Secrets to a Long Joyful Life From Betty White and Other Centenarians

Actress Betty White and actor Tom Sullivan share a laugh during "Actors and Others for Animals" Roast of Betty White at the Universal Hilton on March 12, 2005

Betty White, who died just before her 100th birthday, was happy her whole life thanks to avoiding greens and dropping expletives.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to live a healthy life. We’re forever being told that we’d be better people if we could just wake up at 5 a.m., journal thoughtfully, drink some lemon water, and squeeze in a 10-mile run before a nourishing breakfast of ancient grains and self-restraint. But what about how to live a happy life? That’s not to say the two are unrelated, but given the overwhelming focus on virtue and self-betterment, we feel not enough attention is paid to how to sustain joy over the years.

With that in mind, we’ve scoured the internet for pearls of wisdom from inspiring figures like Betty White and others who’ve lived long lives, some beyond 100 years.

Betty White ditched greens and dropped f-bombs

Our forever Golden Girl, White passed away on Dec. 31, 2021, just a few weeks before her 100th birthday. As bereft as that left us, it’s a huge comfort to know that she undoubtedly lived a joyful life. How did she do it? For starters, she avoided eating greens, but loved vodka and hot dogs, “probably in that order.”

Despite her national treasure status and nearly 80 years of fame, White kept her feet firmly on the ground. In her final years, she was satisfied by her “quiet life” at home in Los Angeles, where entertained herself with crossword puzzles, card games, animal documentaries, golf, and Jeopardy! She was, of course, still wildly popular — and had a wicked laugh. Her The Proposal co-star Mary Steenburgen said Betty loved to “throw her little F-bombs around, and does it with this beautifully dimpled smile.”

Betty White at The Grove on August 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

All this positivity didn’t just come about automatically, though. Ted Danson, who worked with Betty on her ocean conservation efforts, looked to her as an example of “how to live.”

“It’s not like she’s just a bubbly, joyful person,” he said before she passed. “She wakes up every day and chooses to be that way. I think she leads a very purposeful life.”

Sandra Bullock told People that she hoped White would celebrate her centennial “the same way she has celebrated every day of her life — with humor, kindness, and a vodka on ice, toasting to the fact that she’s a badass who has left us all in the dust.” Though she never reached that big birthday, there’s no doubt she maintained her badass status until the end.

Drink booze you actually enjoy

It’s OK if your favorite cocktail doesn’t boast the kind of health benefits people always use to excuse “one glass” of red wine. If these folks are anything to go by, the key is to savor whatever you’re drinking, and not get too carried away with it.

According to TIME, Agnes Fenton, who turned 110 in 2015, said five years earlier that she’d been drinking “three cans of Miller High Life a day and a shot of good booze [Johnny Walker Blue, apparently] at 5 p.m.,” since 1943.

Don’t stress about your diet

Susannah Mushatt Jones turned 116 in 2015 — comfortably beating the one in five million odds of becoming a supercentenarian (110 years old or older). Her secret? Lots of sleep, love, positive energy…and bacon.

Every morning, she had four strips of bacon with her eggs — and had such faith in the crispy stuff that she kept a sign hanging in her kitchen that read: “Bacon makes everything better.”

Susannah Mushatt Jones with her niece Lois Judge,72, as they celebrate her 113th birthday with a party at the Vendalia Senior Center in Brooklyn. (Photo By: Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

No doubt she worked up quite the appetite keeping up with her 100 nieces and nephews.

(Unrelated to food, but fun — Susannah was also partial to high-end lingerie. “You can never get too old to wear fancy stuff,” she apparently told a nurse during a check-up.)

Follow your “Ikigai”

People who live in Okinawa, Japan, are some of the longest-lived (and most content) in the world. Okinawans have a saying: “At 70 you are but a child, at 80 you are merely a youth, and at 90 if the ancestors invite you into heaven, tell them to wait until you’re 100, and then you might consider it.”

One of the habits they attribute their longevity to is following their “ikigai” — that is to say, sense of purpose. Get up in the morning with a clear sense of intent and responsibility — no matter how you’ll be spending your day — and you’ll feel the better for it.

Don’t sweat accomplishments

When a young minister asked her elderly parishioners about the most important lessons they’d learned in life, few of the regrets they expressed were about personal achievements. Instead, they wished they’d taken more risks to be loving, expressed more affection for the people in their lives, and been more empathetic and considerate.

“My earlier preconceptions about aging turned out to be completely false,” she wrote for CNBC. “Despite their deepest regrets, the elders I met still laugh like crazy, fall madly in love and fiercely pursue happiness.”

Do things you might regret

Daisy Dalton, a 19-year-old from Manchester, England, struggled with anxiety and other mental health issues during the pandemic lockdown. She started working as a care assistant for elderly people who needed extra help at home in 2020 and stumbled across a wealth of uplifting insight.

“I’ve got a few tattoos, and one of the other carers I was working with told me I’d regret them when I’m old,” she told Stylist. “A lady I care for overheard us and shouted: ‘If that’s her biggest regret by the time she’s my age then she’ll be doing pretty well!’ For me, it’s a reminder not to worry too much, focus on the big things in life, and not be afraid to have a bit of fun along the way.”