Anonymous Distributor

Karl Pillemer is a gerontologist (someone who studies older people) who, in his work, kept meeting older people – many of whom had lost loved ones, been through tremendous difficulties, and had serious health problems – who nevertheless were happy, fulfilled, and deeply enjoying life. He found himself asking, “What’s that all about?” As he looked through existing research, he found that study after study validated the fact that older people – in their 70s, 80s and beyond – are actually happier than younger people. Pillemer thought that perhaps older people knew things about living a happy, healthy, fulfilling life that younger people didn’t, so he decided to find out what that practical wisdom was. He interviewed 1,000 seniors and asked them, “What is the most important lesson you want to pass along to the young?” From his interviews came his book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. Here are a few of his findings about some of life’s lessons that older people have learned during their long lives.


“…one lesson stood out; a lesson that older people knew about because of where they stand on life’s road – but that younger people could benefit from learning about. It was a lesson that almost all expressed. And they did it vehemently.


“What they wanted younger people to know is this: life is short. The older the respondent, the more likely they are to say that life passes by in what seems like an instant. They say this, not to depress younger people, but to get them to be more aware and selective about how they use their time. Older people practice what psychologists call ‘socioemotional selectivity’ – because their time is limited, they make careful decisions about how to use their time. Some implications of this insight are to say things now to people you care about, whether it is expressing gratitude or love; asking forgiveness or getting information; spending the maximum amount of time with children or grandchildren; and savoring daily pleasures instead of waiting for ‘big-ticket items’ to make you happy.


“The other piece of advice that comes from this idea that life is much shorter than you realize: Take a chance. People in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond endorse taking risks when you’re young, contrary to a stereotype that elders are conservative. Their message to young people starting out is ‘Go for it!’ They say that you are much more likely to regret what you didn’t do than what you did. As one 80-year-old said, ‘Unless you have a compelling reason to say no, always say yes to opportunities.’


“Elders have also learned that happiness is a choice – not a passive condition dependent on external events, nor is it the result of our personalities. We can choose – in a conscious shift in outlook every day – optimism over pessimism, hope over despair.” We can take responsibility for our own happiness throughout our life. As I’ve said many times in this column: Life is about choices every minute of every day. We can choose to be happy, smile and uplift people, or we can choose to put people down and try to make them as unhappy as we are. It’s not your personality. It’s your choice!


We also know experience is very important in our work lives. Harold S. Geneen, the former CEO of AT&T, had this to say about business experience: “In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.” Those are true words of wisdom.


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Harvey Mackay tells a story about “a little boy spending his Saturday morning playing in his sandbox. He had cars and trucks, his plastic pail, and a shiny red shovel. In the process of creating roads and tunnels in the soft sand, he discovered a large rock in the middle of the sandbox.


“The boy dug around the rock, managing to dislodge it from the dirt. With a little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the large rock across the sandbox by using his feet. When the boy got the rock to the edge of the sandbox, he found that he couldn’t roll it up and over the wall of the sandbox. Every time he made some progress, the rock tipped and then fell back into the sandbox.


“Frustrated, he burst into tears. All this time, the boy’s father watched from his living room window. As the tears fell, a large shadow fell across the boy and the sandbox. It was his father. Gently but firmly, he said, ‘Son, why didn’t you use all the strength that you had available?’


“Defeated, the boy sobbed back, ‘But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!’


“‘No, son,’ corrected the father kindly. ‘You didn’t use all the strength you had. You didn’t ask me.’ With that, the father reached down, picked up the rock, and removed it from the sandbox.


“Successful people rarely reach the top without a lot of help along the way. The ability – and willingness – to ask for help is one trait that really stands out among those who are truly committed to success.” Seeking help and advice, when you need it, will move you quicker down the highway of success.


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Contact the Anonymous Distributor at anonymous.distributor@gmail.com or read his blog at www.anonymousdistributor.blogspot.com.

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