Karl Pillemer is a professor at Cornell University. He teaches human development for the College of Human Ecology and is also a Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. In 2004, he began a mission: to gather practical advice from seniors to pass on to future generations. He calls it The Legacy Project. There was a time when it was instinctual for people to seek advice from elders, but shifts in our society have made this no longer the case. Karl Pillemer intends to return to that line of thinking, and to give a voice to those seniors who often have no one listening to them.
He and his research team have used several different methods to gather information from those 70 years of age and above, and have received responses from over 1,500 seniors from across the country. He has compiled some of this data into two self-help books: 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, published in 2011, and 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, which was published in January of this year.
The question asked of the seniors is, “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” The responses cover a wide range of topics, from relationship advice, to child rearing, to career success, to dealing with illness and loss, to aging gracefully, to making the most of each day and being happy.
There is also a Legacy Project website where information is still being gathered and published. You can not only pick a topic and see what seniors have already contributed to the area, there is also the option for seniors or their loved ones to share lessons of their own.
Pillemer notes that, when he began The Legacy Project, he was surprised at how under-researched this area of study was. While there was sociological research about seniors, little to none of it had any information that actually came from the seniors themselves. He set out to change that, and has been quite successful in doing so. He discovered that elder Americans had a wealth of information to share, advice to give, and lessons to teach. Perhaps we should listen a little more often.
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