Family as Foundation

Of the five foundations of well-beinGraphic-tree-explorerg—fit, flow, goal progress, altruism, and relationships—only one requires high quality interaction with other people. The other four we can do alone if we wish. We need interaction with others to benefit from relationships. And, the core set of relationships for all of us is what we know as our family. Whether our family is the traditional extended, mom-and-pop variety, or whether it is a commune, work team, gasthaus stammtisch, a pickup ball team we’ve played with for decades, a music performance group—each of us needs at least one group which we call our family.

I write this as I approach the gathering of 70+ members of my Howard clan in eastern North Carolina. One of our activities will be the completion of the Family History Survey. It was prepared by Marshall Duke (and others) at Emory University. Duke and his team found that higher scores on their “Do You Know” test are associated with higher self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, a lower incidence of behavior problems, greater family cohesiveness, and better family functioning. Especially interesting is that high scoring children who experienced 9/11 showed greater resilience. The brief survey asks questions such as:

  • Do you know the source of your name?
  • Do you know the names of the schools that your mom/dad went to?
  • Do you know how your parents met?

Now here’s the kicker: It is not the knowledge of one’s family per se that causes the benefits, but rather it is the connectedness of the individual to their family that tends to result in such knowledge. Family knowledge is a symptom, not a cause, of family cohesion.

The same relationship would hold for all forms of families. How much do you know about others at your stammtisch, in your car pool, on your ball team? Ask them:

  • Where’s your favorite vacation spot? Why?
  • What was your most memorable birthday? Describe it.
  • How did you get started with this group?

Become adept at asking questions of your “family” with the intent of getting to know them better, for the purpose of identifying similarities and differences in values, tastes, habits, achievements, losses, hobbies, skills, interests, successes, failures, and the like. The more you know about your family, the firmer the foundation you are building. Plus, it feels good to be asked questions about who one is—usually! Friendly inquiry is a form of flattery.

Again, it is not knowledge, but intimacy-that-results-in-knowledge. To know about one’s family is the result of being curious, of listening, of showing an interest in the lives of others, of spending time together in a way that permits conversation—from walks on a beach or mountain path to quiet meals with the television off.

Don’t be someone who reads the obituary of a loved one and remarks, “Darn, I didn’t know that about them!” Do you know your family well enough to write an obituary for any one of them? If not, get crackin’! And start askin’!

Bored? Here’s a Cure.

February 25, 2015 Leave a comment

bored monkey

In my last blog I praised “progress towards a goal” as equal to or better than happiness. Getting closer to a significant goal is undeniably satisfying.

However, in order to make progress, to get nearer the target, one must first have a goal. Too many times I have heard this lament: “I just don’t know what to do with myself. I’m bored.” A sure cure for boredom is commitment to one or more goals. As a way of jump-starting those without a meaningful goal, here is a list of types of goals. Clearly, some of these goal types will appeal to some kinds of individuals more than others. Scan the list and pick an area. Then formulate a goal, plan how to pursue it, and let your associates know your plans. Do not let a day go by without making progress towards the goal.

Kinds of Goals:

