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30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by Karl Pillemer, Phd

In what was described as a chance encounter, Dr. Pillemer met a frail, 90 year old woman who somehow had the power to stop him in his tracks and begin a project that is now “The Legacy Project.” Dr. Pillemer, already interested in working with older adults, has since gone on to interview over 1,000 adults over the age of 65. The accumulated wisdom is collected for all to learn from. While all the Lessons are valuable, with summer upon us it might be a good time to look at “Choose Happiness”.

Dr. Pillemer breaks down what he has heard from the experts (those adults over 65) so we shall start with the First Lesson from the Happiness chapter: Time is of the Essence. You may have heard of it as ‘life is short’. How does this work for the Thriver? In embracing this core knowledge we are able to treat each day in a manner that allows us to take advantage of each opportunity, each day. Sound trite? Try asking it of someone whose time is marked in hours or days!

Second Lesson: Happiness is a Choice, Not a Condition. While it might be a popular song right now the experts have their own way of making their point: “happiness requires a conscious shift in outlook in which one chooses – daily – optimism over pessimism, hope over disillusionment, and openness to pleasure and new experiences over boredom and listlessness.” We already know that a pay raise will not give us unlimited amounts of joy or make difficult situations go away but how we choose to look at things in spite of our circumstances is a skill which a Thriver can surely learn.

Third Lesson: Time Spent Worrying is Time Wasted. There is plenty one could worry about if it was how you wanted to spend your time! Instead you might find it more useful to look at the short term rather than the long term according to Dr. Pillemer. Put another way, “this too shall pass.” This bill, this ache, this fear, will pass and in allowing ourselves to remember that we save valuable time and energy. Accepting is a salve to worrying about something and tip that the experts pass along to the rest of us.

Fourth Lesson: Think Small. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps because this is one of those lessons that is timeless it is easy to forget. Last month we discussed savoring and this is where you can most appreciate the notion of thinking small. A cool, refreshing breeze, the smile of a toddler or the sight of a loved one is enough to help us think small and take in the happiness offered.

Fifth Lesson: Have Faith. Now, I’m not about to go into a discussion of religion or spirituality here because this is not the time; I’d refer you to a radio show, “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett to guide you on that topic. What I will offer however are the words of the experts, “A faith life promotes well-being, and being part of a religious community offers unique support during life crises. But how and what you worship is up to you.” If you are a not a believer that’s OK too but among the experts this would put you in a minority group (remember, this is a group that has lived through the Depression, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the 60’s, the Civil Rights Struggle and more and they still have a great deal of faith!) As a Thiver I’d encourage you to explore and work out what and how you can best meet this suggestion offered up by the experts.

This is the start of a blueprint and with the joys of summer right here for us to savor (hint, hint!) I would invite you to see where your own path to happiness will take you. It’s going to be great!

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