Elder Wisdom: From Marriage Advice to "Knowing When to Shut Up"

Jul 11, 2016

Emily Woodbury is getting married in two months. And while she had had extensive discussions with her future husband and her officiant, she decided to seek wisdom from one more source: her grandparents.

"They met in 1956 and sixty years later, they're still together. They're really happy together, and I admire that in a way. I hope that, sixty years from now, with a bit of luck, that me and my fiance are where they're at now. So I wanted to see if they had any advice for us."

Karl Pillemer, Director of the Cornell Legacy project and author of 30 Lessons for Loving and 30 Lessons for Living, says asking our elders for wisdom will not only strengthen our relationship with them, but start a larger intergenerational dialogue. He says, too often, we get stuck in the mindset that older people are isolated, frail, lonely and sick.

"There's actually a different way to approach older people that would focus on what they had to offer. And one of the main things that they have to offer is practical advice on how to live our lives."

And that's advice we should take, given that, by Pillemer's estimations, older people are happier than younger people.

"Happiness really begins to build in the 60s and beyond, and many older people despite having a burden of chronic illness and despite having experienced loss, are actually happier than 40- or 50-year-olds."

In this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with both Emily Woodbury and Karl Pillemer. Haley Jenkins, artist-in-residence, and the only 22-year-old resident at Deerfield Retirement Community in Urbandale, also joins the conversation.