The secret to a long and happy life

I’ve known people who have lived long, and I think, happy lives. Sometimes I ask them what they do to live so well and for so long. They just smile because, well, it’s a grand secret. When I attended the State University of New York at Brockport a number of years ago, I rented a room from a lady in her early 90s named Mrs. Raleigh. She was quite the storyteller. She told me that she was educated at the normal school (which later became the university) and that her major was home economics. 

She told me that her husband was descended from Sir Walter Raleigh, who was a poet, soldier, gentleman, and, apparently, an (arrrrr) pirrrrrate. He stole land from the Irish (hmmm, we can add “thief” to his list of careers). He married one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies in waiting without permission (Elizabeth Throckmorton), causing the two of them to be unceremoniously placed in the Tower of London. He was later thrown into the Tower of London by King James I and charged with treason. He managed to get out of all of that, and he was able to continue his adventures. His goal was to find El Dorado in South America. His enthusiasm for finding a mythical city made entirely of gold caused loads of trouble for everyone. He never did find El Dorado. He had many adventures, but his life cannot be described as “long and happy,”as he was given a one-way ticket to the Tower of London to be beheaded. His last words were “strike, man, strike.” He was 65 years old.

Mrs. Raleigh, on the other hand, lived a long and happy, although less adventurous, life. After her husband died, she rented rooms in her home to students. She had a cat that occasionally got out of the house. The cat was her baby. Once I found the cat and brought it back inside, much to Mrs. Raleigh’s great glee. Mrs. Raleigh had a wicked sense of humor. One time, someone called for me on the phone. I wasn’t in. She said, “Alice doesn’t live here anymore.” When I came home, she giggled as she told me what she had said. I never knew who called me. Apparently, she didn’t ask.

Mrs. Raleigh did home canning and she cooked her meals every day. I learned a lot about cooking from her. She loved all food and said that she had a “stomach made of cast iron.” She had a helper named Delbert, who was very devoted to her. She described him as a “boy,” even though he was at least 70 years old. She had a daughter named Lucille, whose husband did all of the cooking. She said that Lucille never learned how to cook so it was a good thing that her husband could cook. Sometimes Mrs. Raleigh went out with her daughter and son in law. Mrs. Raleigh seemed to enjoy all that each day offered. 

Today, I went to a memorial service for a man named Paul Adams. He, too, lived a long and happy life. He attended Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church for the past ten or so years, ever since his wife, Mae, passed away. Paul was 99 years old when he passed away. 

Paul Adams was born in 1918. His father, who was born in 1857, was 61 years old when Paul was born. When Paul was about seven years old, his mom passed away. Paul was a teenager when his dad passed away. During World War II, Paul served in the U.S. Army as a chief clerk in a medical records unit. His unit arrived on the shore of Normandy on June 11th, 1945 or D-Day+5.

Paul’s son, also named Paul, spoke about his dad at the memorial service. He said that his dad always maintained meticulous records, a habit that he probably developed in the military. When his father was taken to the hospital, Paul recalled, he was asked for a list of dad’s medications and for a medical history. Paul looked inside his dad’s wallet and found a list of medications on a folded-up sheet of paper. On the other side of the paper was listed “appendix” and “gall stones,” with years listed (the medical history). 

“My dad lived a long life with few medical issues,” Paul said. The family was planning a special birthday party for him next March, when he would have turned 100.

Paul Adams went bowling regularly, until he was about 94 years old. He sang with a chorale group, and he volunteered with Meals on Wheels. He was described as having a great sense of humor and, whenever I saw him, he always seemed very happy and fully enjoying life.

Father Earle King said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Paul.” He described Paul Adams as “gracious and kind, a loving, wonderful gentleman.”

So what can I say about living a long and happy life? It’s probably still a grand secret. If I were to guess, maybe a sense of humor is key to it. That and a good diet and exercise. Both Mrs. Raleigh and Paul Adams appeared to be happy with the lives that they had. They shared that happiness with everyone around them, sort of like spreading seeds of happiness. When I grow up, I want to be just like Mrs. Raleigh… or Paul… or both??

6 thoughts on “The secret to a long and happy life”

  1. They say attitude is everything, and when I think of my husband's aunt, who is 105, I remember a woman who always has had a great zest for life, lots of curiosity, and a love of learning. She never even had t take any medication until she was almost 101. I enjoyed reading about Mrs. Raleigh.

  2. Paul sounds like he was an amazing man! My mother-in-law will be 100 in September and her sister lived until 103. Mom's mind is so sharp, still does her own banking plus keeps up with the cleaning, laundry and cooking. We finally talked her into moving into independent living and will be moving her next week. She will now have elevators which stairs have been her only downfall since she has trouble walking. She always says age is just a number.

  3. Hi, Alice. What a treasure to have known these great gems in your life. Humor and not worrying about everything is probably the key to long life. Eating well and exercise and just plain enjoying each day and the people around you is another one.
    Thanks for sharing these memories, made me smile.

  4. Thank you for sharing . . . I think not taking myself too seriously is key for me 🙂 along with good food, good relationships and exercise. It's interesting how everyone's life is so different and can be such an adventure if you let it!


    I'm pretty sure most of us would be really satisfied with a happy life. Because life is always too short for it not to be so.

  6. Corinne Rodrigues

    I just got back from visiting an aunt who proudly announced that she was going to be 95 this September. However, she leads a very sheltered life. My Dad is going to be 92, not much younger, but has a much more positive attitude than her and is much more independent. He strongly believes that life is all about 'mind over matter – if you don't mind, it doesn't matter!' That's his attitude to his health, aches and pains.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top