Betty White's Guide to Life, in 20 Quotes

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images / Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Hollywood lost one of its most beloved icons on December 31, 2021, with the death of Betty White. The five-time Emmy winner was best known for her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot In Cleveland, but accrued more than 120 credits over her career, which spanned more than 75 years.

In addition to her work as an actor, White was known for using language to masterful (and often surprising) effect. As such, it seems only fitting that we pay tribute to the show business legend by sharing some of her wisest words and one-liners.

1. Never take a friendship for granted.

"Friendship takes time and energy if it's going to work. You can luck into something great, but it doesn't last if you don't give it proper appreciation. Friendship can be so comfortable, but nurture it—don't take it for granted.”

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

2. Mind your own business.

"I don't care who anybody sleeps with ... I don't know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don't worry about other people so much."

—From a 2010 interview with Parade Magazine

3. Don’t be afraid to create your own definition of “healthy.”

“I’m a health nut. My favorite food is hot dogs with French fries. And my exercise: I have a two-story house and a very bad memory, so I’m up and down those stairs.”

—From a 2012 interview with The New York Times.

4. Find a way to leave a mark.

"Everybody needs a passion. That’s what keeps life interesting. If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.”

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

5. Always make time to pursue your passions.

“I’ve worked with the Morris Animal Foundation for over 50 years, I’ve worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for over 50 years. The Morris Animal Foundation is an animal health organization, and we fund humane studies into specific health problems—dogs, cats, horses and zoo and wildlife. And at one point, I said nobody was addressing pain in animals … I said, okay, I’ll start it. And so, bless their hearts, they sent out these brochures about anybody wanting to research that and study it. And now, there’s not a scientific study that Morris Animal Foundation funds—and they fund hundreds—that doesn’t have pain medication built into the research. And I think I’m happiest about that.”

—From a 2012 interview with Momtastic

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6. Finding love isn’t easy.

“I’ve always liked older men. They’re just more attractive to me. Of course, at my age there aren’t that many left!”

—From a 2010 interview with Parade Magazine

7. Chivalry is a disappearing quality, and one worth saving.

“If you're walking with your lady on the sidewalk, I still like to see a man walking street-side, to protect the lady from traffic. I grew up with that, and I hate to see something like that get lost. I still like to see that a man opens the door. I like those touches of chivalry that are fast disappearing. If I sound old-fashioned, it's because I'm as old as I am! But it's just polite.”

—From a 2011 Q&A with the Chicago Tribune

8. Integrity is not an innate quality.

"You don't luck into integrity. You work at it."

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

9. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief.

“There's no formula. Keep busy with your work and your life. You can't become a professional mourner. It doesn't help you or others. Keep the person in your heart all the time. Replay the good times. Be grateful for the years you had.”

—From a 2011 interview with Time Goes By

10. Never underestimate the power of maintaining a sense of humor.

"It's your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don't take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find the humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver.”

—From a 2011 Q&A with the Chicago Tribune

11. To tell a dirty joke you must first understand the art behind it.

“Well, I mean, if a joke or humor is bawdy, it's got to be funny enough to warrant it. You can't just have it bawdy or dirty just for the sake of being that—it's got to be funny.”

—From a 2012 interview with HuffPost

12. Gravity is inevitable.

“Gravity has taken over. So there’s not much I can do about it … My problem with [plastic surgery] is you’ll go to a women’s press conference or something like that, and old friends will come up and I kind of don’t recognize them. I recognize the voice, but I don’t—all of a sudden, there’s this whole new face that I don’t know who that is.”

—From a 2010 interview on CNN with Joy Behar

14. Keep an open mind and always stay curious.

“Don’t try to be young,” she told The AP. “Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them."

—From a 2010 interview with the Associated Press

15. Longevity is a privilege.

“I had no idea that I would still be around at this point for one thing, but that I’d still be privileged enough to still be in this business. And it is such a privilege. And the bottom line I think to the television business is that unless you’re a real bad egg, it is such fun. It really is. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

—From her 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards

16. Always be able to look yourself in the mirror.

"You can lie to anyone in the world and even get away with it, perhaps, but when you are alone and look into your own eyes in the mirror, you can’t sidestep the truth. Always be sure you can meet those eyes directly. Otherwise, it’s big trouble, my girl.”

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

17. Regrets are a waste of time.

“I have no regrets at all. None. I consider myself to be the luckiest old broad on two feet.”

—From a 2013 interview with Guinness World Records

18. Age is just a number.

“You’re never too old for anything.”

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

19. Sleep is overrated.

"I don't seem to require a lot of sleep ... If I get four, five good hours, I'm fine. But sleeping is sort of dull. There's a lot of other good stuff that you can do without just lying down and closing your eyes."

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

20. Every day is a gift.

“However, if one is lucky enough to be blessed with good health, growing older shouldn’t be something to complain about. It’s not a surprise, we knew it was coming—make the most of it. So you may not be as fast on your feet, and the image in your mirror may be a little disappointing, but if you are still functioning and not in pain, gratitude should be the name of the game.”

―From Betty White's 2011 memoir, If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won't)

A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.