with your life? You’re only going to get one.” I might have focused more, and perhaps made a difference . But no one ever did. Too late for regrets!

One must make a living, and it is not easy these days. But don’t insist on being a millionaire. Focus on making enough money to bring up your children, educate them, save and invest anything extra for your old age.

If you have children, spend time with them, doing “stuff” like going on beach picnics, going to the zoo , reading poetry and stories at bed time, making cookies, at Christmas, singing with them, using art materials( Kids clean up well.) These are things they will remember in later life.

I think I’ll stop here. If I get preachy, no young person is going to listen.

Maureen’s List for Living – The View from 93

Maureen, 93, wrote:

Some of the lessons I’ve learned in my 93 years are:

1) Never judge a book by its cover. In other words, don’t judge people by their looks.

2) Keep confidences told you by other people. Don’t tell stories which are to be kept “only for your ears”.

3) Do not borrow money or valuables from friends. Banks are the place to go if borrowing is necessary.

4) You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Compliment others when they deserve if. They’ll thrive.

5) Avoid solving personal problems for others. If you do, they may backfire.

6) Be a listener. Some people need you simply to listen to them.

7) Keep your physical ills between you and your doctor.

8 ) Keep your political ideas between you and the ballot box.

9) Money can be the roof of all evil but it doesn’t have to be that. Become investor and consumer oriented.

10) Although one has lived a long time, that person must take steps not to become a bore. Criticism of the younger folks gets one nowhere!

Maurice’s List for Living – A View from Age 84

Maurice developed a list of fourteen things he’s learned over the course of 84 years:

1. Kindness. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I think she was right, and kindness is one of the best ways of making people feel the way you’d like them to. But quite apart from how you are remembered, acts of kindness (even rather small ones) are an investment that pays immediate and continuing dividends: they will help take your mind off your own problems and remind you that you have a chance to make some positive difference in the world.

2. Forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask “Forgive us our sins [debts, trespasses] as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Many people who recite those words may not pause to recognize the quid pro quo: in order to receive forgiveness, we must be forgiving of others. And there are times we must all be forgiven by God, by family and friends or even by ourselves.

3. Religion. Is there a God? If so, what is His (Her) nature? These are questions for which the answers are unknowable, or at least I have found them so. But if they are unknowable, they nevertheless deserve continuing reflection. And the answers that others believe they have found deserve our respect, no matter how unpersuasive we may find them.

4. Family. The importance of a loving and stable relationship, with a spouse or partner, can hardly be overestimated. Maintaining such a relationship requires all the advice on these pages and then some. Children can be a source of searing pain or astonishing joy and comfort. They should be brought into this world with a clear sense of responsibility, but if you raise them with understanding, patience and humor, there is a good chance that one day they will treat you the same way.

5. Health. Diet and exercise are important matters to which I regret having paid only spasmodic attention. At the moment, I enjoy undeservedly good health, but I find that, as a newly-minted septuagenarian, I am unafraid of death but terrified that I might suffer a serious and prolonged illness.

6. Honesty. The adage that “Honesty is the best policy” is good practical advice. Most people who have gotten into serious trouble did so by committing acts that, morality aside, were never worth the risk. When I left the government, a friend asked me what I learned. One thing I said was, “If someone ever tells you not to worry about something because “it will never come out,” do not believe them.”

7. Seriousness and Humor. Try to think serious thoughts about serious matters at least some of the time (for example, the preceding paragraphs), but without taking yourself too seriously. Never forget that all advice is easier to give than to follow (even by the one who gives it.) Cultivate your sense of humor. As Ogden Nash once said, it can be “a shield, a weapon, a survival kit.”

8. Procrastination. All of us tend to put things off, but as Shakespeare wrote,”Procrastination is the thief of time.” Ah, the man had a way with words and there was no wiser observer of the human condition. Procrastination is a thief not only of time but energy and morale. Some problems may be illusory and will disappear on their own, but if a problem is genuine, or a task must be undertaken, it will probably be less formidable if confronted sooner rather than later.

