Best Advice from Seniors to Millennials

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Age-Old Advice

Older generations have decades of experience to share with younger generations. Millennials can spend years slowly gaining the experience — and making the same mistakes — on their own, or they can draw on the wisdom of those who've already been down the same road. 

While they have unique insights of their own, it's up to today's young adults to listen to those life lessons. Here are practical tips seniors would like to pass on to younger folks, including some words of wisdom from the legendary Betty White. 

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Don't Fear Aging

In a culture that has historically prized youth, it's no wonder that many younger folks view growing old with more than a little dread. But according to Betty White, the illustrious "Golden Girl" who passed away in 2021 just shy of her 100th birthday, that's a waste of energy. 

"You don't fall off the planet once you pass a given age," she told Today back in 1991. "You don't lose any of your sense of humor, any of your zest for life or your lust for life, if you will. If you were a dull young person, you're going to be a dull old person, but I don't think just because the years go by that you have to be that way." 

White would go on to show that comedy is ageless, hosting "Saturday Night Live" at age 88, then starring in the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland."

Related: 20 Benefits of Growing Old

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Quit Worrying So Much

Despite millennials' reputation for slacking, they're putting in long office hours, leading to work-related stress. On the other hand, older adults have had the lowest stress levels among the generations since the American Psychological Association began conducting its annual Stress in America survey

Perhaps younger adults should heed the advice of a centenarian who took a reporter out for a spin on her 101st birthday: "I don't let anything upset me, especially traffic. I don't like stress. I can't stand arguing. If anybody is fussing, I'm gone. I like to be around positive people, people who lift you up not bring you down." 

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Craft a Meaningful Life Story

Cornell University professor Karl Pillemer has compiled the advice of more than 1,500 older American interviewees into two critically acclaimed books, "30 Lessons for Living" and "30 Lessons for Loving". The elders' biggest takeaway is to "take time to craft the story of your life." 

As we age, what ends up mattering the most is ultimately how our life story has played out. Has it been meaningful? It's important for older people to know that their lives have mattered. Reminiscing, even penning their own memoirs and documenting values for younger generations, has been rewarding in the later stages of life. 

"It's important for older people to record their own thoughts and memories, but it's really critical for younger people to ask them for them, and not just for stories, but for guidance and practical advice for living," he says. 

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When It Comes to Love, Take Your Time

Pillemer spoke with more than 700 long-married people about love and marriage, and came up with this sage advice: Don't rush into anything, and choose your partner carefully. Love yourself first before you commit to another person and follow your heart, but also use good judgment. 

Lillie, 78, told him, "The biggest mistake is being too quick to enter a marriage. Get to know that person very, very well in all circumstances, the happiness part and the stressful parts. So both people have to be very willing and very open, and often times make concessions, as they get to know each other. So please, take a very serious look. You cannot mold your spouse into something that you want." 

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Pick a Partner Your Friends and Family Like

You don't have to seek out the perfect partner on your own. To help make the right relationship choices, look to the people who know you best and listen to what they have to say. Do your friends and family think you're being treated well? Be attuned to how your partner treats other people, as well. Family members, friends, and even coworkers can be helpful allies in your pursuit of love.

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Find Romance in the Small Stuff

We're given many chances to be supportive or dismissive toward our romantic partners. Based on his interviews with older Americans, Pillemer offers: "If I learned one thing about how to keep the spark alive over many decades, there's a point that the elders make that aligns very closely with research. It is an emphasis on thinking small — the small, minute-to-minute, day-to-day interactions that make up a relationship."

So encourage and find comfort in even the smallest aspects of your relationship like holding hands at the movies. 

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Always Make Time for Family

Parenting means spending quality time with your children, even if work and other obligations make it challenging. As Pillemer once told senior-living blog A Place for Mom, "The elders tell us that there is one great contribution to lifelong closeness for which there is no substitute: Your time." 

He shared a quote from Betsey, 78: "It's so important, while your kids are growing up, to be with them and support them. Because otherwise you don't really have a clue what their direction is, what they like and don't like, and what they want to give their time to and what they're doing with it." 

