A List for Living – From a "Notorious Old Geezer"

George, 81, wrote his lessons in a letter that combine good sense and humor with being a bit “on the edge.” Good advice from a self-described “notorious old geezer!”

Being a notorious old geezer myself, I decided to pass along these life lessons that I have learned:

 1, Never build a house in a flood plain.

 2. Anytime you’re offered a free lunch, turn it down. Chances are it’s someone selling time shares or rare coins.

 3. Live BENEATH your income. And sock the surplus into conservative, interesting-paying investments.

 4. Avoid all state and national lotteries. They’re a tax on the stupid.

 5. Don’t smoke; it’s the No. 1 cause of shortened lives and aging morbidity.

 6. Use credit cards and enjoy the 25-day float, but pay off the balances every month.

7. Exercise daily and vigorously (tennis is my passion).

8. Eat well, but sensibly, and maintain your normal weight.

9. Enjoy wide-ranging activities — books, concerts, plays, movies, sports, etc. They stimulate your mental, physical, and emotional powers.

10. Develop the art of critical thinking. Untested theories are just that — unproved theories.

11, And don’t give advice to people who don’t ask for it. And even if they do, be wary. Most people don’t want your opinion, just confirmation of their own prejudices.

The Old Cliches about Living the Good Life Apply: Miguel's List

Miguel, 76, tells us that tried and true wisdom pretty much gets it right.

Past generations had it about right.  Most of the old cliches about living the good life apply. 

One should eat healthfully, get a full night’s sleep, exercise regularly, set priorities, not sweat the small stuff, spend a lot of time with family.

Follow your heart, plan ahead, never look back with regret, give it your all, not take life too seriously, try everything — you only go around once.

Live beneath your means, make new friends, but cherish the old ones.

Admit mistakes, learn to listen, keep secrets, don’t gossip, never take action when you’re angry

Don’t expect life to be fair, never procrastinate, call your mother. 

Most important: (1) choose your parents with care – they will provide the good genes and set you on the right path; (2) pick the right spouse — everything else pales by comparison.  


Lessons Learned: John's List for Living

 We welcome contributions of life lessons to the Legacy Project site. This wonderful list of lessons learned was sent to us by John, age 76.

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.

Jeremy's List for Living: Lessons for Work, Intimacy,and More

Jeremy, 72, offered this profound and interesting list of his lessons for living. A compendium of elder wisdom worth pondering!

Here are some of the things I believe I have learned about life:

1.  The most important resource is time.  Not money or material things.  Because if you have time you can fix whatever is wrong.  If you don’t then all the good things in the world won’t matter.  So you need to take care of yourself and give yourself as much time as possible.


2.  Learn what you are good at (and what you are not good at) early enough in life that you can build on these points later.  Don’t kid yourself.  Most people will go through a mid-life crisis of one kind or another.  I certainly did.  When you are in a period of drift it is good to know the kind of solution you are looking for.


4.  Intimacy is much more important than most people think.  A lot of people think of themselves as mentally and/or physically tough.  Tough as nails—that is their self-image and the way they want others to think about them.  But to have a complete, satisfying and fulfilling life there must be a soft part somewhere, even if only one other person (or even a pet) can see it.


5.  What goes around comes around.  Once again this is hardly original with me.  But I have learned that life is full of surprises.  Someone or something that you do not see as very important at a particular time may become very important later.  Always act as if each person, each activity, each thing you come across is potentially important in the future.


6  .If you want to avoid getting stale, keep re-inventing yourself.  Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if you are a basically conservative person.  This is especially true for me now, approaching retirement, or at least semi-retirement.  I believe that when a person retires he (or she) should do something completely different from what he has done before.  That is so that it is understood as the beginning of something rather than the end.  Nothing could be more depressing than sitting around waiting for the end.


7.   Don’t expect everyone to love you.  Life is full of difficult choices which are inherently zero sum games.  Some of these you have to lose because it is more important for you that the other person wins.  But there are some where you really do have to win.  So don’t be afraid to step up and win.


8.  Maintain your ability to compete.  Everyone loses some battles.  But if you are so depressed that you are unable to compete you will enter an inexorable down-spiral where some kind of disaster will be waiting for you at the bottom.


9.  Know when to think ahead and when not to.  Part of our cultural programming is to think and plan ahead.  Am I saving enough money?  Am I doing the right things for my children?  But there are some, easily recognizeable situations where you really can’t predict the outcome.  In a case like that you must discipline yourself not to think too far ahead.  Just deal with what is immediately in front of you.  Believe me, the situation will change.


