My grandmother Helen has lived for more than a century. Born in Brooklyn in 1913, she has been fortunate to lead not just a remarkably long life but a remarkably gratifying one. At 101, she remains lucid, perceptive, and curious -- and equipped with a roomy and reliable memory. She has a quick step -- often in French or Italian shoes -- almond eyes, and chestnut hair. ("I shudder to think how it would look if I stopped dyeing it!") She goes regularly to the ballet and opera, plays occasional rounds of golf, and reads one to two books a week on the Kindle my sister and I bought her.
She also ranks among the wisest people I know. Recently, I sat down with her in her New York City apartment to discuss her thoughts on leading a good life. These were her suggestions:
1. Maintain a hopeful attitude. Even when life gets rough, don't be a sad sack. Negativity doesn't help at all.
2. Read! You can learn something from any and every book. I love the mental stimulation of becoming engrossed in different worlds.
3. Listen to music. Music has consistently been a tremendous outlet for me. I like opera and Irving Berlin, but any kind of good music can add to your pleasure and carry you away.
4. Be kind to others. Doing nice things for other folks makes you feel good and sustains you.
5. Surround yourself with bright people who are knowledgeable or have had interesting experiences in their lives. Those kinds of friends are invigorating, and they keep you on your toes.
6. Cultivate a good opinion of yourself. Even if you don't have one initially, you can gradually grow into it. I used to be very uncomfortable around others, but I became more and more secure in myself.
7. Continually find new things to be excited about. For me, it's looking forward to meals with relatives and going to see a movie or ballet. But the key is never to get jaded.
8. Stay physically active. I've always walked a lot and loved swimming. When I was younger, I'd stay in the ocean till my skin was all crinkled!
9. Fall in love. Love is essential. I invariably loved your grandfather [now deceased]. We built a wonderful life based on tremendous affection and respect for each other.
10. Find happiness with yourself. Try -- as I have -- to outgrow being stressed by life. Identify activities you enjoy, and do them!
10.1. Smile! ... although I don't smile unless I have cause to. [She smiles.]
As I was preparing to go, my grandmother assessed her longevity with astonishment and gratitude:
I can't believe how old I am! And I don't know how long my life will last, but I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. I thank God every morning that I see another day and am still above the grass.