The No. 1 key to a happier, longer life—‘that younger people don’t’ know, according to the oldest and ‘wisest’ Americans

CNBC – I once interviewed Karl Pillemer, the Cornell sociologist and author of “30

Lessons for Living: Tired and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.”

He’d seen numerous studies showing that people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond were far happier than younger people.

He was intrigued: “I keep meeting older people — many of whom had lost loved ones, been through tremendous difficulties, and had serious health problems — but who nevertheless were deeply fulfilled and enjoying life. I found myself asking: ‘What’s that all about?’”

It occurred to him that maybe they see and understand things that younger people don’t. But to Pillemer’s surprise, no one had conducted a study on what practical advice older people had for the next generations.

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That set him off a seven-year quest.

Their No. 1 lesson for a longer, happier life: Time is finite, don’t spend it regretting things

“The older the respondent,” Pillemer found, “the more likely [they were] to say that life passes by in what seems like an instant.”

When elders say that life is short, they’re not being pessimistic. They’re trying to offer a perspective that they hope will inspire better decisions — ones that prioritize the things that really matter.

And the biggest regret they had? Worrying about things that never happened: “Worrying wastes your life,” one respondent said.

“I wish I knew this in my 30s instead of my 60s,” one man told Pillemer, “I would have had so much more time to enjoy life.”

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According to the older adults Pillemer interviewed, these are the most valuable things you can do with your time:

  1. Say things now to people you care about — whether it’s expressing gratitude, asking for forgiveness, or getting information.
  2. Spend the maximum amount of time with your parents and children.
  3. Savor daily pleasures instead of waiting for “big-ticket items” to make you happy.
  4. Work in a job you love.
  5. Choose your mate carefully; don’t just rush in …


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