Caring Currents

Life's 5 Most Important Lessons

Last updated: Jul 07, 2009

Fishing at Sunset - Pacific Ocean , California
Image by moonjazz used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Taking care of an older family member or friend can be stressful. But so is being that person. One wonderful way to ease the stress burden on both of you: Help the person close to you define and preserve his or her legacy.

"Legacy" may not be a word most of us use in everyday conversation, but it's a concept people tend to give considerable thought to once they head north of their 60s and 70s. Shaping and understanding your legacy refers to sorting out what your life has meant, and what kind of memories of you are apt to live on after you die.

What a person learns and leaves is as individual as his fingerprints. But I found some heartening insights into common themes in this new research from Priceless Legacy, a company that turns interviews with older adults into life stories in print or video format. An analysis of its projects shows that the top five life lessons shared by people ages 65 to 104 are:

  1. The simple things matter most.
  2. Humor and time cure most pains.
  3. There's more satisfaction in giving than getting. Service to others is the most satisfying activity.
  4. Choose your spouse carefully. It will be your most important decision.
  5. Work hard and in a field or role that you enjoy.

I love this list for several reasons:

  • It shows that you don't have to be a president or a superstar to leave a legacy of experience and wisdom to impart. All life experience counts...and the "ordinary" experiences seem to count most.
  • It's a nice playbook on how to live life.
  • It makes a handy template, or at least a starting point, for possible insights to explore with your loved ones about their own life discoveries.
  • I love any reminder in any form that includes the message "humor helps."
  • Not least, it should make anyone who's a caregiver feel pretty good. According to these elders, the odds are good that you'll one day look back on your caregiving as a rewarding part of your life: Simple things (and by extension, simple deeds, simple gifts) matter. Service to others is the most satisfying activity.

How to help someone recognize her legacy is largely a process of investing time. It can be as simple as making time to listen and asking thoughtful questions. One tip: Look over old photos and documents to evoke a story. Learn more simple ways how to help older adults create a lasting legacy -- and you won't regret it. You'll probably both enjoy it, and you'll both feel grateful to bring it into the open.

Recommended reading to further grease your conversation: Demystifying Your Aging Parents' new Stage of Life, which includes more insights on the fascinating subject of legacy from's adviser David Solie.