Author: Karl Pillimer Ph.D
Publisher: Hudson Street Press, 2011.
Much to my surprise it seems that the author of 30 Lessons for Living, Dr. Karl Pillimer, considers those who have passed their 65th birthday the “Wisest Americans.” So it is nice to know that I qualify as “wise” in the eyes of some. Please don’t ask my children if they concur with this conclusion as I would hate to see them shuffle their feet as they try to come up with some politically correct response. After all, they still get some benefit from making me feel useful and reasonably intelligent, especially when they need me for something and at Christmas and birthday times. At one time I met that definition in their eyes, until they became teenagers, then all my “wiseness” somehow disappeared. All of you who have had children are well aware of that period in their lives when anything you say to them is just plain dumb. Luckily, about the time they go to college, you somehow return to at least some semblance of your former self and are once again able to put a few words together without appearing, to them, to be a total idiot. Also, luckily, all your friends and acquaintances seem to have not noticed this long intelligence void. You have quite cunningly managed to keep them unaware.
In any event, Dr. Pillimer decided that who better to advise the young than those who have lived through all that they are about to experience? He didn’t just give this a passing thought. He began a data collection project which he entitled the Legacy Project. With the help of his research assistants he started writing to alumni of several colleges asking “What were the most important lessons they had learned in life.” They also set up and publicized a web site asking the same question. They were surprised to get over 500 written responses. From there they conducted face-to-face interviews with almost 80 elders, from all walks of life, who were able to give more detailed answers along with some of their personal history.
Knowing that he had to expand his sample of those he was interviewing he chose people, at random, over 65, and had trained interviewers call them on the telephone and ask them what they had learned in work, religion, health, career, etc. They found most people eager to respond though one gentleman was quick to respond with, “What have I learned from life? Not to answer surveys over the phone!” Many were amazed that anyone cared what they thought.
The final phase of this interview process was that of personal one to two hour interviews with elders over the age of 70, nominated by professional colleagues and agencies, senior centers, New York counties’ Offices for the Aging, etc. Approximately 1,200 individuals provided the information included in this book. Those being interviewed were not promised confidentiality and none objected and, in fact, some wished their names could be attached to the lessons of which they had spoken.
The total project took over five years. One might assume such an undertaking would result in a book full of boring statistics, but it is far from that. I found it fascinating and very readable. It was satisfying to go through each chapter and realize I had somehow, most often, the sense to go down the path others have suggested was the right one to take to lead a happy and healthy life. And Dr. Pillimer has managed to make each story or quote one you will enjoy reading. For instance, one of his first interviews was with a woman, in a nursing home, of almost 90 years who was almost blind and very near to the end of her life. When he asked her how she was, she was quick to reply that she was, “Just fine.” He couldn’t imagine where this cheerful attitude came from so he asked her. She explained that she had been raised in a shack with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing. She had six kids and a partially disabled husband, in and out of work. She worked hard every day of her life and had been through the depression. And now she had a roof over her head, three square meals a day with very nice people taking care of her. There was a lot to do and she loved waking up in the morning with the sun shining through the window…..She went on to explain that, “Happiness is what you make it, where you are. Why in the world would I be unhappy?”
The chapters in this book engulf all of living from lessons for a happy marriage (marry someone you like a lot, friendship is as important as romantic love, don’t keep score, talk to each other, and commit to the marriage) to careers, parenting, lessons for aging fearlessly and well and living a life without regrets. I have a feeling that in the coming years or so this book will be given as a gift to many young graduates and new brides and grooms. It would be an excellent way of passing on the important things in life in a way that might be better received than preaching it ourselves. I know I have already bought an extra copy to pass on and with it will be a note strongly encouraging the recipient to not let this book sit and gather dust but to read it and absorb all it has to say. It is full of the wisdom of the ages concerning our personal lives and is told in a way that is easy to digest. I believe anyone approaching adulthood, and beyond, would enjoy it.
Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.