  • Attitude change. Identify an attitude that gets you into hot water, alienates friends, or otherwise is not working for you. Talk with associates about how to work on changing that attidude.
  • Bucket list. Create a list of things you would like to do with the time remaining in your life, then systematically accomplish each of them. I keep my bucket list on my cell phone and share it with others from time to time—you never know when you’ll meet up with someone who can help you along your way.
  • Build something. Does your grandchild need a crib or doll house? Does your partner want a patio? Do you need more shelves or cabinets?
  • Career—new role, industry, location. Consider preparing for working in a different role (sales versus R&D, e.g.), a different industry, or a different location—make a choice and then study up on how to accomplish it.
  • Change values emphasis. Have you unconsciously allowed a value that is only of moderate importance to you occupy more of your time and resources than you deem satisfying? If so, plan how to shift your energy towards a higher priority value.
  • Creating something. Similar to building something, but broader—write some music or poetry, create a digital family photo album, start an online support group.
  • Credentials/degrees/licenses. Begin a program that will provide you with a new certificate, degree, license, or other kind of credential. In my 30s, I applied for membership in the American Psychological Association, and ended up having to write a 40-page essay that described my qualifications.
  • Eliminate a bad habit. Such as, say… [Do I really need to fill in the blank here?]
  • Establish a new habit. Such as practicing (an instrument, a movement, a foreign language) on a regular basis. For example, Charlotte’s International House has “language hours” that enable one to practice a language in a safe environment.
  • Save, invest, budget, sell, reduce expenses, learn about how money works.
  • Growing something. Plants (ever had a terrarium?), animals (ever had an aquarium?), children (ever been a Big Brother/Sister?), knowledge (ever exhausted the information on a specific topic?), your voice (ever taken speech or singing lessons?),
  • Health/wellness. Make a commitment to get into better physical shape through exercise, nutrition, sleep patterns, or other means.
  • Increase happiness/well-being. Read my book about happiness (or someone else’s) and find therein goals that research has proven to increase your sense of well-being.
  • Increase mental ability. Research shows conclusively that intelligence is not a fixed quantity that you are born with and cannot increase. Make up your mind to increase your intelligence in a particular area (verbal, math, visual, kinesthetic, and so forth) and explore ways to develop in that area (crosswords, Khan Academy, Lumosity, and so forth)
  • Knowledge acquisition. Decide to become an expert in something—could be anything from Gregorian chant to flea removal and control. Begin a blog thereon.
  • Moving/change of scenery. If you go the way you’ve always gone, you’ll see the things you’ve always seen. Try taking a different route, perhaps with a notion of finding a new location or path that offers a different perspective.
  • Establish a new relationship, modify/improve an existing one, or discontinue one that is not good for you.
  • Skill/talent development. Commit to taking a specific skill to a higher level, whether it be a foreign language or your tennis game.
  • Spiritual development. Become a student of your inner self, whether through readings, visits, programs, travel, new relationships, or some other source.
  • Stress management. Identify major sources of stress in your life and develop a plan to eliminate, minimize, or offset each stressor.
  • Time management. Identify the people, practices, habits, and misplaced priorities that devour time you’d like to spend on your A list, and then set out to eliminate or minimize their effect.

 There—hopefully, one of these areas has suggested one or more goals for you. If not, sit with someone you’re close to and review the list with them over a glass of [fill in your preference here!] and let them help you identify a goal that you will have energy around.

Categories: Goals, Happiness, well-being Tags: ,

Progress is Better than Happiness

February 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Goal ProgressWith apologies to General Electric, where “Progress Is Our Most Important Product,” I maintain that progress towards one’s goal(s) is our most important pursuit. Having a goal—to write a book, to become president, to break a record—is not enough. Making progress towards a goal is a significant source of satisfaction regardless of our traits, abilities, values, gender—in short, goal progress is a guaranteed source of satisfaction for everyone.

Research tells us that stretch goals are more satisfying than gimmies. To make progress on something that I’ve done before and know that I can do again without any difficulty or exertion is not as satisfying as taking on something that represents a challenge—something that I’ve not done before, or a familiar task with a challenging twist. For me, writing a book is always a stretch goal, as each book has its unique difficulties and challenges, while making a lanyard from flat, plastic, colorful cords is a gimmie—like flipping flapjacks. Lanyard-making and flapjack-flipping are fun for me but not as deeply satisfying as making progress on a book. Success on the one is assured, while the other requires effortful attention.

The primary hindrance to goal progress is distraction. The Japanese philosopher and music instructor Shinichi Suzuki once wrote that one must practice every day in order to achieve mastery of one’s instrument. He cautioned against skipping a day’s practice—even just five minutes is better than no practice at all. The same principle applies to all goals. Whether writing a book, training for a race, building a mountain cabin, or developing a new relationship, one must do something every day that provides a sense of making progress towards goal attainment. If a book is your goal, and you just cannot make time to write even one paragraph on a given day, there are still many other activities you could engage in that would get you closer to your goal—you could read relevant sources, google relevant topics for new information, review what you’ve written to date, organize your next chapter by creating a mind map, ask questions of your associates who could provide insight on how to organize or proceed with your writing, and so forth. If you are training for a race and face a wintry mix outside, then you could do indoor exercises, read racing literature for inspiration, study the latest findings on nutrition and racing, organize your training journal, and so on. There is always something we can do that will nudge us towards our goal, if only slightly. If you are preparing for a steeplechase and your body won’t allow you to get in the saddle, then work on your boots, read a Dick Francis novel, visualize your event, google for new resources on steeplechasing, research for new studies on horse nutrition and nurture.

Rome was not built in a day. Anders Ericsson writes that it takes 10,000 of deliberate practice to develop expertise. Don’t let distractions of any form—weather, seduction, illness, schedule conflicts—prevent you from making some kind of progress every day. At the very least, you can always get organized for tomorrow!

