This is a guest post by By Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. Karl is the author of 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. The book was inspired by The Legacy Project, Facebook, Twitter.
When people seek happiness, they often think about big events: I’d be happy if only I could find a better job, make more money, find a mate, have a child – the list goes on and on.
In the Cornell University Legacy project, we’ve spent the past six years asking over 1200 of the oldest Americans for their advice to younger people on living a happier and more fulfilling life. And they see this prevalent attitude as a mistake.
When it comes to happiness, America’s elders urge us to “think small.” They believe that we must be aware and attentive to small pleasures in daily life, even as we may be waiting for something in our lives to change. They are consciously grateful for what they have, right now, rather than pinning their happiness on future achievements or possessions
On that note, here are five simple pieces of advice for happier living, from the oldest (and wisest) Americans:
Just take life in stride, I guess, do the best you can. Enjoy, if you can afford it, living; going out and treating yourself to a few luxuries, like maybe going out to dinner, going for a ride or something like that. (Abel, 77)
Be grateful for each day that you wake up. (Roman, 84)
Every morning when I wake up, I thank God that at 75 years old I’m able to get up, take my shower, go about my business, by my groceries or go to work or whatever I do, I’m very thankful for that. (Lavonne, 75)
Everybody says that you should make a goal in your life, but I don’t think that’s always necessary because you make a goal and the first thing you know, you switched over to something else. All I wanted to do was be a mother, and I did. I had three boys and three girls and my husband made a living for us, we did fairly well, all of our children are still living and they’re happy, so I’m happy. (Roseanne, 79)
To live a decent life, a comfortable life, and that basically makes me happy. (Luann, 81)
We don’t have to wait until we are old to use this knowledge. In our studies, the elders say that younger people can take this “savoring” approach to daily life now, and reap the benefits of it over the entire course of their lives.