How our past experience can carry us into our future - As a society, what are the life lessons that we can learn from generations that have come before us?
In 1998, television news journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book entitled: "The Greatest Generation." Writing about the generation of Americans born between 1914 and 1929 (those who lived during the depression and went on to live through World War II), he discusses how their life experiences shaped the qualities and outlook of our nation and then also what values and lessons we might learn from them.
Karl Pillemer, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, began the Legacy Project in 2004 through collecting practical advice for living from America's elders. Using a number of different methods, his research team gathered nearly 1500 responses to the question: “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”
His quest led him to interview more than one thousand Americans over the age of 65 to seek their advice on issues such as children, marriage, money, career, and aging. Their stories of love, loss, and hope in the face of struggle often surprised him along with their uncompromising honesty and clarity about what matters most.
When Pillemer was asked what was one common theme shared among the 1200 seniors, he replied, "Generally, they all possessed a positive view about aging.” For example, one 81-year old man advised, “Embrace it. You still enjoy life, and there’s still purpose in your life.” A 94-year old woman suggested that people need to “find the magic” in growing old. The seniors were very clear on what they wanted from life.
Pillemer also found that another very strong sentiment among the Legacy Project elders was an insistence to "keep learning." Our later years can be highly enjoyable and filled with new opportunities if you remain curious and open to learning from experiences. Social connection was also an important component in aging successfully. Seniors that stayed positively engaged with family and friends on a regular basis enjoyed vitality as they aged.
In my nursing career, I learned many valuable life lessons from patients, many whom were seniors. They taught me about resilience despite health adversities, staying vital and positive every day, and the importance of staying engaged with people. I witnessed the unconditional love they showed their grandchildren and the importance of receiving letters, phone calls, and visits from loved ones, especially when they were unable to easily travel.
At Telikin, we have the privilege of speaking with many seniors every day. While they live in different areas of the country, have different backgrounds, and possess varying interests and computer abilities, they all desire the same thing — to connect with family and friends, continue to learn new things, and embrace technology for what it can do to enhance their lives!
You can read more about The Legacy Project here:
Nancy Allegrezza, RN, Telikin sales director