Sunday 20 October 2019

Ask your elders, not the web - good advice never gets old

'Why have we stopped tapping into the greatest resource we have - the life experiences of older people? Who better to tell you what not to do than someone who has been alive for 85 years?' (stock photo)
'Why have we stopped tapping into the greatest resource we have - the life experiences of older people? Who better to tell you what not to do than someone who has been alive for 85 years?' (stock photo)

Sinéad Moriarty

What can you do to live a life without regrets? For some reason, in contemporary society we have stopped asking our elders for advice. We'd rather look up the internet than pick up the phone to a parent or older relative and ask their advice.

Why have we stopped tapping into the greatest resource we have - the life experiences of older people? Who better to tell you what not to do than someone who has been alive for 85 years?

Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University and founder and director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Ageing, did just that. Over a period of five years, he talked to a group of 1,200 people between the ages of 70 and 100 and asked them about living well.

One of the main regrets the respondents had was time spent worrying. Considering many of these people had lived through World War II, you would have thought that worrying would go hand in hand with their life experiences, but they regretted any time wasted on it.

As someone who worries a lot, I could certainly use this advice. Although we all know that worrying about something that hasn't happened is pointless, there is a fear factor in all of us, the middle of the night "what ifs". The fear of things going wrong, worrying about your children, your ageing parents, work, your health - the list in endless. But worrying is a waste of time and energy that you will never get back.

Another good piece of advice on how to live without regrets was to choose your mate with extreme caution. The wise elders were firm that it is not a good idea to rush into a marriage or partnership. They advise taking time to get to know your partner well, marry someone who is a lot like you, keep communicating and don't keep score.

Not spending enough time with your children was another big regret. Once the time is gone, you can never get it back. Even though when they are babies the days can seem like months, you will wake up one day and find a hairy, monosyllabic 16-year-old staring back at you with those same beautiful blue eyes and wonder where the time went.

Go to their football games, turn your phone off at dinner and listen to them while they still want to talk to you.

Interestingly, the elders all said it was normal to have a favourite child but advised not showing it - definitely good advice if you want a happy home life.

When it comes to career choices, we should seek fulfilment, not a bigger bank balance. Don't give up on looking for a job you love, but try to make the best of the one you have even if you aren't happy.

Travel more. Save up, sacrifice things and make sure you travel and experience other places and cultures. Adventurous trips are often some of the highlights of people's lives. Forget upgrading your car or your kitchen - blow the budget on the trip of a lifetime.

The great thing about holidays is that you have all the pre-holiday fun of planning, excitement and anticipation. Then you have the actual experience itself, and when you come back you have the memories that last a lifetime. I am now seriously considering cancelling having our leaky roof fixed and booking a trip.

Health is important. Look after your body and remember that any bad health habits you form in early life will come back to haunt you in old age. Life goes by quickly, so it's important to act now. Don't wait - be healthier and fitter now.

Which brings us nicely to the "say it now" recommendation. I can't think of a funeral I've been to where someone hasn't said: "I wish I'd told them I loved them more often." I thought it myself at my father's funeral. None of us can negotiate with death, and we never know when the time will come for our loved ones to depart this world. So, don't hold back. Say it, express how you feel. You will never regret it, and you may never get the opportunity again.

The last two pieces of advice are probably the wisest, and everyone can adapt them to their daily life - happiness is a choice, not a condition, and think small. Focus on the little pleasures of life - a cup of tea in the morning, a beautiful sunset, the first spring flowers, your favourite song on the radio. If you can be mindful of these small events they can cheer you up and bring you joy at any age.

Choose to be happy. We all have to make a deliberate choice to be happy in spite of difficulties and challenges. No one's life is perfect, no one "has it all".

Having spent my walk this morning worrying about health, I'm determined to open my eyes and ears tomorrow to focus on the world around me and notice the small but beautiful things I stomped by today. Life is short, we need to cherish it.

Irish Independent

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