The Legacy Project Lessons for Living from the Wisest Americans Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:23:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Learning to Live in the Moment: Why Not Do It Now? Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:15:00 +0000 John MacGregor, 70, lived much of his life looking toward the future, striving in his distinguished academic career. His lesson is to learn to live more in the moment. He learned this in his sixties, but suggests younger people learn it sooner.

I don’t say people shouldn’t think about the future. But when you really give yourself up to the present, when you’re in the room and you look around you, and there are other people in the room and you’re able to really zero in on those other people, and being able to really sense what they’re feeling and tap in to their own presence, then it’s not aimless at all. You feel very connected, very grounded, and it’s energizing. So you receive energy by making those connections in the present moment.

And it’s not just with people. The same thing is true with a walk in the woods. If you can really open yourself up to hearing the sounds and smelling the smells, and feeling the touches, the wind, and all those things, then you increasingly feel like an integral part of that system, so that you too have feelings, and they begin to connect with what’s going on around you. You may feel small, but it’s not a very frightening smallness. Instead it’s a feeling of being a part of a larger something. There’s a connectedness that is very, very reassuring. So that’s what I mean by being present and being connected to now.

I think you inevitably look at the future, but to the extent that you can still appreciate what is going on today and at the moment, then exactly what that future is going to be continues to be an open question, and that openness I think has great value. You’re allowing in some sense your intuition to play a role, and not being afraid that somehow that intuition is going to compete with and overwhelm your reason. That the two can work together, and support one another, influence one another.

It’s not easy, particularly for those of us who spend a lot of time in academic institutions or other jobs where the rational part of you is applauded. Living in the present and enjoying life isn’t something that you complete, or accomplish; it’s something that you strive toward, something that you work on, something that you engage with. It’s a process, at least in my experience.

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I can summarize the lessons I have learned in 71 years of life. I’ve had two marriages: the first one unsuccessful and the second spectacularly successful for the past twenty years. I have two daughters and two stepdaughters and have excellent relations with three of the four. I also have six grandchildren. My husband and I agree that the most important things for a happy life are: luck, flexibility, and keeping one’s options open.

First, luck. No matter how conscientious and hardworking one is there is a limit beyond which one has absolutely not control. One’s health, circumstances, and children are subject to all sorts of outside influences. A catastrophic illness, accident, job dislocation, etc. can wreak havoc with one’s best laid plans. As far as children, no matter how carefully one supervises them at home, once they are away from hoe, other forces come into play and one can only hope that they do not come to harm. So it pays to be lucky!

Second, flexibility. To build lasting relationships with loved ones and to adapt to unforeseen problem situations one has to be flexible. You must be able to “roll with the punches” or you will be broken by them.

Third, keeping one’s options open. Often one is faced with forks in the road, choices which must be made. If one is wise, one will try not to leave oneself with no other recourse. It is not true that one can always retrace one’s steps. So one must carefully weigh the possible consequences of one’s actions. When I found myself with two young children in an unfortunate marriage, I was fortunate that I had the educational background to get a job that enabled me to obtain a divorce and support myself and my family. If I had not had this background life would have been far more difficult for us all. And that is why I always stressed to my daughters that they have a good education.

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“All That Is Good is Within Us: Gustav’s Advice from Age 70 Sat, 14 Jun 2014 10:55:03 +0000 Gustav, 70, offers an uplifting lesson, telling us that “all that is good is within us” and urging us to laugh and, yes, to all that's goodhave fun!

Beloved friends,

The most important lesson I have learned is to live in the present moment. This is our gift, right here, right now. This is why it is called “the present.”

To see the outer world as a reflection of the inner world. If we would like to clean up the former, focus on the latter. Have fun. Laughter is great, belly laughter is greater.

All that is good is within us. If we want more peace, love, joy, health, happiness, etc. in the world, focus where we can have the greatest impact: within our own skin. Outside our skin we have very little control. As we clean up our mind, body and emotions, our essential goodness radiates clearly through us. This easeful, peaceful, useful joyful radiance has a greater impact than we can ever imagine.

The secret to life is to have fun. Listen to our own heart. Discover and respect our own gifts. Live a joyful life sharing our gifts through our thoughts, words and actions. Live like a child.

Laugh when we fall down, make mistakes. Get up, try again, laugh, fall down, try again. Success is ours. Everything else gives it flavor. Get up, fall down, get up. To inspire is to breather in or to motivate. To expire is to breathe out or to die. For as long as practical, follow each expiration with an inspiration.

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Gwen’s List for Living – Love, Enjoy, Trust Fri, 23 May 2014 09:20:39 +0000 We are still so into our elders’ lists of their lessons for living, we want to share a few more. It’s amazing how many people sat down and summed up their advice for younger generations.

Today we hear from Gwen, 70, who provides an insightful – and sometimes unusual – list of life lessons. She tells us to embrace life with exuberance list for living.2and joy, giving to others while not forgetting to take care of ourselves.

When I look back over my life, the most important things I have learned are:

I truly do create my own reality.

Be lavish in loving those close to me, Don’t hold back.

I am my ancestors, they are me, we are one.

My children are my crown, my grandchildren the jewels therein, my great grandchildren the pure gold setting.

There are times to keep my mouth shut no matter what!

Friends are precious - and they can be animals.

Beauty surrounds me as much as I allow and let it in, even in death.

Its so good to laugh, especially with those you love.

Respect others and be kind - it will take you far.

I have a soul and it can sing, when in nature with trees, flowers, and plants, it has a voice.

Gardens are heaven on earth.

I love and take care of myself; only then can I assist another, really love another, care for another.

Have fun, play, tell a joke, laugh, be silly, outrageous, every day, it keeps the doctor away.