Categories: Goals, Happiness, well-being Tags: ,

The Blinding Effect of Power

February 11, 2015 2 comments

high heel and holder onI will be brief and to the point: When one feels powerful and in control, one is at risk for failing to perceive the emotions of others in their presence. Or, power blinds.

Conversely, those without power tend to be acutely aware of the emotions of those who have power over them.

In the first case, lack of empathy is an aid to achieving and maintaining power—empathy being a potential source of distraction that could reduce focus and energy around one’s goals. In the second case, abundance of empathy is an aid to maneuvering around the machinations of the powerful—empathy being an early warning device in knowing when to steer clear of the powerful’s path.

The latest research (Hogeveen, Inzlicht, & Obhi, 2014) on this phenomenon has established that the mirror neurons of persons out of power tend to activate when they perceive powerful others, while the mirror neurons of persons feeling their power tend to remain inactive when viewing their underlings.

The consequence—powerful people often carry this insensitivity to others at work over into relationships in which power is not, or should not, be an issue. This results in partners, friends, and family who have feelings that tend to be overlooked.

The remedy—powerful persons who value non-power-based relationships (husband-wife, parent-child, friend-friend) need to consider one of these several practices in order to stay informed about others’ needs:

  1. Confidant. Ask another person in each context of your life (work, home, community) to observe those around you, and give them explicit permission to let you know when they have observed someone who nonverbally expressed a feeling that you should know about—hurt, hope, fear, joy, and so forth, but that you have apparently neither recognized nor acknowledged.
  2. Post-Session Feedback. After each significant interaction with your significant others (a business meeting, a family discussion, a planning session), develop the habit of asking a general question that goes something like this: “OK, folks, what have I missed? Is there anything about what we have decided that anyone can’t live with? Tell me what’s on your mind—I’m not always the best at reading faces!”
  3. Gatekeeper. Assign the task of reading nonverbal messages to someone in each context of your life. For example, you might identify one of your work colleagues to serve as a “gatekeeper,” by saying aloud what they see and inviting others to share their feelings. For example, “Fran, you were smiling a moment ago—was that a pleased smile or something else? What were you feeling?” Or, “Jan, after Jim’s comment, you shifted position and began drumming your pencil. Were you uncomfortable with what he had to say? What were you thinking/feeling?”

Persons most susceptible to power blindness are those who exhibit very low levels of the Big Five personality trait of Accommodation/Agreeableness, along with very high levels of the Big Five personality trait of Consolidation/Conscientiousness.

Wise leaders know their weaknesses and find ways to compensate.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears, or, Hard Work Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

August 22, 2014 1 comment


practice  One of my freshman essays in the fall of 1959 at Davidson College treated the theme that I    dubbed “E for Effort.” Based on my elementary school grading whereby E was for Excellent, S  for Satisfactory, and U for Unsatisfactory, I praised the ethic of hard work by concluding    that, if one went all out on an assignment, then they should get an E for Effort. My English  professor, William P. Cumming—an Oxford-trained polymath—would have none of it. “Howard,” he asserted, “hard work without know-how can ruin the finest garden.” Deflation ensued. For the next 55 years, the public debate on the relative importance of talent and practice has been enmeshed with my personal identity.

When I first read in the 1990s Anders Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice and later saw it popularized by Malcolm Gladwell as the 10,000 hour rule, it sounded as though the debate was over—engage in deliberate practice (not just playing the same scale over and over again in the same way, but introducing variation and difficulties by playing slower, faster, louder, softer, with arms crossed, blindfolded, with food in my mouth, with another person, with loud noise in the background, and so on) for six hours a day for ten years and you’ll achieve expert status. This finding made extensive practice—not just “deliberate” practice—a cause célèbre for the Tiger Moms and Dads of the world. In a sense, Ericcson’s research was the nail in the coffin for Hitler’s (and others’) elitist (and racist) programs of eugenics and the inborn nature of talent and ability. People affirmed star status as the primary democratic ideal—everyone can be a star (or an expert, whichever emphasis you prefer) with (deliberate) practice.

Then on July 1 of this year (2015), the other shoe dropped. Brooke Macnamara, David Hambrick, and Frederick Oswald (of Princeton, Michigan State, and Yale, respectively) published the results of their meta-analysis of research on the effects of deliberate practice on performance. Based on 150+ studies and 11,000+ subjects that spanned five performance areas (sports, games, music, education, and the professions), the researchers concluded:

  • The amount of deliberate practice showed minimal association with education (about 1 academic out of 25 appears to benefit from the Ericcson rule) and the professions (fewer than 1 lawyer, doctor, etc., out of a 100 benefits).
  • The amount of deliberate practice appeared to benefit about 1 in 5 athletes, musicians, and gamers (with slightly more influence on musicians, slightly less on athletes).
    • Inference: Deliberate practice has greater influence on the performance of physical skills than on mental skills, but the combination of other factors has greater influence.

