116 Years Old: Lessons Left Behind From the World’s Oldest Living Person

Besse Cooper, world's oldest living person
Besse Cooper celebrating her 116th birthday on August 26, 2012. Photo by Guinness Book of World Records.

Besse Cooper died peacefully earlier this week. At 116 years old, she was the oldest living person in the world. She was also one of the five oldest Americans in history.

Cooper was born in 1896. She married her husband, Luther Cooper, in 1924. He died half a century ago in 1963, but she never remarried. She has four children, 11 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, and two great–great grandchildren.

During an interview with the Guinness Book of World Records, Cooper was asked about the keys to living a long life. She offered two pieces of advice: “I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food.”

Let’s talk about the wisdom in those two simple statements and how you can use it to live better.

“I Mind My Own Business”

Stress is a silent killer. It can take years off of your life, and in some cases, it can end it altogether.

There’s no doubt that Besse’s mantra of minding her own business helped her avoid unnecessary drama, useless comparisons, and unwanted stress. That’s a good lesson to learn and it’s a deeper wisdom than it appears on the surface.

Give how much we focus on our own lives, it would be easy to convince ourselves that we’re minding our own business when in fact we are doing exactly the opposite. We care about the job we have, the house we live in, the clothes we wear, and the car we drive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that in many cases we think we are minding our own business, but really we are slowly being sucked into comparing our lives to our peers, our neighbors, and our community.

And trust me, I’m guilty of this as well. I like being respected and praised as much as the next person.

Truly minding your own business has nothing to do with comparison. It means knowing what you stand for, distancing yourself from the unimportant and unnecessary drama that has a way of seeping into your day, and living your life for the people around you instead of comparing it to the people around you.

“I Don’t Eat Junk Food”

Besse didn’t eat junk food and I suggest that you don’t either. But this piece of advice is about a lot more than what you put on your plate.

If it’s not a good idea to fill your stomach with junk food, then it’s probably not a good idea to fill your mind with “junk” thoughts or your day with “junk” energy or your life with “junk” people. The work you do, the enthusiasm you bring to life, the people you hang out with — these aren’t just life decisions, these are health decisions.

Fill your plate with real food instead of processed junk and you’ll go from overweight to overjoyed.

Trade watching TV for going on a photography adventure and you’ll go from consuming what someone else created to contributing your own work to the world.

Surround yourself with people who are doing amazing things and you’ll go from “How could I ever do that?” to “How could I not?”

The way you live and the health you enjoy are one in the same. You can’t “do some healthy things” and then get on with your life. Your health and happiness are merely an expression of how you live your life.

The good news is that the best way to live life is also the healthy way to live it. Dedicating yourself to fulfilling work, exploring life with curiosity and enthusiasm, contributing to the world around you, and surrounding yourself with people who are inspiring and exciting are great ways to not just live a wonderful life, but to live a healthy one as well. Those choices don’t merely make you feel alive, they keep you alive.

Learn from the World’s Oldest Living Person

Maybe Besse Cooper didn’t get bogged down in the drama and the junk of life because she was too busy setting her sights on something else.

When she was asked what advice she would give to high school graduates, Besse said, “You can do most anything you set as a goal in life.”

Besse Cooper didn’t become the world’s oldest living person by accident. She knew that what you put into your life determined how much, and how long, you got something out of it.