She was 100 years old when she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and shared her secrets for aging well. Since then, Dorothy Custer has celebrated three more birthdays and gone base-jumping, ridden an elephant, and taken a hot air balloon ride. At the end of each experience, her comments are the same. She wishes they had lasted longer. She continues to play the harmonica and seek out new adventures.
When Leno asked Dorothy her secret to longevity, she had only two things to say: Stay positive and exercise every day.
During the 2015 Super Bowl, Dodge aired a commercial that spotlighted another group of centenarians. It was part of celebrating Dodge’s hundredth birthday, but the buzz about the commercials was less about the cars and more about the words of wisdom offered by such experienced humans:
- Live for now.
- Life is good; you make it good.
- There are miracles all around you.
- Always tell the truth.
- Keep your eyes open and sometimes your mouth shut.
- Don’t complain.
- Tell it like it is.
- Hesitate and you lose.
- Never, ever forget where you came from.
At some point in our later years, we shift from being embarrassed to tell our age to proudly proclaiming how long we’ve survived. Centenarians have lived through World Wars, the Great Depression, innovation, globalization, desegregation, Woodstock, and more politicians than they could count. They’ve seen the invention of the telegram, the telephone, and the television. Many learned to ride a horse before they ever drove a car. Most were potty trained in an outhouse. Some of mankind’s greatest accomplishments have happened in their lifetimes: space travel, solar energy, the Internet, microwaves, and penicillin, just to name a few.
But when you ask healthy centenarians the lessons they want to share with younger generations, you don’t hear things like “How to recover from an economic recession” or “The value of a diversified stock portfolio” in response. They talk about having a positive attitude.
Living through all the achievements and disasters of their lives is boiled down to the simplest concept. In fact, it’s all recounted in the popular children’s book The Little Engine That Could: I think I can.
More and more scientific studies are discovering the potential of the mind-body connection. Coaches use the strategy to help athletes visualize success before performing in the Olympic games. Business and military leaders place a renewed emphasis on group morale. And child development experts espouse the importance of self-esteem.
While Rene Decartes was speaking of the essence of his existence when he coined the phrase “I think, therefore I am”, he actually addressed a broader meaning. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful.
As geneticists and neuroscientists study the impact of epigenetics on human development, we will gain a greater understanding of the actual power of our thoughts. In the meantime, we would do well to learn from those who have already run the labyrinth of life’s experiences and see the glass as being half full. Because according to them, attitude is everything!