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'The Wisdom of Morrie' offers insights on living and aging joyfully


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: America was introduced to Morrie Schwartz nearly 30 years ago. The retired sociology professor gained national attention back in 1995, when he spoke with Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline" about his battle with ALS, sharing his unflinching and thoughtful reflections on dying.

Morrie Schwartz, ALS Patient: Some mornings, I'm angry and bitter, but it doesn't too long. Then I get up and say, I want to live.

So I have to cry and I have to mourn. But I also have to enjoy the life I have left.

Geoff Bennett: That series of interviews would later inspire Mitch Albom's bestselling book "Tuesdays With Morrie."

In the years after Morrie Schwartz's death, his son, Rob Schwartz, found a manuscript his father had written, but never published. He edited his father's words into "The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully."

We sat down this week to discuss the new book.

So, when you discovered your dad's manuscript in his desk drawer years after he passed away, what was going through your mind?

Rob Schwartz, Editor, "The Wisdom of Morrie: Living and Aging Creatively and Joyfully": Well, I had actually spoken with my father while he was writing the book just serendipitously.

I had been traveling in Asia. And I came back to the United States to gather my thoughts and my things. And so I was living at home for three months. And I talked to my father a lot about this book, so it all came rushing back to me, what his thoughts were, what his ideas were, why he was writing this book.

And I really hadn't thought about it for decades. It was 20 years ago that I discovered it, or thereabouts. But it was longer, much longer before that, before he was ill, that he was writing it. So this was really in the past. So it was really a blast from the past. And I could just hear his voice ringing through every page. So it was really beautiful.

Geoff Bennett: How did you arrive at the decision to edit it and ultimately have it published?

Rob Schwartz: Well, I immediately thought that this is probably something that I should do something with, considering the success of "Tuesdays With Morrie."

But it took me a long time. I mean, it took me a long time to grieve for my father. I would say, the first five years after he passed away, I was unable to properly grieve because I missed him so much. But that's the grieving process. So I had a lot going on.

So I edited it in my spare time. And then,finally I decided, OK, we got to finish this project, get it out the door, and that's where we are now.

Geoff Bennett: Is this book intended to be a companion to "Tuesdays With Morrie," or is the intention behind it, is the approach fundamentally different?

Rob Schwartz: I mean, the approach is somewhat different, but I do think it is kind of a companion to "Tuesdays With Morrie," because many of the ideas in this book are similar to the ideas in "Tuesdays With Morrie."

That's a very beautiful, but very slim volume by Mitch, just sort of like dipping into my father's ideas, a few ideas on this, a few ideas. This is much more in-depth, much more going deep into my father's thoughts, and both in a practical sense and also in a psychological sense.

He was a professor of social psychology. And you will get that in this book. It's not academic, and it's not hard to understand what he's saying. But you get a deeper psychological analysis.

Geoff Bennett: Well, the book is really a thoughtful examination of living with greater joy in one's later years.

How does he, in his reflections, confront the false notion that people are somehow made less by the aging process?

Rob Schwartz: Right.

Well, that's exactly what I was sort of just alluding to. He first starts off examining this ageist idea and explaining how poisonous it is and how wrong it is. I mean, ageism is just like all of those other things, the attitudes that people have taken on in the past that are just wrong and poisonous, racism, sexism.

Ageism, exactly the same thing. It's devaluing somebody for no good reason, right? Just because someone is elderly doesn't mean they're any less of a human being, any less valuable, have any less good ideas, or creativity, et cetera, just like the other isms that are really horrible.

And the beginning of the book, he says, you need to get rid of these ideas. And these ideas are also -- infected us psychologically. So you need to get rid of that. That's sort of the starting point. And then, if you need help becoming more creative or becoming more joyous, try this, try that, or try the other thing, and I can explain those ideas too.

Geoff Bennett: The chapters in the back of the book focus on the key components of being happy in later life. So what are those key components?

Rob Schwartz: Well, I mean, I think, as the title suggests, my father wants you to be creative, he wants you to be joyful, and those components have to do with finding something that interests you, getting involved with society, or even a specialized interest, making stronger connections with your family, your friends.

And he really is against people, like, withdrawing from society, and even more against people being pushed into old age home and forgotten about. So he really wants people to participate in society at large, in the groups that they're interested in, where their interests lie, and also, of course, in their family and with their friends.

Geoff Bennett: He also leaves us with some thoughts to live by.

I want to read a few of them: "In older age, expect the worst. If it doesn't come, be grateful. In older age, expect the best. If you don't get it, wonder why. Old age can be the best time of our life or the worst time of our life. It depends on what we do with it."

It's advice that's insightful and poignant. It's also really sober and straightforward. Is that who your dad was?

Rob Schwartz: Absolutely, but he actually was really filled with kind of a lot of joy and a lot of, like, childlike wonder about the world.

And he really encourages people to maintain that sort of attitude. We live in such an incredible, wondrous world with so many amazing things. And he really was constantly experiencing that. So, in one sense, that's how I see him.

In another sense, you're absolutely correct. He was a deep thinker. He approached things straightforwardly. He didn't buy into any ideology or anything. He looked at exactly how it affected people's lives and how he could hope to make their lives happier or more joyous. And that's what this book is about.

Geoff Bennett: How did editing this manuscript change what you thought you knew about your father.

Rob Schwartz: Ooh, that is an interesting question.

Certainly, I never really thought that he would have internalized any kind of ageist ideas. I mean, he treated everybody wonderfully with respect.

And, in the beginning of the book, you realize that he's putting it on himself. He's saying: I had these negative thoughts about aging and elderly people. And I realized that I had to expunge this from myself.

So he's really laying out something about himself. And -- yes, and I didn't really know that about him. He always seemed so young at heart. So maybe it's understandable that he didn't think of himself as an elderly person. but, of course, he was, and that's why he wrote this book.

Geoff Bennett: Rob Schwartz.

The book is "The Wisdom of Morrie."

Thanks so much for coming in.

Rob Schwartz: Oh, thank you.

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