10.  The true measure of what someone brings to the table of life is what his or her descendants accomplish.  It is nice that such and such a person earned millions of dollars or accomplished some incredible physical or mental feat.  But the part of him or her that will go on afterward will be the children and grandchildren.  So set a standard of accomplishment and appropriate behavior that will hold up—that will provide for you a legacy that is a lot more important than just giving them some money.

Some Reflections for the Holiday Season: Samuel’s List for Living

We always love what we call “Lists for Living” we receive from elders. As we enter the holiday time, Samuel’s list of advice for younger people has many points to ponder.

It is with a sense of gratitude and gratification that I take the opportunity to express the feelings and thoughts which I gathered over the years. I am hopeful that the younger readers will appreciate these experiences. I am 87 years old, male, boasting an active mind, with healthy body, sound vision and using my own set of teeth.


            Family life has been the established group living for centuries. There is no substitute for that in terms of gratification, self-worth, and completeness. It provides the best combination for physical, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment. At the end of the day, I could say: I am glad to be alive. Of course, I was fortunate to have found an ideal mate.

 How to Succeed

            To succeed in any art or endeavor, one must love it passionately and that comes with the admiration of the masters who had contributed to its development.

 Making Decisions

            Do not decide on major matters at abnormal times, places, or moods. Try to be alone in a calm and secluded place, away from the environment which caused the problem. You will then discover or uncover an inspiring solution.

 Prepare Yourself An Alternative

            When you face a situation which seems difficult or impossible to resolve, despite a persistent perseverance, do not get discouraged. Instead, find an alternative to lean on. This will help you face the problem with a positive solution and avoid the feeling of disappointment. It works!

 Heed Your Feelings and Thoughts

            Your instincts are worth pursuing all the way towards achievement. If you cannot do what you like, then LIKE what you are doing. Go as far as you can see, then see how far you can go!

 Taking Risks

            Nothing ventured is nothing gained. In cultivating a close relationship with a special woman, for example, take chances; you may be surprised. When you pursue this relationship, bring out the best in her. Love is such a wonderful feeling. Make the most of it, with patience and perseverance. Your mate may be hard to understand sometimes; but try to conquer her or him with love and companionship. That is precious.


            No matter what faith one follows, there is a need for the spiritual link with Creator, God, as well as relationship with the universe. Life is richer and deeper with this connection.

Mike’s List for Living: 10 Tips for a Happy Life

We love the elders’ lists of their advice for living – and readers tell us they wind up on refrigerators across the country!

Mike, 72, summed up his principles for a happy and healthy life in 10 succinct points.

1. My father told me always to be honest. If you are honest you never have to remember what you said.

2. Another aphorism is to reach for the stars. You may not get there, but you might reach the moon.

3. You only have one chance to make a first impression. In the first conference meeting with my colleagues I made an astute observation which impressed everyone. After that, no matter how stupid my comments were, I was still viewed as knowledgeable. If it had been the other way, my opinions would be somewhat suspect for a long time.

4. Don’t let little things bother you. Most everything is a little thing.

5. Be cheerful. Nobody likes a sourpuss.  (Nor do they like saccharine sweetness.)

6. Remember Aristotle and search for the golden mean between extremes.

7. Vote. You are partially to blame if the wrong candidate gets elected.

8. Organize your life. It’s much easier to remember where you put things.

9.  Be spiritual. But don’t force your spirituality on others. There are many pathways to truth.

10. Re-evaluate your life periodically. But don’t obsess if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected. Surprises occur all too often.

From Friends to Finances: Florence’s Lessons for Living

Florence provided this truly useful list of lessons for living – from the perspective of the tenth decade of life!

I am a 91-year-old single woman but my life experience has been a little different. My second job after college was as a worker in a children’s home. Among my children was a little girl who came to me at 21 months. After taking care of her for several years she needed a permanent home. I adopted and raised her. Later four teenagers of her large family came to to live with me and finish school. All are married but we are still very close. So, with grandchildren, great grands, and a couple of grea- greats I have a big family.

Here’s a summary of the lessons I have learned:

Get control of your finances. This will require careful planning and willpower. Accept that you can’t have everything- at least right away. Decide on the essentials, a place to live, utilities, food, etc.

You need a checking account and a savings account. Take each paycheck to the bank and deposit, don’t cash it. Hold out enough for cash purchases, groceries, etc. Leave enough in the checking account to pay current bills. Whenever possible, put a little in the savings account. This is your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and a start toward your savings.

