Over the course of the Legacy Project, we’ve talked to hundreds of elders, asking them about lessons for living they would like to pass down to younger people. In the interviews, I often feel a deep connection to respondents, especially over the course of a long conversation about profound and personal topics.
So one of the hardest parts of this project is when I learn of their passing. News will trickle in that one of these sages in our midst has died, and despite their age, I always feel surprised and saddened that this particular light has gone out. But I am also grateful that I was able to record their practical wisdom so younger people can use it.
Antoinette Watkins was one such elder. Her advice for a happy marriage is featured in my forthcoming book 30 Lessons for Loving: The Wisest Americans Advice onLove, Relationships, and Marriage. Then age 81, Antoinette had overcome troubled early years in her marriage and achieved a warm, loving relationship with her husband of 55 years.
Her lesson for younger people is that to keep the spark alive throughout a long relationship, you must make a habit of doing small, positive things. That’s what keeeps a relationship warm, supportive, and fun.
I have never forgotten this suggestion from Antoinette – and one I try to personally practice (not always successfully, but I try!).
There is one practical piece of advice I have givenn to my children. This is just one little jewel that I passed along to them. And that’s when you wake up in the morning, think: “What can I do to make his day or her day just a little happier?” The idea is that you need to to turn toward each other and focus on the other person, even just for that five minutes when you first wake up. It’s going to make a big difference in your relationship.
She taught me that the build-up of such simple, positive gestures can transform a marriage. And this is why we should be sure to ask our elders for advice about things like love and marriage.