Merle O'Hara shares how to find the joy in life.

My 108-year-old grandmother, Merle O’Hara, has beaten the odds: She has lived 61 years past average life expectancy, which was 47 years of age at the turn of the 20th century. Because of her long life, she has seen two global wars change the world. Watched the rise and fall of fascism in Europe, plus the rise and fall of communism in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. She has experienced Spanish Flu, the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties and the hardships of the Great Depression that followed. Over her lifetime many new countries have been created, and travel has become common, thanks to the advent of commercial flight. A man has walked on the moon, and she was able to watch because of the invention of television. The power of technology has reshaped the world since her birth. Telephones have become mobile and “smart,” while personal computers and the Internet have put the world at people’s fingertips. This is her remarkable journey.

A couple of years ago I asked my grandmother what she attributes her long life to. Basically, how did she beat the odds?

Here are five lessons she can teach us:

1. Have passion: One of the most important things I have learned from my grandmother  is: Have a passion in life. For her, there is no greater joy than her boys—the Vancouver Canucks. Forget avid follower; she is a raving fan of this National Hockey League team. In fact, I’m sure that in her mind, she is part of the team.

2. Be adaptable: My grandmother has learned to adapt to the challenges life has thrown at her—from the loss of a beloved husband, to a partial loss of vision, to COVID-19. No matter what happens, she adapts and moves forward.

3. Remain positive: Due to a mild stroke several years ago, my grandmother lost vision in one eye and transitioned to using a wheelchair. Asked what she thought of her wheelchair, she explained that it was a new exercise tool and she was learning the ways in which to use it. She is always positive, especially now.

4. Love: I have never seen my grandmother raise her voice or become angry, and I’m sure I’ve given her many reasons to do so over the years. On the contrary, she has always showered me and my family with love. She is a giver not a taker, and her generous spirit influences how she leads her life.

5. Enjoy the ride: My grandmother always seems to be enjoying life, even during COVID-19 lockdowns. No doubt she, like all of us, wishes she had done some things differently, but she does not seem to worry about them. She experiences each day as it comes, with a twinkle in her eye, a smile on her lips and serenity in her heart. Is there a better way to experience life’s journey?


  • Colin Milner


    International Council on Active Aging

    Colin Milner is CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and founder of the active-aging industry in North America. A leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult, he has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of “the most innovative and influential minds” in the world on aging-related topics.   An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 300 articles. He has been published in such journals as Global Policy, and the Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics. He also contributed a chapter to Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise? (World Economic Forum).   Milner’s speeches have stimulated thousands of business and government leaders, industry professionals and older adults worldwide. Whether Fortune 100 companies or governmental organizations, his efforts have inspired a broad spectrum of groups to seek his counsel, included amongst these is the World Health Organization, European Commission, White House Conference on Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Administration on Aging, National Institute on Aging, Canadian Special Senate Committee on Aging, The Canadian Minister of State (Seniors), National Health Services - Scotland, OECD, Vancouver Olympics, Deloitte Life Sciences & Health Care, Ernst and Young, New Balance, Leprino Foods, and Apple, Inc.   Milner’s efforts have leading-edge publications, television networks and radio stations seeking his insights. Among these outlets are: CNN, BBC, Newsmax, US News and World Report, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Dow Jones Market Watch, Money Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, National Post, Globe and Mail, Parade Magazine, WebMD and Fox Business Radio.