Be wary of credit cards. Never use one unless you can pay the bill in full at the end of the month. The interest can be devastating to your finances.

Aim toward home ownership. Rent is a constant drain with nothing to show for it.

For major purchases, save first and pay cash. This goes for cars and it can be done. As soon as I’ve bought a car, I start saving (in the savings account) for the next. Making payments adds much more to the cost. That money can be yours to use.

When you have your finances organized and are keeping out of debt you are ready for the next step. Start your life savings. It is all right to start small but you can’t start too soon. Locate a full service brokerage firm that is a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Request an appointment with a financial adviser, who will

listen to your needs and advise accordingly. Medium risk stock will likely serve you best. Later you can use the dividends for extra income. If you keep increasing your stock portfolio, it will provide financial security for retirement. Never buy stock from a small outfit that only deals with a limited type of stock or on advice of an individual.

Friends are your support group. They are the people with similar interests with whom you share your joys and sorrows. They may be near or far. Maintaining the ties may mean letters, phone calls, or an occasional visit. Be willing to do your part. The friendship will deepen over the years.

Also be open to making new friends. I treasured my lifelong friendships but I have outlived al of them. Because I made new, and much younger, friends when I moved to a new area I still have good friends.

Develop hobbies. Friends are great but it is important to develop interests and hobbies you can pursue alone. I garden, sew, walk, read, do genealogy, care for my pet cats, feed the birds and squirrels, take part in church activities, camp, and travel. The days are never long enough. I still have and drive my small motor home but I’ve run out of traveling companions so I take it to a nearby campground and travel more by air. I take trips with a purpose. I’ve been on mission trips to Mexico three times, to the Oberammergau Passion Play, to Africa with a small local group and last fall a wonderful trip to Peru with Heifer International.

Find a church. If you are not already connected with a church, look for one where you are comfortable with the beliefs and find people with whom you are congenial. Regular church attendance provides stability and deepens your spiritual resources. It is also a good place to find friends.

Some Wise Advice – From Some Wise Elders!

At the Legacy Project, we always welcome you to share your lessons for living (or lessons learned from an elder) on our “Share Your Lessons” page. You can also find lots more practical advice from America’s elders in our book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Some wonderful elders from the Watermark Retirement Communities took us up on our offer, and provided some terrific lessons for living that all of us can use. Enjoy!


“Throughout my life I have stayed active in sports and other physical activities. Now that I’m 96 years old, I make sure to walk as much as I can. It keeps the body moving, the blood flowing and I always feel better after a walk.”


“I keep my mind and body active by helping others in doing crafts such as bead stringing and jewelry making. I have always believed that when I die it won’t matter how much money I have or how large of a home. What will matter is how many people I have helped as I’ve traveled that road of life.”


“The first election I voted in was the third re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt vs. Wendell Wilke in 1940 and I’ve voted in every election since then. That makes 18 elections and 12 presidents. Voting is our right and our obligation according to the Consitution of the United States of America. We should avail ourselves of this right each voting period.”


“A father is one who loves his children and their mother in all circumstances. He disciplines with love and not anger. He spends time with his children and shows them by example how to make good choices. He is always there to open his heart to their concerns and he is present in their lives until the end, when it can be put on his headstone with pride ‘He Was My Father.’”

Aaron and Muriel (married 70 years):

“Two words of advice for lasting love: ‘Yes, dear.’


The Most Important Lesson? Pearls of Wisdom to Ponder

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!

Wisdom from the Past – For the Graduating Class

Verna, 91, wrote this “list for living” to her great-grandchildren. It’s a good one to pass on to the next generation in your family (be it children, grandchildren, or further down the line)  and perfect advice for the college graduates this month!


1. So many things in the world have changed since the time of my grandparents and parents and the earlier times of my own life, and I know that there will be lots of changes in your lifetime too.

2. I hope you will always take school seriously (I was a teacher) and become well-educated to be ready for whatever kind of work or service you will be doing; that you will respect your body- take good care of it and try to have good health.

3. I hope that the governments of the world will do a better job of getting along with each other so that you can experience peace among nations.

4. I hope you will be a positive thinker, not negative or cynical; look for the good in people and things, and fill your life with love, kindness, and thoughtfulness for others.

5. Most important is to know God as you go into the future. I would hope that you will know the peace and joy and courage that come from following a life of love and service- the peace that passes all understanding.

5. Your real success in life lies is the kind of person you become, not with how famous or wealthy you are, so my most sincere wish is for you to live the wholesome life that will lead you to make good choices along the way, to Reach That Star that you are striving to reach.