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Never Go to Bed Angry

Stop us if you've heard this one before: "Never go to bed angry." It's been repeated in relationship advice columns ad nauseam, but an Australian couple wedded for 60 years say the age-old advice is true. It might sound obvious, but communicating early and often is the key to a long and happy marriage. 

Opening up, particularly about issues that are bothering you, and truly listening to your partner are the secret ingredients to a healthy relationship. Don't make your better half guess what you need, and you'll never have to go to bed angry. There's even some evidence that negative thoughts become harder to reverse.

Related: 20 Ways to Bond With Your Adult Children

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Never Stop Learning

For many, the key to a purposeful life is an education and insatiable curiosity. When asked what advice she had for young people, a Goldendale, Washington, centenarian replied, "Get a great education, that is something that no one can take away from you." Seeking out new learning opportunities regularly has enriched the lives of many seniors, including Frieda Falk, who shares her best live-long advice: "Learning new things makes you happy and keeps your mind active." 

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Travel While You're Young and Able

Novel experiences keep elders young and inspired. Many credit seeing the world through travel, and a 100-year-old woman named Brianna Wiest shared her advice: "Travel while you're young and able. Don't worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be." 

Indeed, seizing the moment to travel when you're young instead of waiting "until the children are grown or you are retired" seems to be the message. Get started on that bucket list now

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Get to Know People

Memories are more about the people you've met than your possessions or even your accomplishments. Before the 50th reunion of Harvard Business School's class of 1963, J. Lawrence Wilson shared this life lesson for younger people: "When I think back over my career, I am struck that my fondest memories are of people rather than experiences, places, or accomplishments." 

Similarly, Lili Rudin turned 100 thanks to her zest for people: "I left school when I was 12, but I traveled the world, and that was my real education. People interested me then and still do. That's why I go out every day and mingle: I go shopping and take exercise classes. Plus, I see members of my family almost every single day." 

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Listen to Your Elders

People who've lived through generations play a vital role in how our society functions. Listening to the stories and experiences of older generations — whether it's a family member, neighbor, or coworker — can help us understand history and how to better shape our future.

Ed, a retiree from the Marines, offers his thoughts: "The millennials are not all bad. It is what it is. But it's up to us to mentor them, to make sure they're doing the right thing and become better assets to the American people, and to this country." 

Plus, they might actually have some really good advice; A Place for Mom reader, David H., once said: "Try to listen to your elders and parents when you are young — remember that they only want the best for you." 

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Debt Is More Than Money

Most of us know to avoid building up too much debt as consumers, lest it loom over our heads for the rest of eternity. But as one senior puts it, "Debt is not just money owed. It's having to work longer and harder for no reward. It's worry and a burden on your family. It's the destruction of many a family, many a relationship. It takes away your time and, in the end, your retirement." 

So, while you should work to reduce any debts (credit cards, phone bills, medical, student loans, etc.), your lifestyle shouldn't come at the cost of your family and important plans for the future. 

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Don't Put off Saving for Retirement

Retirees are in the best position to share what they've learned from their financial successes and mistakes. Many have this advice for millennials: The sooner you start saving money for the future, the better. 

Putting off saving, even for just a short period, can greatly reduce your possible nest egg. It might seem a long way off, but paying attention to your retirement planning when you're young will pay off when you're able to spend your golden years worry-free on a sandy beach. 

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Save for a Rainy Day

While saving for retirement is definitely something you should do throughout your career, you don't want an emergency to cause a financial setback down the line. Avoid dipping into day-to-day funds or long-term investments by building up a separate fund for emergencies.

A Place for Mom reader, Sandy B., says: "Always save a portion of your paycheck, because a rainy day is sure to come." Pro tip: At the beginning of the month, set aside a portion when you get your paycheck to avoid spending before you save. 

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Invest Early and Often, Even If It's Just a Little

For many novice investors, the financial markets can be daunting. But millennials need to stop doubting themselves and start investing early and often. Even small amounts like $5 can help grow your savings and investments if you make it a habit. Make a point to boost your savings as your income grows, and consider socially responsible investment opportunities. 