To love myself, enjoy myself, trust myself, be good to myself. Then give of myself. Fill up first, never try to give out of an empty container, it just doesn’t work.

Words are life or death, choose wisely before opening mouth.

Harmony in a family is its greatest assest.

To remain flexible, in thought word and deed, and be ready to party at the drop of a hat!

To sing loudly and lustily even though I can’t carry a tune –  it clears out a lot of cob webs in my mind.

There are second and third and fourth and on and on chances in life. Just keep on keeping on, it’s journey.

Solitude is warm soup on a cold day, to a hungry spirit.

I am the rock in the family now, and rocks don”t make a lot of noise. They just are.

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To our South Korean Fans: 당신의 도움이 필요합니다! Fri, 09 May 2014 16:12:00 +0000 I hope I got that phrase right! For those of you who don’t speak Korean, it should mean “I need your help!”South Korea edition

Specifically, I would love some help in understanding something that’s wonderful, but a bit mysterious: the astonishing reaction to the Legacy Project’s message in South Korea.

After the book on the Legacy Project, 30 Lessons for Living, was published, translations have come out in German, Chinese, and Japanese, among others. Everywhere, we’ve gotten great feedback about the elder wisdom portrayed in the book.

But nowhere has the interest been as overwhelming as in South Korea (where the title is 내가 알고 있는 걸 당신도 알게 된다면).

The book was published in South Korea (with the cool cover, above) one year ago. It has been on the South Korean bestseller list since then  (right now it’s #4) and has sold  over 160,000 copies. On a site that publishes book reviews (similar, I gather, to Goodreads), it is one of the most reviewed self-help books – and mostly with top scores.

So I would love to know: Why has 30 Lessons for Living been such a hit in South Korea?

With the help of a Korean-speaking colleague, I explored the media and blog attention to the book, which gave  ideas like these:

  • Readers in their 30′s and 40′s expressed how the book helped them to think about their current concerns, like parenting, marriage, and fear of getting old.
  • Historically, young South Koreans were supposed to respect elders, but this attitude is being replaced with views of the older generation as old-fashioned and outdated.
  • The book appealed to nostalgia for times when there were stronger links between the generations in South Korea.
  • The book included questions that the readers wanted to ask their own parents and grand parents.

These reasons all seem plausible, but still don’t seem to explain entirely why 30 Lessons for Living has resonated so strongly with South Korean readers.

Any ideas out there? If so, please share them as comments!



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Elder Wisdom, Elder Justice, and Elder Abuse Sun, 27 Apr 2014 20:25:57 +0000 As readers of this blog know, much of what we do in the Legacy Project focuses on the positive aspects of aging and the potential for growth and development in later life.

It’s also true, however, that there can be a more negative side to aging, and one of the more serious problems an older person can experience is elder abuse and neglect. Over the past two years, the Legacy Project has partnered with the New Yorkelder justice City Elder Abuse Center on a project that trains interns in both the topics of elder abuse and in elder wisdom (you can check out past posts from the interns elsewhere on this blog).

So I was thrilled when the Elder Abuse Center invited me to do a podcast, based on my years of work in both the fields of positive aging and of elder abuse. The podcast looks at the problem of ageism in our society, and how ageism holds back attempts to create elder justice. I also got the chance to speculate about how the Legacy Project might be used in preventing ageism.

Click here to visit iTunes & download the Ageism & Elder Justice Podcast.

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Funny and Wise: George’s List for Living Thu, 10 Apr 2014 11:09:21 +0000 Sometimes the elders find a way to combine good sense and humor with being a bit “on the edge.” Here’s a list for living from George, 81 –   a self-described “notorious old geezer!”list for living.2

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.

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Ten Tips from Nita: A List for Living Mon, 31 Mar 2014 10:40:10 +0000 Here’s another “list for living” from one of the Legacy Project Elders. Nita, age 71, advises: list for living.2

1) Be kind and generous

2) Nurture good friendships and good will with family, neighbors, coworkers, and others

3) Read, especially good literature and history

4) Live frugally, spending less than you earn

5) Take care of your health

6) Set aside savings and invest savings for your future and your family’s future

7) Establish the habit of supporting causes financially, those you care about, church or community, educational institutions, worldwide charities, medical research etc

8)Keep financial records in order

9) Don’t bore the younger generations with tales of living during the Depression

10) Leave instructions or make arrangements for your death

11) “Old age is not for sissies” but is nothing to fear

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Five Tips for Happier Living from Liza Thu, 20 Mar 2014 10:33:52 +0000 It’s been a while since we posted one of the elders “Lists for Living.” We love these organized lists, in which some of the list for livingLegacy Project elders were able to sum up a lifetime of wisdom in a few key points. Liza, 68, has some thought-provoking ideas for living the good life:

1. You will NOT experience regret over a decision to remain single and childless. Creating your own life can be as exciting as the predictable stresses (and even the joys) of the procreation and education of progeny.

2. Friendships should fit your emotional and intellectual needs. You should have many different kinds of friends – never depend upon just one or two. Understand that you, and thus your friends, should be expected to change over time. Llife is far richer if you vary the nature of your relationships – it is stifling to hitch yourself to/depend upon/share experiences with only one other person.

3. Always take advantage of an opportunity to have new experiences – travel, activities or in the realm of ideas. You learn as much from unpleasant experiences as you do from pleasureable ones.

4. Strive throughout your life to achieve a clear sense of who you are, what you want, what you want to be recalling as you die, and how you wish to be remembered.

5. Devote as much time as possible toward understanding the evolution and history of the universe and of humankind This long-range perspective makes you grateful and more generous.

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Ask Your Elders While There’s Still Time: Six Great Questions Mon, 10 Mar 2014 17:40:59 +0000 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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