A 90-Year-Old’s Ten Rules for a Healthy and Happy Life

Posted 05.16.2016

One of the more revealing regular features in The New York Times is a little story they run each week called Sunday Routine. In it, someone, usually famous or notable in some way, walks the reader through what a typical Sunday in New York City is like for them. Quite often they have packed so many activities into their Sunday that I leave with the impression that what they’ve actually described is their fantasy of a perfect 48 hour Sunday in New York rather than what they really do.

And then this week, Stanley Turkel shared his Sunday Routine. You may be asking yourself, “Who is Stanley Turkel? Isn’t he that guy who wrote some books and did a lot of interviews about life in America?” No, that was the late Studs Terkel. Unless you work in the hotel industry, you probably haven’t heard of Stanley Turkel. Alive and exceedingly well at age 90, Stanley spent a big part of his career building out the Sheraton Hotel chain around the world. Today, he’s working on his fifth book about the hotel business and is consulting to the industry on guest safety issues.

If you want to feel grateful for and inspired about life, you need to read Stanley’s story about his typical Sunday. I’ve read it about four times now because it makes me feel good and I learn something different every time I read it. I’ve distilled those lessons down into Stanley’s Ten Rules for a Happy and Healthy Life. Here they are:

  1. Get up and get going – Stanley wakes up everyday, including Sundays, at 6:30 AM. He has a lot of things he wants to do during the day and getting up early gives him more time to do them.
  2. Have rituals – After he washes up, Stanley turns on his favorite classical music radio station and prepares his breakfast. He also looks at all of the pictures in his house of his children, grandchildren and his late wife, Rima, and says “good morning to my family.”
  3. Eat well – Stanley has been very intentional about his diet for the past 50 years. For him, that means very little red meat and limiting his sugar intake.
  4. Keep working – After breakfast, Stanley spends a few hours on his work. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but it’s pretty clear that his work keeps him engaged with life and gives him a sense of purpose and contribution.
  5. Keep learning – Stanley has a favorite Sunday lunch hang-out where he always reads through The New York Review of Books while he’s eating. He explains that the NYRB is his “favorite magazine of all time… It gives me exposure to new worlds.”
  6. Keep moving – After lunch, Stanley walks about a mile to visit with his 103 year old friend, Leo Gottlieb.
  7. Make new friends – After noticing him reading a Kindle in the park, Stanley introduced himself to Leo a couple of years after Rima died. They talk about books they’re reading. Stanley also brings Leo articles he thinks he’d be interested in.
  8. Build new skills – On Sunday evenings, Stanley usually makes his own dinner. After Rima died, he learned to cook for himself. In assessing his culinary skills, he says “You wouldn’t hire me to be your chef, but I’ve learned enough and have confidence in myself to make a decent meal.”
  9. Have some fun – After dinner, Stanley likes to catch up on politics on MSNBC and then watch the Golden State Warriors on TV because he thinks they’re “wonderful” and that the Knicks “aren’t very good.” He also enjoys baseball and follows the Yankees.
  10. Get enough sleep – Stanley goes to bed around 10:30 PM. If you do the math, you’ll find that he’s getting eight hours of sleep before he wakes up at 6:30 the next morning to start another day.

Thanks, Stanley, for sharing your story and demonstrating that living a long, healthy and happy life rests in large part on following routines that enable you to show up at your best. Go, Stanley, go!