15 Practices of a Happy, Healthy Hundred-Year-Old

Nine years ago I exchanged a handmade book for a hug.

It was at an art and craft fair/benefit in a corner booth set up with all my fiber art journal book covers and art dolls. I did not sell a thing that day (I clearly remember that), but I made a good trade. I learned from a “hug therapist” how to give a real hug. In return, I made a new friend named Jane, to whom I gave a journal she admired; embellished with beads, hand embroidery, and an Emily Dickinson quote.

The journal cover I made.

I was thinking of my friend Jane a couple of weeks ago. She was 91 when we met and I had not heard from her in five years. I wondered…

Sometime in my early 30’s I decided I wanted to live to be 100.

If all those people on the Today Show could achieve the Smuckers jar honor, with a waiting list to boot, it’s surely do-able.

As Willard Scott ticked off their longevity secrets — a diet of fruits and vegetables, daily gardening, Ponds Cold Cream, etc. — I made mental note and search my mind for the common thread. How hard could it be? Genes be damned, and unless I meet Jesus in the air, I too can hit the century mark. I’ll just do whatever the beautiful old people do.

Oddly, though, you don’t meet many 100-year-olds on the street. It’s usually only through their family or caregivers at functions like family reunions, or church functions, or weddings. On bleaker, more frequent occasions, I suppose funerals bring out active centenarians, too. (Or, I don’t know, maybe they stay away.) Regardless, rarely do you meet them while out shopping, or at a local event; so anywhere I get the chance and requisite intimacy to talk with someone 90 or older, I stop everything.

Even more interesting than the historical context of their lives, their personal stories give you a glimpse into the daily mental thoughts, spiritual practices, and physical activities and products that keep a person thriving on this planet.

Will old people still be as fascinating when I’m old too? I hope so. They’ll be my contemporaries then. Maybe we can start a club or something. For now, I try to stop time and listen a while to white-haired, active people.

Figuring I should compile a log of the best advice from old folks I meet, let me start with my friend Jane Dunn, the woman from the art and craft show.

A few days ago Jane left me a message, “You might not remember me,” she began, “but about 9 years ago you gave me a lovely book. I’m 100 now, and I wanted to tell you I still treasure it and I’m wondering how you are.”

Of course I had to see her again, so last Wednesday I picked up a couple of sandwiches, and drove the hour to pay Jane a little visit.

Wondering what a centenarian does and says? Here’s what I gleaned from a few hours with my friend Jane.

15 Practices of a Happy, Healthy Hundred-Year-Old

Call when you’re thinking of someone.

Jane called me out of the blue, not two weeks after I was thinking of her. Great minds think alike, but amazing minds act on their impulses, and reach out to others. I’m learning.

Follow up.

Jane beat me to the punch again and called the next day to say thank you. It’s so thoughtful and easy to do, so why not just do it?


Jane was a well-known forager years ago, featured on PBS when she lived in Louisiana. In that part of the south, she said, if you stand still long enough something will twine up your leg. Learn to eat what grows naturally and you’ll never go hungry.

Grapefruit seed extract.

Jane swears you can use this stuff for everything. She showed me her hand, darkened with age, and challenged me to find a scar from a cut she suffered a few weeks ago. (“Completely gone, see? You can even clean your house with it.”)

Sharing Jan’e earthing mat.


Jane swears by her earthing mat while she studies and sleeps. Maybe it sounds a little woo woo, but supposedly the ground gives off a natural frequency that nurtures good health, something she’s intuitively known for decades. Now science it proves it to be true. (She lent me her book Earthing, by Clinton Ober.) We talked about healing energy and how her heightened sense of energy allowed her to feel much more than most people. She really radiates some kind of power. Speaking of weird powers…

Essential Oils.

I shared some essential oil with her (Young Living’s Joy) and she warned me that she couldn’t smell anymore. I assured her that because of its frequency of 188 MHz, she would still benefit. She swirled the oil in her hands and put them over her nose and mouth, then closed her eyes and breathed deeply for about a minute. When she opened her eyes again she smiled. “Well, I couldn’t smell it, but I could feel it.”

Give and Get love.

A few weeks ago, Jane met a younger man who told her he was going to die in a couple of months. When this man heard she was 100 years old, he asked her what she’d do with that precious time. Her answer: “Give as much love as you can to the people around you and allow yourself to receive as much love as you can.” Reminiscent of the last line of Nat King Cole’s song Nature Boy: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Love a pet.