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Don't Stay at a Job You Hate

The consensus among the elder "experts" of Pillemer's ongoing Cornell Legacy Project is: Do not stay in a job you dislike, even one that promises to be more lucrative or prestigious. An 83-year-old former athlete and athletic coach/recruiter expressed this universal view: "The most important thing is to be involved in a profession that you absolutely love, and that you look forward to going to work to every day." If you're stuck in a bad work situation, make the most of it until you can move on. People still learn invaluable lessons from less-than-ideal jobs. 

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Don't Stop Searching for a Job You Love

It can take some time to land a job you're passionate about, but you shouldn't give up searching for one you love. Persistence, even changing fields many times, to pursue a more rewarding career, will be worth it in the end.

Harvard Business School graduate Jose M. Faustino says: "I switched fields twice in my academic career — I believed the entire experience was part of growing up. The lesson here for young people: Do not hesitate to switch interests, majors, or fields of concentration. Find your preference or your passion, then focus on it to your heart's content. Success is a journey — not a race." 

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Treat Your Body Like You'll Need It for 100+ Years

Similar to saving for retirement, younger adults aren't always thinking of long-term benefits like their health. But millennials aren't invincible; they're actually at a vulnerable age for some serious health-related concerns. Pillemer learned a life-changing lesson from seniors: "It's not dying you should worry about — it's chronic disease." 

He quoted 84-year-old Charlotte who said: "What you do when you're young, it will haunt you when you get old. If you're young, take care of your body, live right, go to the doctor and keep yourself in good shape." 

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Move It or Lose It

A big part of staying active in your older years is ensuring you're staying active in your younger years. A centenarian named Ruth advised that what you put in now will pay off later: "I make myself go out every day, even if it's only to walk around the block. The key to staying young is to keep moving." 

One of the world's longest-serving physicians and educators would still squeeze in his steps at age 101: "To stay healthy always, take the stairs and carry your own stuff. I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving." 

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Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Protect your sanity and stop comparing yourself to anyone else. It's a difficult task in today's age of social media. By now, we know some of the downsides of habitually scrolling through friends' photos and posts touting recent accomplishments. Have a little compassion for yourself and celebrate your own successes more regularly. Centenarian Brianna Wiest advises: "Don't compare. You'll never be happy with your life. The grass is always greener." 

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Seriously, Don't Be So Serious

What's the modern day fountain of youth? A lifetime of laughs. In the HBO documentary "If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast," American comedy legend Carl Reiner tracked down several celebrated, funny nonagenarians (and a few over 100) like Mel Brooks and Betty White to show how the twilight years can truly be the happiest and most rewarding. 

Reiner had a running gag about life in his 90s: "Every morning ... I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section, and see if I'm listed," he explains. "If I'm not, I have my breakfast." In the film, Norman Lear notes, "You can't laugh that hard without it adding time [to your life]. I mean that from the bottom of my heart." 

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Be the Peacemaker

Keeping the peace goes hand in hand with learning how to communicate and leading a stress-free lifestyle. Ever notice how people you want to be around — whether it's a personal or professional relationship — know how to listen more and can quell conflict without anyone the wiser? One older Reddit user understands what young people need to succeed: "Learn how to resolve conflict. Your personal life will be better, and you will become invaluable to organizations." Always take the high road. 

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Keep Your Friends Close

Hearing that "your world dies before you do" is not an easy pill to swallow, but sadly loneliness and social isolation is a very real consequence of growing old for many. It's even hard to make new friends in your 30s. But maintaining old friendships, meeting new people, and taking steps to stay socially engaged have given seniors such as 90-year-old Derek Taylor from the U.K. a more fulfilling life. So they say: Don't take the good friendships you have for granted. 

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Happiness Is a Choice, so Choose It

Our happiness mirrors our outlook on life. To be happy, we have to choose to look beyond external factors and control our reactions to them. We must, according to an 84-year-old, "Adopt a policy of being joyful." Pillemer also shares 86-year-old Cheryl's insights: "You must learn to create your own happiness; you cannot depend on others to do it for you."