This weekend I had the honor of attending birthday parties for two wonderful women. The first party was for a youthful 87 year old, the second was for a remarkable 100 year old woman. At both parties I had the great pleasure of enjoying the company of my 86 year old mother and her friends, all between the ages of 85-90 years old.
There is no denying that longer life expectancy is swelling the number of seniors — people over age 65 — in our population. My mother and her friends belong to the fastest-growing subset of that superannuated group. They prove the most interesting for researchers — those over age 85 and in particular the centenarians born in the second decade of the 20th century. Think of the change and progress these people have lived through: the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights and women’s rights movement the moon landings, the social media revolution and the election of the nation’s first African-American President.
In the most recent census, health officials predicted that by 2050, more than 800,000 Americans would be pushing into their second century of life. By all accounts, these new centenarians are far from the frail, ailing, housebound people you might expect. In contrast, the majority of them are mentally alert and relatively free of disability. They remain active members of their communities. In fact they may simply represent a new model of aging, one that health experts are hoping more of us can emulate. Both to make our lives fuller and to ease the inevitable health care burden that our longer-lived population will impose in coming decades.
While there is no one secret formula for long life, there are some specific behaviors to grow the soul to live longer. We recognize that longevity depends on genes, your life style and being blessed in staying free from chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia. In speaking with my mother and her 85 year old plus friends I discovered some timeless truths to not only longevity but to success in life. Clearly these truths are not new, however what is new is the exceptional take these extraordinary women provide. I offer you these truths in as a top five list of how to live to be a 100 and beyond.
5. Be Resilient
My mother and her friends have lived wondrous lives and they truly embody the American dream. Not affluent, they were born into the Jim Crow south where their horizons were legally limited by race and culturally narrowed by gender. These barriers never stopped them as they used education, the great equalizer in our society, to take full advantage of the gains of the civil rights movement to become leaders in the new south achieving economic power. With their husbands, they raised strong healthy families that have continued a legacy of success. When I asked how they made these remarkable accomplishments despite all the odds, they answered simply we were “resilient”. For these ladies being resilient meant putting their dreams in action by setting goals and not being deterred when setbacks happened. They knew that in the end hard work, determination and above all faith would see them through.
4. Laugh … a lot
The ladies there saw their lives as one big situation comedy where everything, raising children, office politics, illness and even the death of a spouse were fair game for the comedic gist. During our time together laughter was a constant, from good natured ribbing to heartfelt stories about long departed love ones. These ladies were having the time of their lives. As one of the ladies with a smile put it,” laughter truly helps us in placing our lives into clearer focus, we really don’t take ourselves too seriously – because you know the funny thing about life is none of us are going to get out of it alive so we might as well laugh it up.”
3. Blaze your own trail
My mother and her friends advised that consistently following the masses will get you in trouble. While obedience and adherence to rules are necessary, it is awfully important to forge your own way with confidence and independence. The lives of each of the ladies I had the pleasure of being with over the weekend were testaments to the trails that they had blazed in business, education, and the arts. And they did it “their way”.
2. Smell that rose now
“Son you have to always stop and smell that rose now….because when you come back to that rose the bloom could be gone” is the sage advice of my mother. During a trip to Hawaii a few years ago she and her friends devised a campaign to urge their “busy” children not to slow down but to cherish the “roses” in our lives. From the mundane to the spectacular and everything else in between we should live to find the “roses”.
1. It is all about faith
“God gets all the credit for my long life. Without Him I am nothing” is what one lady speaking for all said about their relationships with God. They each describe a deep, long lasting and abiding faith that sustains, conforms and guides them in all walks of life. Their advice about faith is; a small amount of faith will go a long way as evidenced in Matthew 17:20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.
In the daily exercise of their faith these women said they were in constant prayer and communication with God. They read scripture daily and followed these simple guidelines for making decisions in a Godly manner: 1. Does it line up with the Word of God? 2. Does it edify God and/or His people? 3. Does it significantly impact your life in a positive way? 4. Does it lead you to Jesus and deepen your relationship with Him? 5. Do you have God’s peace about the situation?
The Bottom Line
My mother and her friends are the best examples that I know of living a life that is well lived. While I may not have uncovered the singular secrete that will allow me to live to 100 and beyond, I know that this weekend I found no better guiding truths for making the attempt.