Jane’s dog Wendy is one of a long line of bulldogs loved by the family. A good dog is one that can stand still when you ask nicely, who puts her head on your lap and waits patiently, who growls at the door when a stranger appears, and knows how to position herself to receive the optimal scratch, without troubling you too much. Wendy is a great dog, and worth all the love Jane gives her.

Serve the mission right in front of you.

I’m not shy about asking the hard questions — especially of someone who might actually know the answers. As a Christian, I believe when you meet your creator, you’ll account for your life. I always want to know if I’m running the right race. “How do you know for sure?” I asked. Jane told me a story about wanting to go on a mission when her kids were still young. While she never went to a far-off land to do mission work, she had the peace that she was serving exactly the people who needed her most, her family and her community. Mother Theresa said the same thing. “Find your own Calcutta.”

Mix with all ages.

Do not stick to your own kind. Ever. You’ll miss out on the most interesting relationships.

Have great conversations and inconsequential conversations.

Jane’s book club reads selections from the Great Books Club. They stick to the scheduled curriculum during their meeting on the first Tuesday of the month. On the third Tuesday, however, they talk about all the other trivial stuff of life. Nurturing friendships and great ideas are both important parts of Jane’s life.

Always be learning.

I marveled when Jane replied to my inquiry what she’s been up to. “I’m into quantum physics now.” When I asked what she was reading, she nimbly named a few titles: E-Squared, by Pam Grout; E-Cubed, by Pam Grout; and Heart Math Solution.

Sitting in her office she shared a few more. By the way, they are on my Amazon wish list now.

Hug a lot.

A self-proclaimed “Hug Therapist,” Jane doesn’t believe in those quick, purse-over-the-shoulder, half squeezes. No, you set everything down on the floor and focus on the hug, put your heads on the other’s left shoulder and breathe easily through the entire embrace. No patting. (That’s usually me, pat, pat, patting… but what it really means is, “I’m done here.” Apparently, in a true hug, it’s very un-cool.)

Leave no stone unturned.

Glad I’m not the only one turning over stone after stone as I go through life! I used to think I was shallow, having to see underneath everything and then moving on. Now I’m gratified that it’s the mark of a curious soul. Jane tells me her tombstone will be engraved, “This is the only stone she didn’t turn over.” A lover of family, art, ikebana, frogs, birds, books, energy, and nature in all its minutiae and splendor; there are millions of stones left to turn.

Enjoy the scenery.

On my way to her house, concerned I’d throw her whole schedule off and she’d be nodding on the vine before we’d spent a half hour together, I called to tell Jane I’d be a little late. She answered the phone with a bright, “So where are you now?” then told me to take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery. A wise daily reminder; I’m vowing to worry less and enjoy the ride.

We shared a sandwich and some fruit for lunch in her sunny kitchen. About halfway through she said, “Now, the polite thing to do when you reach a hundred would be to die, but my birthday was last December. Here it is almost summer, and I’m still here.” Jane cut a slice of cantaloupe and took a bite.

“Guess you’re not that polite. Besides, you still have a lot to do, right?”

The movie Harold and Maud briefly flickered through my thoughts, but I know Jane isn’t the type to take matters into her own hands. Still, as fascinated as she is by life, she must be curious about turning over that last stone. I am, at less than half her age…

Sometimes I crest the hilltop on Highway 71 near my home and gasp as if viewing the sunlit hills for the first time 15 years ago; or I see my gangly 14-year-old throw down his skateboard and connect with confidence as if his feet finally found sure footing; or I tap the pencil shavings into the trash and the smell whooshes me back to an upstairs third grade classroom I was sure was the safest place you could be.

Every detail in this precious life is too easily missed.

How many chances do you get to replay the good ones, while all at once taking in the fragile, exquisite details of the present? There’s so much, and such a truly short time to enjoy it all. You blink and it’s gone, as some strange, new, riveting experience replaces it.

I like being with people who have nothing to fear. Does everyone get easy access to that, or is it just the invincible youth in their naiveté; or the very old, saturated with experience and memories? I think you can open this window, too, and get your hair mussed up. Open your hands and your eyes and enjoy the scenery… it’s flying by.

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