Article: Life Lessons: St. Louis Seniors Share the Secrets to a Good Life

Jean Mortiz pushed her walker carefully through the photo studio and positioned herself on the stool under the bright lights. The 93-year-old looked straight into the camera and beamed. She had trailed behind her peers as they walked through the building and said: “I’m slow. But I’ll make it.” She recited the quote she had written for their book without hesitation: “An old lady may be dependent on a cane or walker, but in her heart she’s skipping rope!” Doesn’t everyone want to be skipping rope in his or her heart at 93? Mortiz is one of 100 local seniors whose quote was included in the book “Life Lessons: 2.7 Million Years of Wisdom From 1 Generation of St. Louisans.” The book was the idea of Joel Andersen, vice president for marketing for Essence Healthcare, a St. Louis-based health care company serving people with Medicare. The company is celebrating its 10th year. Andersen decided that surveying its members, 40,000 people aged 65 and older, for their bits of wisdom would be a memorable way to mark the occasion. So, they included a question in their newsletter: Tell us about the lessons you’ve learned that have stood the test of time. The company received nearly 3,000 responses. From that stack, Andersen and his team picked out 100, many of which touched on the themes they read repeatedly. “There were common things that people said, and we picked ones that represented the spirit of the submissions,” Andersen said. We asked Andersen to summarize the common themes, none of which were terribly shocking or surprising, except perhaps seeing them repeated on a scale of thousands:
  • Faith plays an important role in many people’s lives, regardless of their particular beliefs. “There are a lot of ups and downs in life, and it’s nice to know there’s a higher power you can turn to.”
  • Setbacks are a part of life. You will be handed tough challenges. You have to be able to deal with them.
  • Family is critical. “Do not take it for granted, ever.”
  • And, to last as long as some of the respondents have, having a sense of humor clearly helps. Phil Cooley, the owner of a home health care company in Charlotte, N.C., wrote an online post about the same topic after working with senior adults for more than 30 years. He also queried them about the secrets to making a good life, and it was interesting to note the overlap in his findings:
Be positive. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. Be kind. The best way to get over feeling sorry for yourself is to find someone else to help. Be thankful. Gratitude wires our brains toward happiness. Let go of the past. Forgive, make peace and move on. Reach up to something higher than yourself. These threads of commonality among those who live long and live well, were observable during the photo and video shoot for a few of the “authors” of the book, which is illustrated by young children. The eight seniors who visited the Post-Dispatch met one another with excitement and asked the others to sign their copies of the book with the page of their quote. They worried about whether they would be able to remember their line to recite. The woman who volunteered to be first asked our photographer if he had a filter that would make her look 45. “I have that lens,” he joked back, “but you don’t need it.” See the Story on