The playground test and other life rules

First aired on Tapestry (25/01/13) 

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Karl-Pillemer-150.jpgWhen someone had a problem -- large or small, personal or otherwise -- it used to be that they would seek the advice of the oldest person they knew. But, we don't really do that any more, do we?

Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and Cornell University professor, set out to change that when he realized that even he -- someone who studies old age - was replicating cultural ideas about the elderly. "Namely I was treating older people almost exclusively as problems," he told Tapestry during a recent interview.

So, he interviewed more than a thousand people over the age of 65 to see what advice this particular older generation -- which had survived the Great Depression and the Second World War -- would give to youth. He chronicled their responses online for the Legacy Project and authored 30 Lessons for Living based on their responses.

Here's just some of what they had to say:



  • The more values you have in common with your partner, the better your marriage will be.
  • Do not believe that you are going to change someone after marriage.
  • Go on a date with your husband/wife at least once every two weeks.
  • Never go to bed angry. Talk it out and do not be afraid to express yourself.
One person explained the playground test to Pillemer.  "If you're looking for a mate, you ought to look for that person who you most wanted to play with on the playground at six," he said.

  • Take chances.
  • Pursue something you love rather than something that will make you a lot of money. Focus on your passion and the money will come later.
"Their view is that these eight or 10 or more hours a day you spend at work is such an enormous use of limited life time that you must do everything you can to pursue something that is intrinsically valuable," said Pillemer.

Raising children
  • When dealing with adult children: stand back, don't interfere and give your advice when they ask for it.
  • The magic bullet for child rearing is spending time with your kids. The quality of your relationship with your kids and how kids turn out is directly proportional to how much time we spend with them.

  • Ageing is much better than you expect it to be. It can be an adventure, a quest and/or a time of new beginnings.
  • Fear of dying is for the young, but with age comes acceptance.
  • You have to be positive, despite the difficulties that come with getting older.

"At some point in your life, you have to be able to learn to choose to be happy even when difficult things happen," said Pillemer.

Pillemer said he learned a lot from the wisdom of his interviewees, but especially to be more attuned to the small things of daily life.

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