What 90-Somethings Love Most and Regret Most About Their Lives
There's nothing like the life advice and old age wisdom of people in their 90s.
Life moves fast, and it's easy to get so caught up in day-to-day obligations and distractions that we lose sight of the big picture. That's why it's so valuable to spend some time chatting with those who are older than us—people who have experienced the ups and downs of life, but who have enough distance to give them a clear perspective on what really matters. With that in mind, we sought out the insight of those with some of the longest, richest life experience of anyone out there: 90-somethings (and, in a few cases, those who have already hit 100). Here, they offer the things they love most and regret most about their very full lives.
What they love: Learning from everything
In 2017, then-94-year-old Jean Miller, from Falkirk, U.K., spoke with The Guardian about the importance of learning, whether you are 9 years old or 90. "Life is an education and if you don't learn as [you] go along then that's bad," she said. "I've learned to see things in a different way over time."
Miller described taking exercise classes, German lessons, and enrolling in the continuing-education organization University of the Third Age. She emphasized that the constant search for new knowledge and experience is what helped give her long life its richness, and kept her feeling young as she honed in on 100.
What they regret: Not loving more
When writer and minister Lydia Sohn interviewed a number of people in their 90s as part of a 2018 writing project, she said that she expected some would regret that they had not had more professional accomplishments. But when she asked one older gentleman if he wished he had done more in his career, he told her that was not the case at all: "No, I wish I'd loved more," he told her.
What they love: A good dinner with friends or family
We can be so busy in our lives that getting a few friends together for dinner or sitting around the table with our family can sometimes seem like a lot to ask, but in the long run, those are likely the moments that we will value most, according to then-91-year-old Sheila Keating, who told The Guardian in 2017, "My biggest pleasures include having supper with friends and family."
What they regret: Not fostering better sibling relationships for their children
In Sohn's conversations with 90-somethings, she found that "most of their regrets revolved around their families. They wished relationships, either with their children or between their children, turned out differently." One woman Sohn spoke with described how her two children hadn't seen or spoken to each other for more than two decades, which she said was the "single thing keeping her up at night."
What they love: Time spent with their kids
According to Sohn, the 90-somethings she spoke with consistently cited the times when their children were younger and living at home as some of the happiest moments in their lives. "'Weren't those the most stressful times of your lives?'" Sohn would ask. "'Yes, of course,' they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest."
What they regret: Not staying fit
Obviously, someone who has lived to reach their 90s is doing something right, but then-90-year-old New Jersey native Krishnamoorty Dasu told The Guardian in 2017 that if he could give his younger self advice, "it would be to keep your mind and body fit by reading and rumination and through walking exercises." He also added that eating in moderation is something he wished he'd done more of.
What they love: Being useful
Dasu also added that the times he most enjoyed in life were when he could "be useful to [himself] and to others." This backs up numerous studies, including 2017 research published in the journal Nature that found people feel happier after doing something generous. Often it's the moments when we prove useful to others that we feel best—and it's those times we'll look back on with the most fondness in old age.
What they regret: Taking vitamins
Vitamins are supposed to have all sorts of health benefits to keep you (and your eyes, muscles, heart, you name it) going strong. But at least one 100-year-old doctor, Ephraim Engleman, MD, who spoke to NBC in 2011, didn't recommend adding healthy pills to one's daily diet. "The use of vitamins? Forget it," he said at the time. "I don't encourage going to a lot of doctors either."
What they love: Doing peaceful work
One of the most consistent things you'll hear from those in their 90s is to value your time with the people you love and not spend too much time working. At 99, Don Anderson told The Guardian in 2017 that the key to being happy is finding "something peaceful to do" for a living. "The biggest lesson is to take life in a measured and relaxed way, not to rush or worry too much about things," he said.
What they regret: Not starting to save earlier
While few 90-somethings describe wishing they'd worked more, plenty say they wish they'd saved more—and earlier. That was the opinion of Pam Zeldin, a then-94-year-old living in Manchester, U.K., who told The Guardian that the advice she'd give her younger self was, "Start as early as you can to make yourself financially stable for when you get older, so that you don't have to worry."
What they love: Doing work that helps others
While many 90-somethings dismiss all the toil they did for their 9-to-5 job, those who did work that really impacted others look back on those moments with warmth. For example, nurse Daniella Ruiz, RN, wrote for the Methuselah Foundation about a former firefighter named Howie, who told her he thought back often on his days fighting fires.
"I think about the boys, all of us working together to save lives, save homes, save each other. We were some team," the then-90-year-old described. "Remember the time I went back in three times for those kids, one under each arm? Yeah, I remember that."
What they regret: Staying home
Though Zeldin spent plenty of time seeing the world, she told The Guardian that a piece of advice she'd give herself is "don't just sit in the house" and to "travel as much as you possibly can." You don't hear too many people saying they wished they'd spent less time exploring the world and all it has to offer.
What they love: Celebrating for no reason
We often get caught up in only celebrating specific occasions: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. But when looking back on their favorite moments, older people couldn't care less why they were having a party—they just remember the celebration. As one then-100-year-old woman named Ruth told Ari Cohen in 2011, "Don't look at the calendar, just keep celebrating every day."
What they regret: Not investing in quality
It takes someone who's lived a century to appreciate the value of things that are built to last. Ruth also urged that younger people "invest in quality pieces, they never go out of style," noting that something that's cheap or of low quality is going to disappoint you soon enough.
What they love: Making friends
Some of the things 90-somethings look back on with the fondest of memories are the friendships they made and maintained over the years. As 94-year-old Betty C. of Gulf Coast Village Retirement Community in southwest Florida said earlier in 2020, her best advice is to "make friendships."
What they regret: Worrying
Betty C.'s other pearl of wisdom? "It's best to always remember to smile and don't worry because worrying is pointless!"
What they love: Learning about where they came from
Another member of the Gulf Coast Village community, 93-year-old Lori L., says one of the most gratifying feelings was finding out where she came from. She learned she was adopted and raised by another family on a farm in North Dakota after being born to a young mother who was not able to care for her. Now, Lori urges others to "find your past family history, starting with [your] grandparents."
What they regret: Retiring early
Stressing about work is no fun, but neither is losing one's sense of focus or purpose. When Japanese physician Shigeaki Hinohara talked to The Japan Times in 2009 at the age of 97, he said, "There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65."
What they love: Whisky and cigarettes
You might not expect that someone partial to these habits would make it much further than retirement age, but take a look at then-100-year-old Dorothy Howe's secret for a long and enjoyable life, as she told the Daily Mail in 2013: "I put my health down to whisky and cigarettes. I only drink when I'm out, but my doctor said I wouldn't be alive without them. I'm still alive, and I can lift my elbows—it's great."
What they regret: Caring about material things
Hinohara also told The Japan Times that when it comes to a good life, "don't be crazy about amassing material things." He added, "Remember, you don't know when your number is up, and you can't take it with you to the next place."