Jeanne Calment was the oldest-documented person to ever live. Born in the south of France in 1875, she died nearly 122½ years later in 1997.
How did she remain a resident of planet Earth for so long? Certainly not by depriving herself of a little fun.
Calment indulged in some famously unhealthy habits, such as smoking and sometimes eating as much as two pounds of chocolate a week. She also enjoyed a glass of port now and then.
Researchers marveled at Calment’s longevity and her vitality. They attributed her joie de vivre to a penchant for laughing at life’s problems instead of worrying over things she couldn’t control. She once said:
“If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment’s refusal to sweat the small stuff offers one clue on how to live a happier life. Following are additional tips from other more recent centenarians about how to find more joy in your days.
Remind yourself of what you do well
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt — more famously known as the “basketball nun” for her love of the sport and her role as the chaplain of the men’s basketball team at Loyola University in Chicago — is now 103 years old.
This year, she is publishing a memoir, “Wake Up with Purpose! What I've Learned in My First Hundred Years.” Speaking to The Healthy website, she insisted that the secret to a happy life is to remind yourself of the things you do well.
To that end, she says the last thing she thinks about every night is one thing she did well during that day:
“Too many people go to bed thinking about everything they did wrong and then they wake up sad, and that’s heartbreaking. This way, I fall asleep happy and I wake up happy, every day. You can choose happiness, and being happy helps you be mentally healthy.”
Treat others decently
Last December, Brookville, Ohio, resident and World War II veteran Ed Hemmelgarn turned 100. At the time, he described himself as “nothing special,” saying he was born on a farm and worked in the trades his entire life.
But Hemmelgarn’s modesty should not take away from his remarkable achievement of living a full century. Asked by a local TV station for the secrets to a long life, he cited good family and regular exercise.
Then, he added that the most important key to a good life is treating others well:
“Most people are pretty decent to be with. It’s nice to be with people. And if you treat people decent, most people in the world are not bad. I never had trouble myself with getting along with people.”
Find a passion and follow it
Greenfield, Wisconsin, resident Geraldine “Gerry” Bulger experienced some hard times. She grew up in the Great Depression and ate a lot of canned soup to survive.
Last year, Bulger turned 101 and extended her tenure in one of the world’s most exclusive clubs. She and three siblings lived a combined 383 years and 147 days, which briefly set a longevity record for four siblings, according to Guinness World Records, until Bulger’s death in August 2022.
Bulger’s advice to young people hoping to find happiness was simple: Read a lot until you stumble upon an interest that thrills you. Then, do whatever is necessary to enjoy that passion to the fullest. As she told Patch.com:
“Find a club, research it more, make it into a job, share it with other people.”
Bulger’s own interest was professional baseball. She described herself as the “biggest and best (Milwaukee) Brewers fan ever.”
Cultivate a rich spiritual life
Late last year, Bernyse Hunter of Sacramento, California, died at the age of 109. But before she departed this life, Hunter left behind some words of wisdom and requested that they be included in her funeral program. She wrote:
“Bernyse was a vibrant force for people, (expressed) love of humanity, of Christian togetherness and the true spirit of humility. Her attitude was positive, happy, and Christian. She loved people.”
Hunter lived a rich life as an entrepreneur, social worker, educator and doctor of natural health. Her pastor said her philosophy could be summed up in two words: “Keep going.”
With an attitude grounded in gratitude, it is somehow appropriate that Hunter died on Thanksgiving Day.
Do the right thing
Lillie Mae Jones grew up on a farm in Stephens, Arkansas. Along with cultivating sorghum, peas, peanuts and corn, Jones’s father planted seeds of wisdom in his children.
In fact, when the roads around the farm turned muddy, Jones’s father taught classes to Lillie Mae and her siblings inside the home. As she told the Corsicana Daily Sun, “I knew doing what my daddy told me to do would let me live longer!”
Jones — who now lives in Dallas and recently turned 105 — believes the key to a good life is to always do the right thing. As she told the Daily Sun, “Daddy told us ‘Children, if you do what the Bible says, you won’t have problems.'”
She also believes a commitment to working hard makes life better. As she also told the Daily Sun:
“Let me tell you something, back in my day girls and boys didn’t go to jail. We didn’t kill each other. We worked. We didn’t have time to get in trouble.”
Many people dream of retiring no later than age 65. Some plan to quit working even earlier.
Dr. Howard Tucker never had such ambitions. In fact, he’s still working — at age 100.
Guinness World Records says the neurologist is the world’s oldest practicing doctor. He stopped seeing patients last year but did not give up his role of teaching medical residents at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland.
Tucker views retirement as the “enemy of longevity.” As he told NBC’s Today Show:
“I think that to retire, one can face potential shriveling up and ending in a nursing home. It’s fun staying alive and working… It’s delightful work. Every day I learn something new.”