Sarah Knauss: Developing Inner Calm
Episode #3 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 Jiroemon Kimura and explored how to develop discipline in the diet by reducing intake to 80%. Today, we are going to continue learning about the secrets to long life, by way of another record-holding supercentenarian.
This will take us to the US to learn about her.
Sarah Knauss: 119 Years of Happiness
When she died in her Pennsylvania nursing home on December 30, 1999, Sarah Knauss had descendants spanning six generations, including a daughter, Kathryn, who was 96. Sarah was born September 24, 1880, and, at age 119, and 97 days, was but 2 days shy of having lived to see the turning of two centuries, and the new millennium.
Like Jeanne Calment, the Gerontology Research Group was able to verify her age with great certainty, due to the fact she grew up in the US, in Pennsylvania, where annual censuses were conducted from 1890 and onward. Though a fire destroyed all the 1890 records, the 1891 census made reference to the 1890 results, mentioning a 10-year-old Sarah. Further, she was mentioned as 19 in the January 1900 US Census, and her marriage record, in August 1901, lists her age as 21. Her age is mentioned without contradiction in subsequent censuses from 1910 and 1930.
There is no denying that, when she died, Sarah Knauss was indeed a mere 3 years short of beating the all-time record holder, Jeanne Calment.
She was 13 when Henry Ford built the first car, and 32 when the Titanic sank. She was in her 80s when the Vietnam War broke out. She was 88 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
This remarkable woman, who died just before the year 2000, was alive before the invention of the ballpoint pen and local anesthesia.
In total, she lived for 43,530 days.
Sarah’s Longevity Lesson
Sarah’s family attributed her long life to her ability to be calm. Even the most difficult events never surprised her much. She was known for her smiles and laughter and rarely got angry. According to one of her nurse’s aides, she had “an attitude of live and let go.”
For example, when she officially became the oldest living person, in 1998, when Marie-Louise Meilleur, the current record-holder, died at 117, Sarah’s response was: “So what?”
Indeed, were she around to comment on the fact she died a mere two days from seeing the new millennium, her response would have likely been the same.
When she died in her room, her nurses reported she was “not ill.” In fact, they had stopped to see her an hour before, at 2 pm, and she seemed fine. She died peacefully, sitting up in her chair in her room.
Like Jeanne Calment, Sarah did not observe a restrictive diet to prolong her life. For her 119th birthday, for example, she had a butterscotch sundae and chocolate truffles for dessert.
Sarah’s lesson highlights the importance of achieving inner calm. Numerous studies in different fields of health point to stress as a trigger for diseases that often result in early death, such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. While no one study can conclude, without doubt, that stress itself causes the onset of these diseases, there are remarkable correlations between high reported stress and life-shortening illnesses.
It’s not necessary to prove that stress causes early death. Instead, what’s critical is that today, right now, regardless of what age you are or your current state of health, you can decide to start working on developing inner calm, and by way of this, reduce the continued damage of stress and worry on health.
We spend lots of our thinking time reacting to anger or worry. These two roots of thought are deeply embedded in our survival brain and are two major culprits behind chronic stress.
On the other hand, connecting to calmness, acceptance, and letting go of worry and anger, reduces chronic stress. One develops peace of mind, not just in happy moments, but even in moments that would make most people unhappy.
Like Sarah, start learning to say, “So what?” to anything that comes your way.
When you decide to start working on developing an attitude of calmness, acceptance, and letting go, you will also be working on lowering stress that underlies numerous facets of poor health.
The path to long life, by way of Sarah’s lesson, lies not in food intake or daily habits, but rather, in our internal world, and in our own commitment to fostering peace of mind. This requires a willingness to analyze your feelings of anger and worry. Indeed, it is worth making this a discipline you practice regularly. This discipline will help you to unpack these two harmful feelings, let go of them, and gain insight into what they really mean. It helps you accumulate greater acceptance and ultimately, calmness, as the days of your life unfold.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we will be heading to the Caribbean to meet our next supercentenarian!
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