Emiliano Mercado del Toro: The Power of Laughter
Episode #4 of the course Secrets to a long life: A study of the world’s oldest people by John Robin
Welcome back to our course on long life!
Yesterday we met Sarah Knauss and explored the importance of developing inner peace of mind, and calm acceptance, to decrease stress and its compromising effects on health as we age. Today, we are going to continue our journey, by way of studying another one of the top supercentenarian men.
This will take us to Puerto Rico to learn about him.
Emiliano Mercado del Toro: Laughing Your Way to 115
Among men, only three have ever made it past age 114.
The oldest, Jiroemon Kimura, we met in Lesson 2. He is the only man to make it to 116.
The second oldest, Christian Mortensen, was the first man to reach 115. And today’s supercentenarian, Emiliano Mercado del Toro, was the second.
Like Jiroemon, Emiliano’s record will hold for the next few years at least, since presently, as of December 2020, the oldest living men are all 111.
Emiliano was born on August 21, 1891. At this time, Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony. He was 7 years old when the U.S. invaded, ending Spain’s colonial rule in the Americas. At the age of 27, in 1918, he was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in World War I, though he was still training when the armistice was declared later that year.
His life did not attract a lot of attention until he was 110 when he ran in a veterans’ parade and attracted the interest of longevity researchers. In November 2004, 11 days short of turning 114, Emiliano became the world’s oldest living man, after the current oldest man, Fred Hale, died. However, it was not until January of 2005, following an extensive investigation by the Gerontology Research Group, that Emiliano became officially, at age 113, the oldest living man.
When Elizabeth Bolden died, on December 11, 2006, at age 116 and 118 days, that left Emiliano as the oldest person alive in the world. He would go on to hold that record for another 6 weeks, until his death, 156 days past his 115th birthday.
Emiliano’s Longevity Lesson
Emiliano did think he had a secret to long life. It was a dish called funche, a creamy recipe made of boiled corn, cod, and milk, and he ate a little of it every day. He also claimed his sense of humor helped.
Emiliano never married, and never had any children. This, though, was not from any lack of romantic interest. He did have three “girlfriends”, as he put it and, he admitted when he was 82, he was in a bordello, when its owner was shot in a now-notorious drug-related homicide. When asked what he was doing there, he said, “Praying… or at least I was when the bullets started flying!”
This detail is quite important when considering patterns in longevity, as it is a common myth that the secret to a long life is having many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, providing love and support, and motivation for you to live a long time. Yet Emiliano had none of this and not only did he live until 115, but he also had fun in his single life.
It’s in our nature to take life too seriously. This again is down to how our brain is wired for survival.
You have no doubt heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Consider how you might take this advice seriously, like a doctor’s prescription. In fact, taking this medicine will help to further combat the stress we talked about in yesterday’s lesson.
Here is how you do it:
Pay attention to when you are being serious. Try to catch yourself in one of these moments—it won’t be hard because our days are full of them!
When you notice this, laugh. It’s as simple as that!
This laugh shouldn’t be forced, or awkward. Instead, it should come from the heart, just like a genuine smile.
Everyone has a unique laugh. Try to discover yours.
Learning to laugh when you catch yourself being serious may feel weird the first few times, but eventually, as you train yourself in this practice, it will become as natural as learning to smile when you catch yourself frowning. In fact, you will likely find that laughter and smiling often work together.
I have practiced this for some time and find that, almost always, when I notice I am feeling tense and serious, and I summon my natural laugh, it’s contagious. People respond with their natural laugh as well, and what might have turned into an argument full of heavy sighing and drawn-out silences instead turns into a lighthearted moment.
The more you learn to do this, the more you can learn to laugh inside, smile inside, and develop a stronger sense of amusement and fun in your daily life, just like Emiliano. This laughter is the best medicine, and if you can learn to embrace it, you’ll be on your way to a long and happy life that does not depend on circumstances.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we will move on to another lesson focused on an inside-out approach to longevity.
Earth’s Elders: The Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Jerry Freedman
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