advice from the wisest americans

#45 – 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by Karl Pillemer

dear kafka,

the author and his team interviewed over a thousand elderly Americans in search of their wisdom. He believe this can “serve as an excellent guide to life for people of all ages”.

there are actually more than 30 lessons listed in the book if you count the additional advice at the end of each chapter. this contradicts rule #21 – “Always be honest”.


“don’t keep score” is lesson #3.


1. “Marry someone a lot like you” – same core values and backgrounds.

2. “Friendship is as important as romantic love” – do you feel deep friendship with your spouse?

3. “Don’t keep score” -it’s ok to give more than take.

4. “Talk to each other” – silence kills.

5. “Don’t just commit to your partner – commit to marriage

Common advice –  “Don’t go to bed angry”


6. “Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. ” – sense of purpose and passion are important.

7. “Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy. ” – persistence is the key.

8. “ Make the most of a bad job.”

9. “Emotional intelligence trumps every other kind.”

10. “Everyone needs autonomy.” – freedom and independence.

Common advice – “You should ask yourself this: do I wake up in the morning looking forward to work?”

“If you can’t wake up in the morning and want to go to work, you’re in the wrong job.”


11. “It’s all about time” – spending as much time as possible with them

12. “It’s normal to have favourites, but never show it.”

13. “Don’t hit your kids.”

14. “Avoid a rift at all costs.”

15. “Take a lifelong view of relationships with children” – how can you keep positive relationships with them even after they leave home?

Common advice – “The message is clear: abandon all thoughts of raising the “perfect child” or being the perfect parent, and do it as early as possible.” Be a good-enough parent.


16. “Being old is much better than you think.”

17. “Act now like you will need your body for a hundred years” – bad habits will cause years of suffering

18. “Don’t worry about dying—the experts don’t” – experts recommend “careful planning and organisation for the end of life”.

19. “Stay connected”

20. “Plan ahead about where you will live (and your parents too)” – a senior home may be a good thing.

Common advice – “the ultimate lesson about aging is “don’t fight it.” Instead they encourage all of us to accept the aging process and to adapt our activities to our changing physical abilities and circumstances.”

Regret Reduction

21. “Always be honest.”

22. “Say yes to opportunities” – more likely to regret saying no than saying yes.

23. “Travel more.”

24. “Choose a mate with extreme care” – don’t rush.

25. “Say it now” – “the only time you can share your deepest feelings is while people are still alive.”

Common advice – “go easy on yourself regarding mistakes and bad choices you have made.”


26. “Time is of the essence” – life is short, do important things now.

27. “Happiness is a choice, not a condition” – you don’t need things to happen to make you happy.

28. “Time spent worrying is time wasted.”

29. “Think small” – simple daily pleasures.

30. “Have faith” = religion helps.

Common advice – The Golden Rule. “Do to others what you want them to do to you,” or “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

The Last Lesson

Listen to old people.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

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