The authors offered a series of related analyses that identified exceptions to these relationships, but the exceptions were all associated with diminished association. For example, the more rigorous the performance measure (e.g., a standardized, objective measure) used in a study, the lower the association, while the more lenient the performance measure (e.g., election to a fraternity or sorority) used in a study, the higher the association. In other words, the more rigorous the study, the weaker the association.

So what is our takeaway from this meta-analysis? Yes, deliberate practice is important, but it is not everything. For those desirous of achieving expertise, we also need to take into consideration:

  • Their relevant native mental abilities (such as short term memory, ideational fluency, and so forth)
  • Their physical characteristics (such as eye-hand coordination, audio acuity, reaction speed, depth perception, and so forth)
  • Their relevant personality traits (such as spontaneity vs. methodicalness, concentration vs. distractibility, comfort being alone vs. comfort being around others, and so forth)
  • Their relevant values (such as Achievement, Relationships, and so forth)
  • Their relevant experiences (such as Boy/Girl Scout experience, military experience, time spent on related skills, such as ten years on piano before beginning violin, and so forth)
  • The nature of their home environment (such as support for and relatives’ expertise available in their chosen skill)
  • The quality of their instructors, coaches, mentors, or other learning/training guides
  • The availability of challenging role models and competitors
  • And, of course, the luck of the draw!

In short, we humans are complex critters, and no single factor can account for our failures or successes.

 Note: “Deliberate” practice is not the same thing as “abundant” practice. I find it hard to believe that the researchers were able to determine whether or not the studies they reviewed were able to winnow out the subjects who simply reported on the number of hours they practiced doing the same old protocol repeatedly, or whether they genuinely engaged daily in “deliberate” practice by varying and shaking up their regimens. We can only wonder whether the associations might be stronger if we were reliably limited to subjects who ONLY engaged in “deliberate” practice.


Projecting Authority

May 16, 2014 1 comment

An associate gavelrecently lamented that too many of her co-workers did not take her seriously. “What can I do to project more authority?” she asked. I promised her I’d noodle around with that question and post the results in my blog. Here is the result of my cogitation on how people go about projecting authority to others.

Clearly, some methods for projecting authority depend on one’s values. So, not every suggestion on this list will fall equally on everyone’s ears. But, if you, or someone dear to you, is desirous of being taken more seriously, perhaps one or more of these many possibilities will work for you.

