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Wisdom From People Who Lived to Be 100

There are now more than half a million people living around the world who are aged 100 or older. Thanks to improvements in living conditions, nutrition, and health care, the number of centenarians has risen sharply since the 1960s, when there were only about 20,000 people in their second century of life.

The United States and Japan have the most centenarians, with numbers around 100,000. In fact, until recently, Japan was home to the world’s oldest person, Kane Tanaka, who died in 2022 at age 119. Tanaka was a supercentenarian, the name given to the small group of people who have lived beyond 110 years, a feat only about one in a thousand centenarians have achieved. The oldest human of all time (whose age has been documented at least) was Jeanne Calment, a French supercentenarian with a life span of 122 years and 164 days.

How centenarians — and, increasingly, supercentenarians — manage to live for so many years has long captured the public imagination. They are often asked about their lifestyles, the secret to their longevity, and the wisdom they have gleaned in their advanced years. Their answers, however, tend to be as varied as the lives they have lived, as the following quotes reveal.

If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress, and tension. And if you didn't ask me, I'd still have to say it.
George Burns, comedian and actor

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I look back on my life like a good day's work — it was done and I am satisfied with it… life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.
Grandma Moses, American folk artist

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Happiness lies in moments, and while you have it you’re not even aware; only afterwards do you know you were happy.
Luise Rainer, actress

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When we recall the past, we usually find that it is the simplest things — not the great occasions — that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness.
Bob Hope, comedian and actor

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Being Black in this country before 1954 was a very, very, very bad thing, a hard thing. You were proud because of having overcome that, you see, and knowing people who could overcome it, and did overcome it.
Etta Moten Barnett, actress and singer

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My philosophy is to live in the now — yesterday is gone, you don’t know if there’s even going to be a tomorrow, so you might as well enjoy today.
Iris Apfel, interior designer and fashion icon

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Always keep your smile. That's how I explain my long life.
Jeanne Calment, supercentenarian

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One must take what comes, with laughter.
Olivia de Havilland, actress

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I think half the success in life comes from first trying to find out what you really want to do. And then going ahead and doing it.
Kirk Douglas, actor

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Comprehend the changing of times—never stay stuck in the past or its difficulties.
Concepción Calvillo de Nava, centenarian

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There is always something we can be concerned about. The secret is to rise above it and do whatever we can to make the world a better place.
Dame Vera Lynn, singer and entertainer

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Keep your eyes open, your emotions free. Leap into the future!
Bernard Kalb, journalist

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If you try to be kind to people, you’ll be on the road to a good life.
George Dunn, WWII veteran

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The secret to longevity is ice cream.
Paul Marcus, centenarian

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Photo credit: DAVIDCOHEN/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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