An old woman smiling.

A 95-Year-Old’s Guide To Being Resilient

7 lessons from someone who’s seen it all.

“Betty is a tiny lady, not quite five feet tall. She’s disciplined and has hiked across most of New Zealand. She lives entirely in the moment, alongside like-minded friends. She’s weathered pandemics, economic depressions, wars, and growing up without a mother.”

Betty is 95 years old. She is also incredibly resilient.

Her daughter, Mary, recently emailed me about Betty. I’ve been writing a great deal on the topic of resilience lately and Mary wanted to share her mother’s story. A story she has witnessed first hand. A story of living life with a smile. Betty is an inspiration. And like how Mary wanted to share the story with me, I would like to now share it with you.

Here are seven lessons of resilience that Betty lives by.

*I will both quote Mary’s account as well as add commentary of my own. I did apply some light editing to our conversation for added clarity. The essence of Mary’s, and in turn, Betty’s, message remains the same.


1. Acceptance

“Betty, my 95-year-old mother, has been (through) and seen much of the century. There is a kind of detachment or something, in the face of calamity, tragedy, foolhardy actions and outwardly displayed self-pity.”

As your birthday nears the century mark, the twists and turns of life are no longer surprising. They are simply experiences to be had. Not ones to judge, but rather ones to navigate as best you can.

It reminds me of something Eckhart Tolle mentions in his book, The Power of Now: If your car is stuck in the mud, it’s not walking away from the car. It’s not accepting the car is stuck and forever will be. It’s accepting that it is stuck at this moment and then choosing the next step to get it unstuck. It is accepting your present moment and letting the new step present itself to you.

The lesson: Embrace whatever comes your way with acceptance.


2. Learn

“(Betty) tells me again and again, ‘Mary, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ Yeah thanks mum. But it is fundamentally correct. On any level.”

Though it may be a cliche, what doesn’t kill you does in fact make you stronger. Assuming you allow it to. Your failed business provides the experience to start your next venture, and to succeed. Your heartbreak allows you to realize what you truly want in a partner.

The lesson: Each adversity you face is an opportunity to learn and grow.


3. Respect

“I have seen (Betty) quietly set her face pleasantly when someone blabs stupidly about (poor me this or poor me that).”

You don’t need to agree with everyone. Nor do you need to indulge those who only seek to complain. However, you do need to be respectful of them. Respect is key to cultivating relationships. And relationships are key to thriving as a human.

The lesson: Show respect for those you interact with. Listen to what the other person is saying and do your best to empathize.


4. Giggle

“People like Betty are internally tough. She says that you don’t get over (loved ones dying). However, you get around it. And sooner rather than later, with a giggle.”

There is a reason comedians make jokes on the back of a tragedy. In the midst of despair, the world is a sad place. But a simple joke can lighten things tremendously. Betty recognizes that and uses humor as a way to push forward. The lesson: Make jokes. Laugh. Giggle to yourself. It is the way to add more light to your life.

Speaking of keeping things light, Mary also mentioned that Betty has, “… a few other naughty lines about the devil. That he’s not ready for her yet. The kind of banter that sends people running.”

Clearly, Betty doesn’t mind making herself the butt of the joke.


5. Know who you are

“Seeking approval from others is not something that Betty has sought after. This has given her precious time to pursue a fulfilling life.”

Betty has a firm understanding of who she is. She doesn’t waste time trying to impress people. Instead, she partakes in activities that add meaning to her life. After all, a fulfilling life is one of purpose. It is one you are excited to live. And thus, living becomes exciting.

The lesson: Spend time understanding who you are. Do more things that fill you up and fewer things that don’t.


6. Don’t let pain rule your life

“(Betty) lost her first husband to cancer weeks before I was born. I don’t see outward shows of emotion but I do believe (her) pain is real. It just did not rule how she navigated her life. And that is resilience. It takes guts and practice. Even during sadness.”

The more attention you give something, the larger it seems. For instance, pause and feel for the heartbeat in your chest. Suddenly, this thing you never notice becomes the dominating sensation in your body. Pain works the same way. When you focus on pain, it gets louder. It becomes more excruciating. But turn your attention elsewhere and it becomes all the more manageable.

The lesson: Pain is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life. Focus on things that fill you up instead.


7. Gratitude

“(Betty) is still thankful. ‘Every day you wake up with a pulse, Mary, is a good day.'”

As you age, there is a seemingly endless supply of things to complain about. Aches, pains, grandkids not calling, medical expenses. But there are just as many good things to be grateful for. The home you love, the family you’ve built, the relationships you have. When things feel dark, gratitude is a way to pull you up, to remind you that things are actually pretty good after all.

The lesson: Spend a few minutes each day thinking of what you’re grateful for. It will brighten your life.


Move forward with resilience

Betty is an inspiration. To not only live to 95 years old but to do it with a smile is an impressive feat. Her resilience is something we should all aspire to.

For your reference once again, here are the seven lessons from Betty that you can apply to your own life:

  1. Accept whatever comes your way.
  2. Learn from your experiences.
  3. Show respect to others.
  4. Make jokes.
  5. Do things you find meaningful.
  6. Don’t let pain dictate your life.
  7. Be grateful for everything you have.

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