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Life Lessons From Queen Elizabeth II

At 94, the world's longest-reigning monarch still follows these 10 rules

As Groucho Marx once said, “Anyone can get old — all you have to do is to live long enough."

Aging well is another matter entirely, and that is a trick Queen Elizabeth II has mastered. At age 94, she is the longest-reigning monarch in British history, a fact that can't be attributed entirely to either genetics or privilege. Imperial decadence ruined the body mass and mobility of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, turning her into “a big round ball on wobbly legs,” according to contemporaries. The enormous strain of the monarchy contributed to the death of Elizabeth's father, George VI — pressures that continue to test each new member of the Windsor “firm” today.

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All of which makes Elizabeth II's ability to run the monarchy since 1952 a royal anomaly. World famous since birth, she has worked harder than any of her predecessors — more than 40 hours a week in her 90th year — without the slightest reliable report of her collapsing under the stress, shirking her endless duties or losing her temper. I spent more than a year investigating the mystery of her resilience for my new book, Long Live the Queen; here are just a few of the secrets I discovered.

Queen Elizabeth ll has a cup of tea while in Northern Ireland on a royal visit in 1977.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

1. Recharge your willpower

Elizabeth II's self-control appears limitless because she takes time to replenish it — grasping, as research shows, that willpower is akin to a battery that requires routine recharging. Teatime is that crucial interval for the queen: a sacred break in her hectic day when she rests for a quiet hour with a fragrant pot of Earl Grey or Darjeeling, and something sugary.

Princess Elizabeth working on her studies at a desk in Windsor Castle.
Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images

2. Stick to a schedule

From her first day as queen, Elizabeth has calmed her mind by following a strict daily regimen, ending each day by writing in her journal.

Queen Elizabeth II on a royal visit in Canada in 1984.
Erin Combs/Toronto Star via Getty Images

3. Develop your sense of purpose

The queen lives for something larger than herself — her country. Studies show having a dedicated cause helps immunity and reduces one's risk of Alzheimer's.

Queen Elizabeth II receiving a bouquet from a small native girl, watched by the Duke of Edinburgh and others, during the Royal Tour of Sierra Leone in 1961.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

4. Serve others

The patron of hundreds of charities, Elizabeth II believes that giving herself to good causes can do “as much as anything … to help me put my own worries into perspective.” Her reward: an infusion of an anti-inflammatory hormone.

Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh celebrates his 99th birthday. He was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10th 1921. - File Photo by: zz/KGC-107/STAR MAX/IPx 2018 6/24/18 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal Windsor Cup Final at the Guards Polo Club and the British Driving Society Annual Show at Smith's Lawn in Windsor Great Park.
Associated Press Photo

5. Sweeten the self-talk

"I find that I can often put things out of my mind which are disagreeable,” the queen once said. So-called purposeful repressors — people who consciously dial down negative mind chatter — benefit from a kind of psychological armor. As Elizabeth II observed at one point, “The trouble with gloom is that it feeds upon itself."


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Queen Elizabeth II in Grenada during a Royal Tour of the West Indies in 1966.
Illustrated London News/Mary Evans

6. Brush aside vanity

From the beginning of her reign, the queen has made a deliberate effort to practice what behavioral psychologists call self-distancing. She can, with a complete lack of vanity, comb through a daily onslaught of personal stories in the tabloids and still remain a detached and, frequently, amused spectator.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit a farm on the Balmoral estate in Scotland, during their Silver Wedding anniversary year, September 1972.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. Never stop playing

Elizabeth II still takes time, almost every day, to play as she loved to as a child (specifically, with horses). Doing so has kept her muscles active and her mind remarkably agile, thanks to play's unique ability to suspend the brain in a youthful, flexible state.

(L-R) Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Queen Elizabeth II and Stuart Blanche,  Archbishop of York, walk from Westminster Abbey to Chruch House for the opening of the General Synod.
Keystone Pictures USA

8. Keep the faith

The queen attends church every Sunday and prays every night before bed, grounding rites that have been an essential component of her iconic resilience. Whatever worries the world throws at her, she believes there is a higher throne on which to lay them.

Queen Elizabeth II watches robots in action at Berlin's University of Technology on the second day of a four day State Visit on June 24, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.
Arthur Edwards/Pool/Getty Images

9. Be open to change

At an age when many find it hard to accept altered conditions, Elizabeth II has never stopped learning and adapting. “Change has become a constant,” she remarked in 2002. “The way we embrace it defines our future.”

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attend a service to mark the 50th anniversary of Christian Aid at Westminster Abbey, London. They arrive in her Rolls Royce car.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

10. Cherish your crowning years

Elizabeth II smiles more nowadays and is more warmly approachable than ever. All of this supports the scientific phenomenon known as the U-bend of life — the discovery that the world's happiest people tend to be those who are in their 80s and beyond.