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Inside the life of the world’s oldest verified human

“I only have one wrinkle,” Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, once said. “And I’m sitting on it.”
As you might surmise—just from that quote alone, Calment wasn’t the kind of woman who bit her tongue.
But, then again, when you’ve lived to see the age of 122 like Calment did, I think you’ve earned the right to be a bit cheeky.
Most would agree that a good sense of humor contributes to one’s overall quality of life. And prior to her historic passing in 1997, Calment essentially proved at least that much to be true: She didn’t take anything too seriously—including herself.
Here’s another Calment zinger: According to The Irish Times, when the crowd gathered at Calment’s nursing home to celebrate her 120th birthday back in 1995, Calment, who outlived both her daughter and grandson, revealed that she was awaiting “death and journalists.”
I read an article on Calment’s life weeks ago, and it got me thinking about the keys to contentment and longevity, which, to be fair, I tend to do this time of year anyway.
While the anticipated newness of January often prompts many to ponder and reevaluate their lives, I’ve come to feel similarly about the month of June. Some might find this odd because June is the year’s half-way point. But, when you think about it, this month often has all the makings of a This Is Your Life episode, as many of life’s biggest milestones traditionally occur within these 30 days. From graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and more, the incentive for celebrations (and new beginnings) abounds.
But back to the topic at hand, which is how to live long.
Turns out, prior to her death, Calment sat down with Jean-Marie Robine, an expert demographer who studies the links between health and longevity. And Robine narrowed down three fundamental reasons why he believed Calment lived as long as she did.

1. Wealth
It’s no surprise that having a little extra coin can make life easier, and this is a notion that Calment benefitted from having grown up in a bourgeois family in the south of France. For starters, Calment attended school until the age of 16, which was uncommon for women during that time. She also took private classes in cuisine, art, and dance until she married at age 20.

2. Not smoking —
until much later in life
Times have changed tremendously since Calment was a young woman. Robine stresses that we must consider what life was like at the end of the nineteenth century in a tiny town in the South of France. Case in point: Women weren’t allowed to smoke—until they married.
Robine says, “It was absolutely forbidden—and impossible—for a girl, and specifically in a bourgeois family, to do that.”
So, when Calment’s husband offered her a cigarette, she jumped at the chance to indulge in something that had long been considered risqué.
Enter irony: When Calment smoked for the first time, she didn’t like it and ended up quitting…until she turned 112 when she resumed the habit while living in a nursing home.

3. A full dance card
And just to clarify for younger Dispatch readers of this publication, having a full dance card means that your social life is out of this world. Robine learned that, due to Calment’s immense freedom, she spent most of her time attending social events and meeting new people. She traveled often with her husband and even (gasp!) saw the construction of Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Said Robine, “She was discovering this fascinating world at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century.”
Ahhh, to be young, rich, footloose, and fancy free. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
Many of us, unfortunately, simply can’t relate to such good fortune and are more accustomed to stomaching the grind of a 9-to-5, enduring the perils of childrearing, and having to soldier through a garden variety of life’s annoyances.
And if you fit in the latter category, there’s still hope: As a disclaimer, Robine assures, “We have to keep in mind that a big part of the longevity of Jeanne Calment is due to chance because it’s just so exceptional.”
Courtney Conover is wife, mom, yoga instructor, and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who has called Wayne home since 1995.

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