Lessons on Love and Living from the Oldest Americans


As you go through life, do you find yourself saying, “I wish someone had told me this when I was younger?”  Thanks to Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. and his Legacy Project, we now have a place to share practical advice that could change the way the next generations live their lives.

The Legacy Project launched in 2004, when Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University, started collecting advice for living from US adults over age 65 who had lived through extraordinary experiences and historical events. Researchers systematically gathered nearly 1500 responses to the question, “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”

What began as a simple survey grew into both a website and a book. Published in 2011, the book is called 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

The advice at the Legacy Project runs the gamut: From how to be happy day-to-day and secrets for a successful marriage, to tips on raising children, ways to have a fulfilling career, strategies for dealing with illness and loss, and how to grow old fearlessly, older Americans have shared wisdom built on experience.

The site encourages visitors to share by clicking on the tab “Share Your Lessons.”  Clicking takes you to a submission form where you can write your contribution.

The “lists for living” have one thing in common – positive thinking.  These older Americans share the ways they, and all of us, can survive and thrive, despite the challenges we face in our lives.

The Marriage Advice Project

A new project underway by Pillemer’s research team is the Marriage Advice Project, which is culling advice on on love and marriage from people age 60 and older. Whether you are currently married, widowed, divorced, or in a long-term committed relationship, your lessons are welcome. The project will post selected stories on its website and publish contributions in a new book on elder wisdom due out in 2014, Lessons for Loving.

Older Voices

Some of our favorite contributions to the Legacy Project:

“Keep active both mentally and physically every day. Life has so much to offer . . . Keep learning every day that passes. Education is important and you are never too old to learn something new – i.e. computers and the latest technology or a new way to cook something or how to make a quilt. Take classes that are offered by your local library.” -Lenore, age 89

“We have to learn from the young and always stay curious.” -Arnold, age 95

“. . . we are increasingly aware that accumulating STUFF is of little importance. The accumulation of love for each other, of our children and of life-long friends and extending that love to those less fortunate than we have been is the centerpiece of our lives, of humanity and civilization.” -Steve, age 78

Watch The Legacy Project’s YouTube video to hear some of the voices.

Click here to survey the Legacy Project website

Do you have advice to share?  Click here to submit ideas to the Legacy Project or write them in the comments below.



7 responses to “Lessons on Love and Living from the Oldest Americans

  1. Your article and the video are a happy surprise to me! I didn’t know about The Legacy Project but I am thrilled to know it exists! I have always thought that America’s elderly were not considered a source of wisdom, yet in the Asian countries they seem to revere their elders. Americans treat the elderly like throw-aways who have outlived their usefulness. I’m thrilled to know that The Legacy Project is shining a spotlight on their wisdom so we can all benefit from it. Thanks for a great article Linda! I’m actually going to go out and buy his book for my kids.

  2. While I am not yet old enough to participate in the Legacy Project, I would tell my teenage self to follow my passion of dancing and see where it leads me. What would you tell your teenage self, Edward?

    1. The most critical thing I have to say to myself as a teen is to develop relationships and keep them going. Relationships are key to life happiness. When I was young, letter writing was necessary to keep in touch and it was so easy not to do it. Today there are many tools to maintain but it is still difficult to rekindle relationships that have been lost only through neglect.

      1. Thanks Edward, that’s one of the best pieces of advice we’ve heard, and great point about the tools now available. Maybe with Facebook, Google Plus and other social networks, young people will stay connected over the years – that is, if the networks survive!

      2. I agree completely, Edward. I am lucky because I always was, and am still, a letter writer (an email writer more so now). I think I got that trait from my mom. I also told our son how lucky he is that facebook is around so he stay in touch more easily with his high school friends since they’ve all gone off in different directions. Thanks for your wise advice!

  3. I am 72 and consider myself to be young. One question I would like to hear answered is: What one thing you would tell your teenage self? ( who usually knew everything) Must be general not just buy Apple or land or stay out of Germany in 1938- 1945.

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