12 Bits of Timeless Advice from a 72-Year-Old Sage

12 Bits of Timeless Advice from a 72-Year-Old Sage February 28, 2024

life lessons
Kevin Kelly, courtesy of the author.

For years now, I’ve kept a small notebook by my side. I use it to jot down everything from TV shows I want to watch to keeping track of my honey-do list, from scribbling down ideas for Wake Up Call stories to capturing fleeting spiritual insights.

I imagine that Kevin Kelly does much the same. On his 68th birthday, Kelly decided to give his adult children a gift—a collection of bits of wisdom he had learned over the years, 68 thoughts in total. I ran across his list online a year later and it had grown to 99 points. (I wrote about his “unsolicited advice” here.)

Fast forward to 2023 and Kelly’s list had grown to over 450 bits of wisdom. And last year, at the age of 72, he published them in a book titled Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. While best known for having launched Wired magazine and writing about technology-related subjects, Kelly can now add a new title to his resume: Sage.

As the book sleeve indicates, “Kelly’s timeless advice covers an astonishing span,” from career and relationship advice to tips on parenting and getting the most out of life. Some of his insights are common sense but are well worth remembering like “don’t grocery shop while hungry,” or quirky but true statements like “dance with your hips.” Other bits really get you thinking.

Here are my 12 of my favorite life lessons from Excellent Advice for Living. Kelly’s messages appear in bold type, my thoughts follow.

12 Bits of Timeless Advice

  1. Be more generous than necessary. No one on their deathbed has ever regretted giving too much away. There is no point to being the richest person in the cemetery. How true. This reminds me of another piece of wise advice I once heard: No one on their deathbed ever regretted spending too little time in the office.
  1. Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment. I add a brief naptime to my schedule daily and can vouch for its revitalizing effects. A few minutes of shut eye and I come back to the world refreshed, with the ability to avoid yawning my way through the evening.
  1. Writing down one thing you are grateful for each day is the cheapest possible therapy ever. You might consider making it part of a gratitude practice, starting each day with a quick review of all the good things in your life.
  1. You can really change someone’s life for the better simply by offering words of encouragement. Recognize with a nod, a smile or a hello. Encourage with a kind word. Praise, when appropriate. More on this approach here.
  1. You will thrive more—and so will others—when you promote what you love rather than bash what you hate. Life is short; focus on the good stuff. When you focus on what is good, it encourages others to do the same. Isn’t there already enough negativity in the world? Love, in any form, is always better than hate.
  1. Unhappiness comes from wanting what others have. Happiness comes from wanting what you already have. Life is not a competition for who winds up with the most stuff. A happy, contented life does not come from material riches, it comes from spiritual wealth.
  1. To meditate, sit and pay attention to your breathing. Your mind will wander to thoughts. Then you bring your attention back to your breathing, where it can’t think. Wander. Retreat. Keep returning to breath, no thoughts. That is all. There are books written about meditation. This simple paragraph sums up all you need to know.
  1. Worry is ineffective. It is certain that 99% of the stuff you are anxious about won’t happen. Sometimes our minds, or at least the overthinking, overanalyzing egoic part of the brain, can be our own worst enemy.
  1. Even if you don’t say anything, if you listen carefully, people will consider you a great conversationalist. A great message for the introverts amongst us. Can’t think of anything to say or not up to speaking? Look and listen with your full attention.
  1. The great killer of happiness is comparison. If you must compare, compare yourself to you yesterday. You don’t have to measure up to anyone—except yourself. And don’t be too hard on yourself—every day represents another opportunity to get it right.
  1. When someone is nasty, hateful, or mean toward you, treat their behavior like an affliction or illness they have. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them, which can soften the conflict. I’m not sure about this one. But it’s a unique approach and is definitely worth thinking about. I know I am.
  1. Embrace pronoia, which is the opposite of paranoia. Choose to believe that the entire universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. Practice magical thinking. When you think all things are possible, you make all things possible.
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