Looking Back: 30 Lessons for Living from the Wisest Americans

I’m a semi-regular viewer of the PBS Newshour.  I especially enjoy that TV program when it offers up a serendipitous connection.  A recent show did just that.  It included an interview of Karl Pillemer, noted gerontologist, and Professor of Human Development at Cornell University.

The interview context was his new book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.  From interviews of close to 1,500 experts, elders of 65+, Pillemer created “a guide for younger people”.  And what’s the biggest life lesson?  Life is really, really short.

We have a lot to learn from those who have navigated a long life.  A lot happens at the edges, and the edges of our life is no different.  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know my interest in the many perspectives on aging, and how it relates to collaboration and creative resolutions.

I read Pillemer’s 30 Lessons.  It is a book for everybody.  And, yes it is written in a way that appeals to the young, too.  The essence of what contributes to a rewarding life comes through, clearly.

Below is the PBS interview (6 minutes).  Afterwards, I list out the 30 lessons.  I’ll assume you get the message.  If not, you may want to check out the book.  Just saying.

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(The) 30 Lessons for Living

Lessons for a happy marriage

  • marry someone a lot like you
  • friendship is as important as romantic love
  • don’t keep score
  • talk to each other
  • don’t just commit to your partner, commit to marriage itself

Lessons for a successful and fulfilling career

  • choose a career for intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones
  • don’t give up looking for a job that makes you happy
  • make the most of a bad job
  • emotional intelligence trumps every other kind
  • everyone needs autonomy

Lessons for a lifetime of parenting

  • it’s all about time
  • it’s normal to have favourites, but never show it
  • don’t hit your kids
  • avoid a rift at all costs
  • take a lifelong view of relationships with children

Lessons for aging fearlessly and well

  • being old is much better than you think
  • act now like you will need your body for a hundred years
  • don’t worry about dying – the (elder) experts don’t
  • stay connected
  • plan ahead about where you will live (and your parents, too)

Lessons for living a life without regrets

  • always be honest
  • say yes to opportunities
  • travel more
  • choose a mate with extreme care
  • say it now

Lessons for living like an expert

  • time is of the essence
  • happiness is a choice, not a condition
  • time spent worrying is time wasted
  • think small
  • have faith


What advice from a wise elder has stuck with you, and shaped your view on life?  Leave a comment.


  1. Very sage. It’s wonderful to have wee reminders like this to top up / reinforce these wisdoms. Living well and being happy makes for better workers producing better work. Fortunately more and more companies are cottoning on to this and foregrounding collaboration which respects and values the opinions of their workers, making for a more balanced, more comfortable workplace – thinking out loud now. Thanks for sharing these positivities.

    Luke W
    Community Manager

  2. Thanks for your input Luke. You make an astute point re: “positives”. That’s kind of how I see these lessons, too… friendly little reminders, nuggets of wisdom, handed down to us, in respectful ways.

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