Elder Wisdom for Living through a Crisis

The majority of our population has never lived through a global crisis like the current one. But there is a source of wisdom and reassurance for living through catastrophic times that has existed for as long as human beings have been human: The oldest people among us.

I began interviewing the oldest Americans in 2003, focusing on people in their 80s, 90s, and beyond. It was an opportune moment, because many members of the “War and Crisis Generation” were still alive. I was able to capture the advice of people who had lost everything in the Great Depression, fought in World War II or kept their families together during that time, or survived the Holocaust. Remarkably, I  interviewed over 60 people who lived through the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic, to which the current one is being compared.

You can find detailed advice for living well through hard times in my book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. But there’s one point I will make here that stands out: You will get through this, and it will one day be a memory rather than a current reality. In hundreds of interviews with people who lived through world-shattering events, I saw how they survived and eventually thrived. Taking the long view at a time like this can help you maintain peace of mind.

As you hunker down, take some time to listen to the elders who gave their advice on our YouTube Channel. Here are three of our favorite lessons about being resilient and not giving up when times get tough.

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Note: Karl Pillemer is one of CompassCare’s founders. He is a professor of human development in the College of HumanEcology at Cornell University, and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College.Karl started the Legacy Project in 2004, when he started collecting the practical advice for living of America’s elders. Using a number of different methods, his research team has systematically gathered nearly 1500 responses to the question: “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” People from across the country in their 70s and beyond shared their wisdom for living. They offer tips on surviving and thriving despite the challenges we all encounter. 

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