British philosopher, logician, and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) lived until the age of 98, so he had personal knowledge of matters relating to longevity.
It is a good thing that Russell, whose birthday is on May 18, was also an accomplished writer who penned a number of texts on social, political, and moral issues of his day. This talent—which won him the 1950 Nobel Prize for Literature—also allowed him to create compelling essays about the subject he knew intimately: aging.
The case in point is the advice he dished out in « How to Grow Old, » which is included in his book titled Portraits from Memory and Other Essays. Published in 1956 when Russell was 81, the essay outlines the lessons he had learned in his first eight decades of life (and no doubt carried over into the ninth one).
Not surprisingly, given Russell’s stature in the philosophical community, his insight makes a lot of good sense, even if it is sometimes offered as a tongue-in-cheek commentary.
His first piece of advice is to “choose your ancestors carefully.”
He talks about his maternal grandmother, who set a good example of adaptability to new circumstances as she grew older.
“After the age of eighty she found she had some difficulty in getting to sleep, so she habitually spent the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. in reading popular science,” he noted. “I do not believe that she ever had time to notice that she was growing old.”
Russell’s other musings on the subject run contrary to the advice of modern doctors, but lots of people can relate to his words: “I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake. I never do anything whatever on the ground that it is good for health.”
Clearly, Russell found the secret to a long life, with insights we can call truly … ageless.