9. Caution with Facts. Much of what we “know” simply isn’t so, or is a mixture of fact, opinion, impression, surmise and imperfect recollection. It may not make too much difference in everyday conversation, but in a serious discussion, or if you’re making an important decision, it pays to try to sort out what is really (provable, documented) fact and what is not.

10. Education. When you receive formal instruction (from schools, colleges and graduate and professional schools), try to learn not just what will be necessary for “the test,” but what you want to carry with you and remember (in much abbreviated form) in five years, or ten or twenty-five or more. Informal education is all around you, in books, newspapers, radio and television, the Internet, friends and neighbors, colleagues and mentors at work. The process is constant and the trick is to identify what’s worth learning and remembering. (There is no job, however boring, from which you cannot learn something.)

11. Writing. We all write, and are instructed in writing, in school, but there is always great room for improvement that can come only from continued practice. In many lines of work the ability to write clearly is essential. But for everyone, it is an important form of communication outside the workplace. Moreover, making yourself write well, or as well as you can, will inevitably clarify your thinking.

12. Music and Art/Mathematics and Science. Whether you have any gift for creating music and art, you should try to learn enough to have some depth of appreciation as early as you can. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. I know. Anyone who is going to succeed in the 21st Century will almost certainly need a far better grasp of mathematics and science than I have ever achieved.

13. Keeping in touch. As you move from school to school, job to job, and area to area, you will continually make new friends, but fall out of touch with others. Work at keeping up your relationships. In business, it’s called networking, but apart from any commercial value, it can be source of personal satisfaction and strength.

14. Superstition. Don’t be superstitious, but why take chances by writing a 13 paragraph memorandum?

The Values I’ve Learned, Old-Fashioned But True

Some of the elders shared their core values, summing up wisdom gained over a lifetime. One of these responses came from Maureen, who is nearing her hundredth birthday.

I am 97 and 5/6 so I have had a long learning time! (I was at my university in June for my 75th reunion.) These are some of the values I’ve learned over my life; old fashioned but true.

1. Integrity. Without honesty, dependability, truthfulness, and self-respect life isn’t worth living.

2. Commitment. To marriage and sexual fidelity. To good family life, for without it, even though one inherits a good “nature” it is difficult through “nurture” to learn patience, respect for others, cooperation, and love anywhere else.

3. Healthy living. Best learned in family.

4. Respect for racial, cultural, and religious differences. Not only tolerated but understood if possible.

5. Hard work. Setting attainable goals and persistence in attaining them. One doesn’t have to be a wealthy big shot to be a successful person or have a “good life”.

6. Immersion in a “cause” bigger than oneself.

7. Expansion of one’s interests through reading, study of arts and sciences. Keep up to date.

8. Deep but unfanatical faith in a higher being. It is basic to a caring, generous, whole human being who can maintain equilibrium in a turbulent world.

By trying to learn these “lessons” I find that one is bound to be respected, loved, happy, even considered a role model.

Graham’s List for Living (including dessert)

Graham, 82, offered a list of principles for living a good life, with an insight about – dessert.

Although what I’ve learned is probably no different from what life has taught other people, here are a few of the principles I’ve acquired so far.

  •  Marriage.  Romance and love are not the same, a lesson probably learned only by experience.  Romantic love, from what I’ve seen, is an insufficient condition for a successful marriage.  What is thought to be love at the outset of a marriage is generally a mirage, for love develops slowly in marriage and continues to do so throughout its life.  For a successful marriage, perhaps the two most important components are similar values and a sense of humor.
  • Work.   There will always be many who are richer or more distinguished than I am, so if my purpose in working is to attain these extrinsic rewards, I will be disappointed, for I will always compare myself to those whose attainments are greater.  But if I work principally for the pleasure or the fulfillment it gives me, my success is assured.  This assumes, of course, that such work can be found.  There are few blessings greater than finding and keeping it.
  • Listening.  Most people like to talk about themselves and need only a little encouragement to do so. (Witness this essay.)
  • Advice.  There are few who do not like to give advice, and even fewer who are prepared to take it.
  • Humiliation.  Next to murder, the greatest crime is the deliberate humiliation of another.  If murder kills the body, humiliation mutilates the soul.  It is generally never forgotten or forgiven.
  • Kindness.  I cannot know what troubles plague those with whom I come into casual contact.  Even those with the most cheerful countenance may harbor great sorrow.  So if I can avoid needlessly adding to their burdens, I try to do so.  If I cannot make their life better, at least I try not to make it worse.
  • Planning.  Planning is more useful for giving the illusion of control than for managing the actual course of events.  Chance plays an important role in life, for better and for worse.
  • Worry.  We generally worry about the wrong things.  The calamities we lose sleep about usually don’t materialize, whereas the calamities that befall us are usually unanticipated.
  • Dessert.  The second bite is never as good as the first.