  • Dress. Check book and other resources on “dressing for success.” I was once told that, to be taken most seriously, I should wear a navy suit, starched long-sleeved white (or light blue) shirt with silk regimental stripe tie (with red in it), black shoes, and navy socks. That has become my uniform when the stakes are high. Fortunately I do not have to wear it often! Another clothing suggestion—if appropriate, dress for the job or position that you want rather than the one you have.
  • Title. Promote your title—on calling card, door, stationery, email signature—and perhaps find a way to reword your title to sound more impressive. But remember we are stupid—I always chuckle when I see someone who works totally alone (as being a solo consultant) and who arrogates to themself the title of President!
  • Experience. Find ways of promoting your experience—in your resume, for example.
  • Grooming. Some grow a beard to project authority, some shave their head, some use body art, others makeup, earrings, and so forth.
  • Degree. Obtain an appropriate university degree or a trade license and display your diploma or certificate prominently.
  • Possessions. Some like to project authority by displaying expensive, rare, or high quality possessions, such as a big television, fine car, technical gadgets, and so forth.
  • Interior Decorating. Decorate your work area with the material or content that projects the kind of image or authority that is important to you—family photos, trophies, fine desk, sofa, book shelves (but books may not be your thing—perhaps sports or other memorabilia).
  • Work Out. Buff says tough, flab says drab!
  • Memberships. Display memberships in professional associations, civic clubs, social clubs, and the like.
  • Positions of Responsibility. Take on a position of responsibility in an organization or in your community by volunteering or getting elected. Your community posts openings from time to time for various committees and study groups.
  • Publications. Get into print—this could be anything from a letter to the editor to a book. Also consider non-print media, as in getting photos published online, sculpture displayed, or songs and other music recorded.
  • Hobbies. Active pursuit of one or more hobbies typically pursuits admiration and respect—crafts, horses, acting (as in Little Theatre), music group (band, chorus, chamber group), scrapbooking, and so on.
  • Postures and Gestures. Nonverbal behavior can help establish greater authority, as in maintaining appropriate eye contact, erect posture (chest out, not sunken), appropriate touch, projecting calmness (i.e., being in control of yourself), and so forth.
  • Firm Handshake. More like a grasp, less like a limp noodle.
  • Goal-Setting. It is not enough to have goals—share them with others, and also share with them periodically your progress towards achieving your goal(s).
  • Service. Volunteer your time and talent in ways that set an example for good citizenship.
  • Publicity-Seeking. Self-promotion comes more naturally for some folks that for others. I am amazed how some folks promote themselves (i.e., their achievements, especially) on Facebook and other social media.
  • Conversation. The ability to make conversation—telling stories, relaying jokes, discussing current events, making puns—is a gift. Use it, but not to extremes.
  • Delegate. Effective delegation in front of one’s peers helps to establish one’s authority. However, there is an art to delegating, such that it comes across as more collaborative and not so bossy.
  • Skill Display. If you can, exhibit your talents and skills in appropriate ways. If you are an accomplished pianist, do sit and play that piano in the lobby, or in the airport concourse. Or sketch, or whittle, or whistle, or tap dance.
  • Attention to Kids. To show kindness towards children—to entertain them, converse with them—is heartwarming and admirable. Just don’t overdo it—watch their parents’ facial expression to determine if they’re in it with your, or if they are getting uncomfortable.
  • Accent/dialect/voice Management. When I was in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I wanted others to think I was not local, so I attempted to ape what I thought was a Midwestern accent—neutral, radio-like. Consider how your language can work better for you—engage with a speech therapist to make sure you are using the optimal part of your voice range, and learn how to project.
  • Physical Display. For some, showing evidence of physical strength works, or showing appropriate skin, or showing spiritual mastery, as in yoga positions.
  • Office Location. Attempt to gain optimal an optimal office location, as in a corner, room with a window, etc.
  • Real Estate. If you have control of where you work or live, try to select a location and design style that projects an image that will appeal to your desired constituents.
  • Tools. Carry around with you the tool(s) of your trade (stethoscope, legal pad, technical gadget, book).
  • Role Models. Study persons in your field who project the authority you would like to strive for. Read their biography or autobiography and see if you can learn how they do it. Observe them and find appropriate things to emulate.
  • Web Presence. Have your own website or blog, and be present on social media such Linked In and Facebook. Get someone to help you establish your own domain name, as in
  • Free Consulting. Ask your web search tool for advice! Be specific—ask about the particular context, the kind of people you want credibility around. I just Googled “how to establish one’s authority around salespeople.” My first hit was entitled “The Ten Biggest Goofs that Salespeople Make.” Perfect!

 Do keep in mind that these strategies are not universal in their effectiveness. What works in one context may not work in another. Perhaps you could evaluate a strategy by running it by a friend or associate before trying it.

Goals for Grays

April 7, 2014 1 comment

ImageI recently presented my happiness model to a group of 300+ seniors—the Senior Scholars at Queens (University in Charlotte NC). A major element of my model focuses on goals—not on goals per se, but on making progress towards goals. To have a goal of building a mountain cabin is titillating but does not particularly contribute to one’s sense of well-being. However, completing a step towards completing that cabin does elevate one’s mood, one’s sense of well-being, one’s felt happiness.

At the conclusion we had a Q&A session. One delightful yet puzzled lady lamented—“I understand the importance of having goals and making progress on them. However, I am 83, my husband died, and I just don’t feel I have much to live for except to stay as healthy as possible. How is your emphasis on goals applicable to me?”

Well, that just got me to thinking! What poured forth were oodles of possible goals for seniors.

