Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper: Wisdom on Complaining
Episode #7 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 Yisrael Kristal and explored his secret to longevity.
At this point, we can start looking for a pattern in the supercentenarians we have studied. If we had to find just one word to describe the lesson we’ve learned from everyone so far it would be:
• Jeanne Calment: determination
• Jiroemon Kimura: discipline
• Sarah Knauss: calmness
• Emiliano Mercado: laughter
• Violet Brown: acceptance
• Yisrael Kristal: resilience
What do you think one word might be to describe all six of these traits?
Think that question over—we will dive into it tomorrow!
Today, we’re going to lay the path to the answer as we learn about today’s supercentenarian, which will take us to the Netherlands.
Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper: 115 Fearless Years
I told you yesterday we would have a look at the general breakdown for longevity for women. Let’s do that as a preface for today’s lesson.
So far, in our study of female supercentenarians, we have seen that:
• Only one woman made it past 120, Jeanne Calment.
• One made it to 119, Sarah Knauss.
• Seven made it to 117—we met one of them, Violet Brown.
Twelve made it to 116. Compare this to men, of which the only one made it to 116—our second lesson’s Jiroemon Kimura.
Twenty-nine made it to 115. Compare this to men, of which only two made it to that age.
As of the publication date of this course, nearly 100 women have made it to 114. Compare this to men, of which only four made it that far.
You can already see the list of oldest living women is staggeringly large compared to that of men. We could go on:
• More than 200 women have made it to 113, vs only 11 men.
• Nearly 400 women have made it to 112, vs only 25 men.
• Nearly 800 women have made it to 111, vs only 56 men.
There are well over 1000 women who have made it to 110, while only about 80 men have attained this age.
For this reason, we have lots to pick from, when focusing on women! But I’ve searched for the one that will give us more clues in our quest to understand the secrets to a long life.
This brings us to Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper. Born June 29, 1890, she holds the record as the longest-lived person from the Netherlands, making it to 115 and 62 days.
Her start of life was not one that would have hinted she had 115 years ahead of her. Born prematurely, she was expected not to survive. But she received love and care from her grandmother and made it through. She managed to live for many years, making it to 100, at which age she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy. She was not expected to survive, but did, and lived for another 15 years, dying peacefully in her sleep. Despite frailty in her old age, she remained sharp and alert, right up to her last days.
Hendrikje’s Longevity Lesson
Hendrikje was part of a longevity study, which concluded her secret to longevity may come from her stem cells, which helped her fight off infection. However, the study’s head researcher, Henne Holstege, admitted it’s quite a leap to conclude this could apply generally as a life extension technique.
One other thing Holstege did offer though, was that, in his study of people over 100, he did find one pattern. “They say that when something bad happens, they focus on something positive so that they don’t allow negative things that occur to have an impact on them,” he said in an email interview. “It is something that I find unites these persons.”
Hendrikje embodied this. Whenever something bad happened, she would say, “There’s no point in moaning.”
Even regarding her death, Hendrikje demonstrated this principle. One of her final comments, in the days before her death, was, “It’s been nice, but the man upstairs says it’s time to go.”
Hendrikje’s wisdom can be paraphrased: “Stop complaining.”
Though this might seem like a one-time chastisement, it’s more complicated than that.
It’s in our nature to see what’s wrong with the world. But you can learn to gradually train your mind, to become more mindful of when you are complaining, and instead ask, “What would Hendrikje do?”
“Stop complaining” is not a simple, one-time fix, but rather, a lifelong practice. It is a mantra you can keep tucked away in your mind, and work on it every day, many times a day. Slowly, let go of worry and shift your focus away from its inherent negativity—towards positivity.
One thing you might find—and I have discovered this myself in my practice—is that, for all the negative in life, there is a whole universe of positive, and it is far more abundant. So, not only will this lifelong practice help you let go of negativity, it will tap you into the perspective of just how beautiful and wonderful the world is, and how wonderful it is to be alive in it, for whatever blessed years you might have, before “the man upstairs says it’s time to go.”
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s lesson, which will take us to Italy!
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