“Cozy up to Life”: Aurelia’s List for Living

Aurelia, 76, provided a set of lessons that look at living from a somewhat different angle. She’s honest, suggesting, for example, that life won’t turn out the way we expect it. But by honing in on our attitude toward what happens to us, we stand a much greater chance for happiness.

Be kind to people. Most of them deserve it. Give every member of your family your undying loyalty.

Be flexible. Your life probably won’t turn out the way you thought it would.

You have no choice but to play the hand that’s dealt you. But you and only you make the choice to be happy or unhappy. Make a conscious decision to be happy. A Jewish survivor of a Nazi death camp said during his time there he discovered the most important lesson of his life: they could take away his wealth, destroy his family, they could beat him, starve him, work him to death. But there was one thing they couldn’t touch or control, and that was his attitude.

Learn all you can about everything you can. Life is beautiful. Cozy up to it and share its confidences.

You are made up of the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. If one of those areas is in need, give it your time and attention until your life is back in balance.

Remember what your mother and father taught you. Use those lessons as your guiding stars.

A “Top Ten” List of Lessons for Keeping a Positive Attitude

I’m often asked: What are some “quick tips” from the 2000 Legacy Project elders? Here’s a list of ten short, on-target lessons for keeping your attitude positive despite the inevitable setbacks life brings – from our oldest interviewees. Take a minute to peruse the view from age 80 and beyond.:

1. “Paste a smile on your face in the morning.”

2. “Don’t plan too much about the future. Live life day by day, and let it lead you to unexpected places.”

3. “Always stay optimistic, no matter what happens. Try to think of the good side of things, and not worry about the little details. You’ll be much happier and lead a much better life that way.”

4. “Enjoy life. Make use of what’s around you, and just let yourself have fun”

5. “Don’t be stuck in the past, learn to change with the times.”

6. “Keep on going. This is important with whatever you decide to do. Push yourself to continue and finish what you’ve already started.”

7. “Don’t second guess what you’ve done — be happy with life and with what you do. Don’t regret things too much.”

8. “Learn to live in the moment. It’s calming in a world that is not very peaceful.”

9. “I’d say letting go is probably the most important lesson. In my life I’ve moved around a lot and I’ve had to learn to not live in the past, and to just live in the moment.”

10. “To try to enjoy life as fully as possible; be good to others, try not to worry about the future as far as how long you are going to live; do the best you can everyday.”

John’s List of Life’s Lessons Learned – Pursue Questions, Not Answers

We welcome contributions of life lessons to the Legacy Project site. This wonderful list of lessons learned was list.2sent to us by John, age 77.

 There are no definitive answers to any of life’s questions, but quality joy-in-life can be had in the pursuit of those answers.

Loyalty to one’s own personal beliefs and respect for others’ is the path to a serene life.

Family, country (maybe God if you are religious) need to be honored if one is to survive in an intolerant, unjust world.

Little things do matter and must be tended to so they don’t pile up to become complex things and more difficult to cope with.

Health and marriage must be treated in the same way…daily maintenance with occasional spoons full of sugar to make bad times go down.

You should listen more than speak, which is hard for us to do, so that takes practice.

You should find work that you will be content with because 40 years is a long time doing the same thing.

Heed the advice of your elders. They may not have all the answers, but they have had much more experience than you.

Experience can be a cruel teacher; learn from it.

Being cautiously pessimistic about life will make the sporadic good things that actually do happen seem even better.

You should not fret very long; all things pass. One way or another they will no longer be experienced.

Whether or not you believe in heaven and hell (religion) should not prevent you from being a nice person.

Injustice exists. Get used to it.