  • Design your own Winter Holiday Card every year and send it out to your family and friends list.
  • Vicarious goals, such as helping a student/young person attain a specific grade reading level, mathematics competency, drawing skill, craft mastery (macramé, knitting, etc.), public speaking confidence, and so forth
  • Keep your profile on your college alumni/ae website updated
  • Living until the age of 90, then 95, then 100, then 105, well, you get the idea!
  • Make it a point to write, email, call, visit, or otherwise communicate with all of the members of various sets of friends, family, or acquaintances from your past and present: all your children, all your grandchildren, all your great grandchildren, all your cousins, all your siblings, all your former co-workers (at least, the ones you liked!), all your high school friends, all your college friends, all your graduate school friends, all your military buddies, all your former spiritual advisors, all your former favorite teachers, all your former favorite neighbors. Do this weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. (maybe a different set of folks each week). If you have trouble thinking of things to say (you can tell them about your progress on all of these goals!), then just tell them how much they have meant to you and that your memory of them is still warm and active.
  • Take care well in advance of how you want to distribute all of your possessions among your descendants and others close to you, so there will be minimal squabbles when the time comes! My mother made a list of everything, then asked each of her seven children to pick something, starting with the oldest child having first choice, then continually cycling through each of the seven children until the last item was chosen.
  • Write a poem (or song, or paint a picture, etc.) for each grandchild, child, or other significant person for their birthday every year.
  • Create (if you haven’t already) your bucket list of all the things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket, and then share the list with friends, family, retirement home social planners, etc., to see how many of the items you can check off. And keep adding items to your bucket list as you think of new things you would like to do, be it travel, crafts, reading, trying a new food or cuisine, meeting people, or whatever.
  • Write your autobiography, including photographs, stories, history, favorite songs/foods/movies/athletes/etc., medical history, where you’ve lived, your heroes, your mentors, where you’ve traveled, awards you’ve won, concerts and plays you been in, loves you’ve won and lost, biggest regrets and proudest moments, and so on. Once you have a finished product, have a copy made for the school and public libraries where you grew up, and one for each of your children and grandchildren.
  • Write a biography of your parents or grandparents.
  • Join online and build your family tree—you’d be amazed at what you will find with their online resources. I’ve traced one of the lines in my family—the McGaheys—back to the 4th century BCE!
  • Make a scrapbook, either a paper one or an electronic one (I have made 14 different family scrapbooks using Power Point’s “photo album” feature). Make a different scrapbook for each major theme of your life—your childhood, your school years, your courtship(s), your children, your grandchildren, your special interests (concerts you’ve been in, newspaper clippings from political campaigns, sports, etc.), and so forth.
  • Find or purchase a scanner that you can use and set out to create digital versions of all of your family photographs. Both black and white and color photos deteriorate over time. But if you scan them and convert them to a digital format, you stop that deterioration. You can even learn how to reverse some of the fading and sharpen old photos that have suffered the ravages of time.
  • Begin a series of collections of various kinds: stories your parents told you (you could write them out, or you could dictate them to a recording device), songs your family sang, games your family played (at holidays, birthdays, etc.), poems/verse your family recited, family recipes. One of my nieces is working with her two daughters to type up all of our old family recipes that are now on 3” x 5” cards and are fading fast.
  • Build or make something: a cradle for your grandchild/great grandchild, a doll house, a model railroad, a display rack, a special storage case for something someone values (like a musical instrument), a piece of furniture, an item of clothing (maybe a christening dress!).
  • Set a goal for exercise—number of repetitions for situps, pushups (I try to do 40, three times a week), number of steps per day (use a pedometer).
  • Reread or revisit all of the great art from your past. You will be amazed at how much about them you have forgotten, and how much meaning they have decades after you first encountered them. Every time I reread a Shakespeare play, revisit a Breughel painting, or rehear a Bach Brandenburg Concerto, I am thrilled to rediscover what is in essence an old friend whom I’ve not visited for years. All of the old programs you heard sitting on the floor as a kid next to a monstrous Philco radio are available now in digital form—Dragnet, Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Green Hornet, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, and so on.
  • Every time your college alumni magazine asks you for an update, send them something, including your progress on all of these goals you are working on!
  • And of course, help plan your family reunions! If your family doesn’t have one, then get the planning started. If your nuclear family is no more, then join in with another family that you are related to, or one that you just like being a part of


Many of these goals could be tricky if you tried to do them by yourself. Perhaps you could find a student who could visit with you after school or on weekends and who could help you with your project(s). My 90-year-old sister in Pittsburgh bought her first computer for her 90th birthday, and she found a high school student in her church who stopped by regularly after school to help her with email, printing, etc.

Being older does not mean we stop having goals. I am 72, and my To Do list will take about 500 more years to complete! While I still work a full week, every week, for my career, it is not necessary to be in the work force in order to have meaningful goals. I hope I have triggered something for you to pursue. Happiness comes, among other things, from the joy of chasing your goals! Read more about the pursuit of happiness in my 2013 book, The Owner’s Manual for Happiness.


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