How To Live To Be 100 – A 9-Point Retirement Happiness Program
A Happiness Program For Any Age
HERE I AM AT AGE 100. I have just completed the most wonderful 20 years of my life, my 80s and 90s. I walk a little slower. I don’t hear as well. I don’t see as well and I don’t remember quite as well. BUT I still have a few of my “marbles” left. I still am productive. I am still vertical (I stood up and raised both hands) and I am still the happiest man I know.
This afternoon I will give you my five reasons for still being alive and discuss, in detail, my 9-Point Retirement Happiness Program. So why am I still alive? I believe there are five main reasons. The first two, Exercise and Avoiding Life-Threatening Falls will be discussed later. The third reason is Home Environment. I am still in the home I love, a home with a beautiful garden in which to relax and ruminate. My wife Carol, has taken wonderful care of me. She has provided me with companionship such as I have never experienced and love as I have never known. The fourth reason is a Concierge Doctor. As one ages, one increasingly needs a competent doctor. Not only a doctor whom you can call and talk to the same day or set up immediately a needed appointment, rather than waiting for weeks. I have had such a doctor for almost 25 years. His availability has been so reassuring and comforting and well worth the cost. As the years move on, there is another need – a doctor who can get short-notice appointments with medical specialists in the area. During the first six months of 2021, I had five such appointments.
The fifth reason is Attitude. As some of you know, I have always operated with enormous energy and enthusiasm. I still have much of both at age 100. Almost every morning, I bound out of bed, energized, with a full head of steam, excited about which of my interests to attack –my 9-Point Retirement Happiness Program that has made me, during my 80s and 90s, the happiest man I know.
One can plan for retirement or one can just let it happen; I planned very carefully for my retirement.
EXERCISE. Over the years, I have had some serious heart problems – three heart hospitalizations and one time my heart stopped. Given my poor heart history, THE reason that I am alive today is my lifetime of heavy, heavy exercise. Since I was a teenager, I have been a planned exerciser, always five days a week, often six and occasionally seven days – biking, hiking, weights and personal trainers. Almost every day, exercise has been my #1 priority. Until my late 70’s, I did 45 pushups three times each week. In my home I have a treadmill, elliptical and rack of weights. I have done much biking over the years, but my favorite exercise has been hiking. I loved the thought of being on a trail, ticking off the miles, one by one by one. Twice a week for more than 50 years, I have headed to the Peninsula hills to hike – The Dish at Stanford, Windy Hill, or most often, Wunderlich Park in Woodside. My favorite hike has been in Wunderlich Park — hiking four miles up to Skyline, at an elevation of 2000 feet, perhaps having a second breakfast or early lunch at Alice’s Restaurant, then four miles back down, a total of eight miles. I learned that I was at my most creative while hiking so I always carried with me a sheet of paper and pen. When I had an idea, I would stop, jot it down, then trudge on. My two national initiatives were spawned while hiking through the redwoods of Wunderlich Park. As the years rolled by, hikers began to pass me and since I was very competitive, I would say with a smile, “You put me to shame, going by me like that”. And often that simple sentences started a nice conversation and some friendships resulted. At age 97, I made my last 8-mile hike up to Skyline and back. Now, at 100, exercise remains my highest priority. Twice a week a personal trainer comes to my home. Five times each week I walk 2.5 to 4 miles, do a couple of minutes on my Elliptical, push a few light weights, then a balance exercise or two.
AVOIDING LIFE-THREATENING FALLS. Many of us have had a friend who had a very bad fall then, not too long thereafter, was dead. Here are some of the safeguards I have used: I arise very slowly, then, when erect, steady myself for a moment, then head off. As I aged, I swallowed my pride and bought a women’s bike which was easier and safer to get on and off. Around my neck, I wear an Emergency Alert and if in any kind trouble, I press the button and help is on the way. No more worries about 911 being too busy to answer quickly. For hiking on hills, mountains or rough terrain, I always use two hiking sticks. When headed downwards, my hands are always through the hiking stick hand-loops. Now, at 100 I walk primarily on the level and use one hiking stick. As I age, whenever I pull a garment on or off over my head or when putting on pants or pajama bottoms, I steady myself against a wall or piece of furniture to offset any disorientation. Inside my bedroom I have a low intensity light plugged into a floor socket to avoid total darkness. I keep two flashlights inside my bedside table drawer rather than on top so they don’t get jarred off during an earthquake. On the top of the table is the charger for my Emergency Alert making the device available to me 24 hours a day rather than having it charging in another room. Also taped to the table are a vial of Nitro pills, in case of a heart attack, and a whistle.
