By Karl Pillemer
Thanksgiving is often a special time spent with family and friends. What a great opportunity this is to celebrate the elders in our lives — to transform Thanksgiving Day to a celebration of elder wisdom. Thanksgiving is an opportunity for the younger generation to ask the older generation for advice on how to live a fulfilling life. When families gather around the table to share a meal, it is often the children who are the best ones to start this kind of a conversation. The goal is to genuinely ask questions and for advice so that family and friends, especially children, can learn from their experiences. Taking this approach elevates the role of elders as advisors to the less-experienced younger generation.
GET THE CONVERSATION STARTED
To get the conversation started, it may be easier to ask questions related to important life events for which you have personal experience – or which you anticipate facing in the future. Discussion that is relatable has much more impact.
Life situations that will open up communication are going to be different for every family. For example:
- Are you thinking of getting married? You might want to ask what your elders have found as the secret to a happy marriage.
- Are you starting out in a new career? A great question to ask is what older relatives think are the secrets to living a happy and successful life (life lessons they wished they knew when they were 20).
- Are you facing a major life transition and unsure of how to handle new challenges? You may want to ask for insights as to how your parents or grandparents handled major ‘turning points’ in their lives.
On a more general note, you may want to ask about important life lessons elders have learned along the way. Asking them about the important choices they faced and the decisions that they have made can provide important insights. Difficult and stressful experiences, as well as positive opportunities, can help you gain perspective on lessons learned. Listen carefully to what elders say are the most important choices and decisions that they made – and what are the most important lessons learned from those decisions. And finally, you might want to ask what they have found to be the major values or principles to live by.
Life experience is a priceless commodity….take the opportunity to learn from the experiences of those who have ‘been there and done that’ while giving the older generation the respect for the lessons they can teach you.
Let’s declare Thanksgiving (or a part of it) Elder Advice-Giving Day. Our elders won’t be here forever, so this year is a good time to start!
Karl is the Director of the CompassCare Institute. He is a professor of Human Development at Cornell University and internationally renowned gerontologist and published author.