Karl Pillemer, 30 Lessons for Living; Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans (New York: Hudson Street Press, 2011), 271pp.
I read this book after seeing it featured on the PBS News Hour and reviewed in the New York Times. Karl Pillemer is a professor of human development at Cornell University who specializes in gerontology and founded the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging. This book presents the results of a study in which Pillemer studied a thousand elderly people across five years, conducting over 10,000 interviews of various types. An appendix explains the exact nature of the study.
Pillemer organizes his book into six major themes, with five life lessons for each theme: marriage, work, parenting, aging, living without regret, and happiness. Roughly half of the book features the first-hand accounts from the interviews. Throughout the book he refers to them as "experts," a nice touch that honors the aged for their experiential wisdom. It's safe to say that these people have experienced the full range of life experiences: joy and sorrow, success and failure, sickness and health, bitterness and joy, poverty and wealth, etc. Virtually all of them lived through the war and the Depression.
For a successful marriage, marry someone similar to you, cultivate friendship, learn to communicate, don't keep score, and commit yourself not just to a person but to the institution of marriage. As for work, not one person in a thousand — not a single person — would encourage you to emphasize financial rewards. Rather, find something you enjoy. In parenting, you're headed for deep regret if you don't spend time with your kids, real time, and not the euphemistic "quality time." Aging, say the experts, is far more enjoyable than we've been led to believe. To avoid regret, live honestly, say yes to opportunity, travel more, choose a mate carefully, and live in the moment. Finally, according to experts, happiness is a choice and not a condition. The book concludes with "Ten Questions to Ask The Experts in Your Life."