SEEK PASSIONS. If you have a passion when you retire, go all out. If you do not have a passion, try to find one. If you find one, look for another. Other than family, I have had one lifelong passion — my love of my alma mater, the United States Naval Academy. Over time, I went all out and have been honored repeatedly by the Academy for my many contributions of substance and impact. During my retirement, I hit the Passion Jackpot and found three more passions. In my 70s — The joy of writing. In my 80s, I created my national initiative – Enhanced Sportsmanship, the ethics of good sportsmanship. And in my 90s, I created my second national initiative – Honoring of Veterans at home football games near Veterans Day. These two national initiatives involve and inspire millions of Americans each year.
JOY OR WRITING This is my writing story. In my 60s, I wrote my first article, ‘World War II’. This one was easy – Japanese shells being lobbed my way and Japanese Kamikaze planes attacking my ship made a thrilling story. In my 70s, my first book was ‘My Memoirs’ which was almost 700 pages in length. In my 80s, I wrote a 52-page article entitled ‘Age 85, my most interesting and best year ever’ which covered 26 events of interest that occurred during that 12-month period. At 99th I finished my 8th book and also had an article, ‘Naval Academy Day’, published in a national magazine. Two more books are underway – Volume 2 of ‘My Memoirs’ and a book about my wife Carol’s distinguished life. I’ve given each family member a set of my books and they are a wonderful family legacy for those who are here today and for those who will follow.
JOINING AND PARTICIPATING IN ORGANIZATIONS. If one joins an organization, plan to go all out as an active member not just a dues-paying name on a roster. During my retirement, I joined two organizations. One was the Palo Alto Club and I’ve had more than 30 years of enormous pleasure being a member. If I were to make a list of the 25 non-family members I care most about, perhaps 20 PAC members would be names on such a list! The second organization is the Palo Alto University Rotary Club which I joined wanting more young people in my life. The members are so caring, one for another, and it’s a pleasure to be part of this wonderful community service group. Both these organizations continue to play an important role in pushing back the Grim Reaper.
POWER AND PLEASURE OF RECOGNIZING OTHERS AND IN EXPRESSING GRATITUDE. Within our families, we are quite skilled at bestowing recognition and expressing gratitude – to spouses and other family members. In midlife, I found particular pleasure in recognizing others and expressing gratitude so I incorporated both into my life which has been a win-win that has given me so much pleasure over the years. Even little courtesies, one to another inspire me. I try to do my share of insignificant courtesies. Two examples: one, whenever I pass a woman pushing a baby carriage, I always say, “You have some precious cargo there.” The smile of a proud new mother is a joy to see. Another example is when I am in a restaurant, I often note a young couple so I proceed to their table and say, “You certainly have an impressive family”. The smile on the young faces is a joy for me to see.
CONTACTING OTHERS EACH WEEK. For more than 30 years, I’ve had the goal of contacting 10 people or more each week with in-person visits, notes, expressions of gratitude, phone calls and now emails. I have largely met my goal, week after week. People energize me and these contacts boost my morale – I love talking with my friends.
MENTORING. There is such a need for mentors and I love talking with the young about life. Over the years I have spoken with, one on one, dozens and dozens of teenagers about life. I’ve helped 7 young men obtain Service Academy appointments. At grade schools, I talk about patriotism and gratitude and I have handed out hundreds of small American flags to the students.
Two special memories. One is speaking to 200 eighth graders who gave me a standing ovation and then lined up, single file, in two lines, carrying the small American flags I had given them, waiting to shake hands with a WW II Veteran. I thought back to my youth — my fondest memory as a little boy was meeting a Civil War Veteran. Perhaps, just perhaps, history will repeat itself. The other was a two-year stint as the surrogate father to the three outstanding teenage sons of Club Member, Joe Felter. Joe went to Washington, D.C. to work with the Secretary of Defense, General Mattis. I shared in their joys, listened to their comments and often yacked away at The Peninsula Creamery about life. These were incredibly happy experiences for me and these three teenagers taught me a lesson I so needed to learn at that difficult time in our nation – that the future of my beloved country will be in good hands!
A SMILE AND A HELLO WILL TAKE ONE A LONG WAY IN LIFE. Since I was a very little boy in Sausalito, California I have operated with this belief. A hike on a trail, with hellos and smiles, is a happier hike than one without. I know that this habit has made my life happier than it might have been and I suspect that it opened up opportunities for me that I would not otherwise have had.
Now, you have the story the 100-year-old – The happiest man I know!
Robert Beresford Williams