The Throwaway Question On A Longevity Study That Made All The Difference

jeannecalment 60Written by Terri Crosby for In Care of Relationships

Jeanne Louise Calment

The longest living human so far, whose birth date can be fully documented, is Jeanne Louise Calment from Arles, France.   She died in 1997 at the age of 122 years 166 days.  She is the only person confirmed beyond a doubt to have reached the age of 120 years.

Living a long time wasn’t the only rule she broke.  She smoked until the age of 117 and reportedly ate a couple of pounds of chocolate a week. She also took up fencing lessons at 85, rode her bike until the age of 100, and lived on her own until 110.

She was born in the year Bizet’s “Carmen” was first staged and Tolstoy published Anna Karennina.  She was born a year before  Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  She also witnessed the airplane and the cinema.  At the age of 13, she met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles and, as the story goes, she wasn’t impressed by him.

jean marie full

Calment’s father lived to the age of 94 and her mother to the age of 86.   Calment was a widow for more than half a century.  A dessert of spoiled preserved cherries killed her husband in 1942 at the age of 46, but she survived.  Her only daughter died in 1934 at  the age of 36 of pneumonia.   After the death of her daughter, Calment raised her grandson, who became a medical doctor and died in a car accident in 1963.

What was her longevity secret?  Researchers say she never did anything special to stay in good health, but most attribute her longevity to her immunity to stress. She once said, “If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.” She never had to work.  (OK!  There’s the biggest secret of all!) Her husband was a prosperous store owner and offered her a life of ease —  tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and opera. In later years, Calment lived off the income from her apartment, which she sold to a lawyer when she was 90, and because of a contingency contract in her favor, she ended up being paid three times the value of the house. Calment herself credited an occasional glass of Port wine and a diet rich in olive oil for her longevity.  She also recommended plenty of laughter. She used only olive oil and a dab of make-up for skin care.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

And The U.S. Winner Is…

Here in the states, in North Dakota, they seem to know something about how to live long and prosper.  Did you know that North Dakota has the highest number of centenarians per 10,000 people in the U.S. ? Isn’t that surprising?!?  I wonder what’s going on in North Dakota?north dakota Other states where centenarians make up a relatively large portion of the population include South Dakota, Iowa (yeaaaa! my home state!) and Nebraska. Maybe it’s all that corn?  Or the cold?  Living simply? On the opposite end of the spectrum, three western states have less than one centenarian for every 10,000 people: Alaska, Utah, and Nevada.

Walt Jones

Here’s another inspiring example of someone who ignored the usual “getting old” routine. Walt Jones of Tacoma, WA outlived three wives and then took up a “lady friend” at age 104 when his 52 year marriage to his third wife ended when she passed away.   He set out on a tour of  the United States with a motor home at age 104 and made it to 43 states by selling curios and souvenirs.  He was pretty much unstoppable.  He celebrated his 110th birthday on the Johnny Carson Show. His frame of mind was that life was to be lived as if you’re always able.  He didn’t believe in aging.  He believed that the best days of his life were always in front of him.

Dr. Ken Pelletier

In the eighties, Dr. Ken Pelletier was a friend of mine.  He had Ken Pelletierjust written Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer  and has since written many more best sellers on the subject of health and well-being.   In the longevity presentations he was doing at the time, I remember how he spoke about measuring every imaginable factor regarding aging. He and his team traveled far and wide, studying different cultures, living styles, eating habits, and so on.  He used to joke that researching longevity required him to spend time in beautiful tropical places just to study why folks there lived a long time. And the results of his study blew his mind. The throwaway question on their long survey turned out to be the most important one.  This simple question turned out to be the factor that predicted whether a person would live another year or two or five.  It turned out to be the one and only factor that made a difference in how long a person lived. Can you guess what it was? Expectation! If the person thought s/he was going to be alive in 5 years, they usually were. There is a lot of power in positive expectation.  If you truly expect something to happen, chances are it will.

And Finally…

At one of Jeanne Louise Calment’s famous birthday parties, a guest departed by saying to Jeanne, “Until next year, perhaps?” Jeanne retorted: “I don’t see why not!  You don’t look so bad to me.” And finally, regarding positive thinking, more wise words from Jeanne:  “I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”


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new shoots 2About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 14 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant.

It is my experience that children are born to teach (remind) parents, not the other way around.   I’ve learned more from my daughter MacKenzie than from all other humans combined.

I’m in favor of wandering time in the morning, listening to the birds calling to each other in the woods all around me.

Making fresh food is one of life’s big yummy pleasures, along with singing – especially creating heavenly, improvisational, prayerful, meditational sound.

I believe that poet Mary Oliver writes the best bedtime stories available on Earth.


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Terri Crosby

Helping you create life-affirming, ever-evolving, happier relationships with those you love. Follow me on twitter at@TerriCrosby or read myblog.

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    “Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer” was a pivotal book in Chad’s library way back when. Chad first got interested in Unity because of the potential to lower his blood pressure through meditation, so a lot of his early reading was on the relief of stress.


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