Author John Leland Shares Wisdom Gleaned from a Year with Elders

By Fern Marder
 

On Friday, November 9th, John Leland, award-winning New York Times journalist and author, visited Parker to speak about his latest book, Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, to an audience of Parker residents and program participants, staff, and aging services professionals.

In 2015, Leland was given a year-long assignment to chronicle the lives of six New Yorkers, aged 85 and up. As a self-described “grumpasaurus,” John was initially daunted by what he thought would be a disheartening series about illness, depression and isolation. But, his six elders took him in an unexpected direction and taught him about living life to the fullest, despite the physical and emotional stresses of aging.

“As much as our culture fetishizes youth, older people are more content than young adults,” remarked Leland. “They are less stressed, less afraid of death and better able to accommodate mixed feelings. They know that things that seem to be the end of the world usually aren’t,” he added.

John Leland spoke for an hour and then spent time answering questions from his engaged audience, where attendees shared their own experiences and thanked the author for his truthful and empathetic portrayal of elderhood in our culture. His book reiterates what the people who live with us already know—that older Americans defy stereotypes, both individually and collectively, by living their best lives. We have a lot to learn from them.

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