Oh, Betty White, If It Wasn’t Eating Green Vegetables, How Did You Do It?
Living just weeks shy of her 100th birthday, Betty White is the hallmark of a long, healthy, and happy life. Her secret? Avoiding “anything green” and treating herself to vodka on ice she joked with People Magazine.
What Positive Psychology Teaches Us About Living a Long and Happy Life
Whether you know her for her iconic television roles, risqué sense of humor, or the hilarious Superbowl commercial, it’s no secret that Betty White accomplished more than most in her long career. Between radio shows, sitcoms, hosting and producing gigs, movie appearances, and more, she never failed to bring her fans exactly what they wanted. In fact, she loved it!
“Betty lives a life of happiness,” said her longtime friend and agent, Jeff Witjas, in an interview with People Magazine shortly before White’s passing. “She always thinks of others first, and she stays positive no matter what,” shares Witjas. White has even coined herself a “cockeyed optimist,” saying “I got it from my mama, and that never changed. I always find the positive!”
Well, it turns out that her persistent optimism, kindness towards others, and innate way of making people laugh did more than just land her an iconic career in media – it brought her a life of health, happiness, and longevity! Fortunately, we all have the ability to boost health and wellbeing by incorporating the key tenants of positive psychology into our own daily lives.
According to the study of positive psychology, happiness and well-being are the result of 30 strengths and virtues that every culture and religion throughout history has shared. And while The Golden Girl could arguably be a reflection of all, there’s a few core strengths in particular (optimism, humor, perseverance, and social responsibility) that parallel the Betty White we all know and love.
The belief in a good future is not only scientifically linked to empowerment and persistence, it also keeps you alive! Harvard University research of 70,000 female nurses found that the 25% of women who were most optimistic had a 31% reduced risk of mortality. In addition, further research shows that optimists may live nearly 15% longer than pessimists. So, what is it about optimism that makes it so impactful to our wellbeing?
Optimists experience a variety of mental and physical health benefits including reduced amounts of stress, stronger immune systems, better sleep, and healthier lifestyle choices. By better managing stress, optimists experience less inflammation reducing the risk for major disease or illness, and in turn promoting better health and longevity. It’s no wonder Betty lived so long!
In addition to her keen focus on the positive, White’s spunky humor and practically perfect comedic timing took the world right alongside her as she laughed her way through 99 years of life. When asked in 2020 what keeps her going at 98 years old, she told People Magazine that “having a sense of humor,” was key to her long and happy life. Oh, and, “also having a good agent who keeps me busy all the time,” she joked.
This may seem like a pretty big claim to make, but science certainly has her back! Research shows that humor lowers hormones such as cortisol, reducing stress, anxiety, and tension, while also promoting a sense of happiness and wellbeing. Laughter also plays a vital role in relationships, improving intimacy, communication, self-esteem, and marital satisfaction.
Looks like William James was right when he said we don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh!
After getting her foot in the door on various radio shows in her 20’s, White quickly climbed the ladder of Hollywood success launching a career where she would spend decades at the forefront of media. With each challenge, “she puts one foot in front of the other,” says Kiersten Mikelas, to People Magazine shortly before White’s passing. “The way she approaches life is ‘I’m still here, I gotta keep going.’ Betty always finds the silver lining.”
Lucky for us, her perseverance brought her, and gifted the world, a lifetime of laughter. Whether she was acting on a local radio show or hosting Saturday Night Live for millions, her ability to flourish through challenges made her a Hollywood trailblazer.
“In her own way, White acknowledged that nothing lasts forever,” says People Magazine. After her golden retriever Pontiac died in 2017 she opted not to adopt another dog, Mikelas shared. “She [didn’t] want to bring in anyone new because she [didn’t] want to leave them behind,” – a testament to both her compassion and lifelong love for animals.
Along with her legendary media career, Betty White was a passionate animal advocate, spending her time away from the screen supporting shelters, protecting animals’ interests, and even personally adopting rescues.
This genuine benevolence not only improved the lives of countless animals, it also improved her own! Research shows that altruism can reduce depression and anxiety by promoting optimism, self-empowerment, emotional regulation, and happiness. By doing ‘good’ we not only view ourselves more positively, but we also view others more positively!
As Betty White once said herself in 2011, “Kindness and consideration of somebody besides yourself keeps you feeling young.”
The Legacy of Betty White
While her 99 years are more a result of positive psychology than vegetables and vodka, Betty White’s ability to approach life with humor, optimism, and compassion will leave a legacy for lifetimes to come. She lived her life authentically, loved deeply, and never lost her sparkle!
“You don’t fall off the planet once you pass a given age. You don’t lose any of your sense of humor. You don’t lose any of your zest for life, or lust for life.” – Betty White
Are you ready to foster habits towards a long and happy life?
Our providers at Orange County Health Psychologists are eager and ready to help. Give our office a call today at 949.528.6300 or email info@OCHealthPsych.com to make your first appointment either virtually or in person.
—Written by Cassie Cipolla for Orange County Health Psychologists