Nobody grows old by living a number of years

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind,” Samuel Ullman wrote in the late 1800s.
At the time, Ullman already was past age 70. Furthermore, his hearing loss had forced him to retire from his business.
But his retirement afforded him an opportunity to pursue his lifelong passion: writing poetry.
No wonder Ullman wrote “youth is a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.”
He had made a fresh start and he had lots of enthusiasm for his new profession.
I first read Ullman’s poem on a poster in the exercise room after swimming, years ago. Since I already believed that “youth is a state of mind,” I was fascinated and read on.
“Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years,” wrote Ullman. “We grow old by deserting our ideals.”
So long as we receive “messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.”
“Youth” was a favourite of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. When he became Allied Commander of Japan after World War II, he had a poster of Ullman’s poem on the wall of his Tokyo office.
And he often quoted from the poem is his speeches.
Gen. MacArthur’s influence gave the poem popularity throughout Japan. And Ullman’s poem provided the Japanese people the hope and spiritual energy to pursue rebuilding their lives.
As a result, Ullman’s hometown of Birmingham, Ala. has become something of a shrine for Japanese visitors.
These hoards of visitors wanted to know more about Ullman’s life and where he worked. Their interest led to a joint fundraising effort between Japan and the U.S. to purchase and renovate Ullman’s home.
His home now has become a museum operated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Samuel Ullman was way ahead of his time. He advocated progressive actions that were neither fashionable nor popular. He took courageous stands on behalf of laborers, women, and children.
Ullman served on the board of one of the nation’s earliest units of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He served on the board of education for many years.
As president, he succeeded in providing the first high school for Birmingham’s black children.
He was elected as a lay rabbi in Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El. While in that position, he led the congregation in giving the women of the temple full membership and privileges.
It was only natural that he would take on the issue of ageism. When Ullman wrote “Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind,” he already had exceeded the life expectancy of his time by almost 30 years.
He was an old man. Yet he wrote, “Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” And when “your spirit is covered with the snow of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at 20.”
But Ullman knew for sure that nobody grows old just by living a certain number of years.
Said Ullman, “As long as you catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at 80.”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at