Wednesday, December 07, 2016

We should ask our elders how best to live.

I want to point to a brief essay by Pillemer in Aeon. His interviews with several thousand people in their 80s and 90s revealed that their common response to younger people seeking a goal or purpose in life was to tell them to relax...a life can have a number of purposes, which can shift and change as life situations, interests, and priorities change.
But how should you go about finding a direction? How to settle on a purpose that fits your current life stage? One technique turns out to be immensely valuable – and yet most people ignore it. If you are searching for a direction or purpose, interview your future self...when people are made to think in detail about their future selves, they are more likely to make better financial planning decisions, show altruistic behaviour, and make more ethical choices. But it’s hard to do.
He gives advice similar to that given by Daniel Gilbert in his book "Stumbling towards happiness," a book which I abstracted in a series of MindBlog posts June 29, 2006.’s astonishing how few people do the next best thing: interview an older person who embodies the ‘self’ they would like to be...In any period where you feel directionless, wavering, stuck with one foot in two different worlds, and hearing in the back of your mind the song lyrics ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ – find your future self. He or she should be old – and preferably really old. You don’t want a 40-year-old if you are 20; you want someone in his or her 80s, 90s, or a centenarian if you can find one. You need your future self to have the truly long view, as well as the detachment that comes from a very long life.
This person also needs to be as close as possible to your imagined future self. Debating a career in medicine? Find a doctor who loved what she did. Worried about whether you can balance your values with a career in the financial services industry? Find an older person who struck that balance and made it to the end of life without regrets. Planning to work an undemanding day job so you have the energy to paint/write/act in your spare time? Some very old people did just that

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