Lessons on happiness from a 108 year old!

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Alice Herz Sommer is a remarkable woman. She is a Jewish holocaust survivor who in spite of her experiences has an incredibly positive view on life. This 13 minute video was filmed in London 3 weeks before her 108th birthday!

The narrator makes a powerful claim that “Alice experiences more joy in an average day than most people experience in a lifetime!” She was apparently swimming everyday until she was 97 and even now practices the piano  3 hours a day.
As I watched the video it struck me how happy and cheerful she continues to be in spite of her past and her current frailty.

What is the secret to happiness for this remarkable woman? Alice attributes it to two lessons her mother taught her:

1. Complaining does not change people or circumstances.

2. Learn to be thankful for even the apparently smallest of things.

The following simple comments by Alice are, in the light of her age and experience, a powerful challenge to all of us no matter what our personal context:

“I know about the bad things, but I look to where it is good.”

“I never hate. We are all sometimes good and sometimes bad.”

On being asked, did you not have pain when you were in the concentration camp?

“I was always laughing. We were laying for 2 years on the floor with my son and he saw me laughing. How can a child not laugh when the mother laughs?”

Alice attributed a lot of her ability to cope through her circumstances to her opportunities to play music: “When we can play, it can’t be so terrible.”

“Sometimes it happens that I am thankful to have been there – because I am richer than other people. My reaction to life is very different. People complain, ‘this is terrible.’ Its not so terrible.”

This powerful video illustrates how happiness (or maybe we should call it joy) does not have to depend on circumstances. Rather it is a choice. For me it is a sober, but also heart-touching reminder that I have a lot more control of my feelings and emotions than I think I have or rather tell myself that I have.

(For more on the role of choices see the posts The Importance of Right Attitude Part 1 and How Do I Cope with Stress in my Life? Part 4. A video on my own struggle with depression and negativity in my life is available here).

For more details about Alice and a recent film that has come out about her see here.

How does this video speak to you? What thoughts or comments particularly speak to or resonate with you?

It would be great to have your thoughts and comments below


8 thoughts on “Lessons on happiness from a 108 year old!”

  1. Hi Sunil

    What an amazingly inspiring woman.
    I was interested by your comment ‘This powerful video illustrates how happiness (or maybe we should call it joy) does not have to depend on circumstances. Rather it is a choice. For me it is a sober, but also heart-touching reminder that I have a lot more control of my feelings and emotions than I think I have or rather tell myself that I have.’
    To which I agree in part. For me it brings up questions about our will and our ability to choose.
    The reason I only agree in part is based on my newly emerging understanding about trauma especially trauma experienced at the pre-verbal stage of life or early infancy. My own experience has been that no amount of choosing to think something could change anything until the trauma was unfrozen in the nervous system which then released my thinking and my ability to choose. I would now say that I have freedom to choose.
    I can’t say that I’m able to articulate fully what I mean yet but I do think our will and our blocks to accessing choice is an important aspect to consider as I know for myself no amount of trying to change made any difference and can be demoralising in and of itself, that can then start a downward spiral which, further blocks personal development and our journey into wholeness.
    I was struck by the fact that Alice kept laughing in the concentration camp for her child and the impact that must have had on her child and the reciprical impact of the child’s smile back to her which, made me realise afresh the importance of interpersonal relating and the impact we all have on each other.
    Thanks for a very thought provoking blog.

    1. Thank you for your comments Beverly and clarification on our ability to choose. Yes there will be a huge variety of physiological and psychological factors that can affect our ability to choose. I am writing in general terms and am suggesting that we have much more potential and ability to choose our responses in difficult circumstances than we give ourselves credit for. Having said that this all takes time and is not necessarily a quick fix (see the law of process) while a sudden paradigm shift can lead to a sudden new response! Quoting the Economist, “The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe!” (More of that in the post on Wonder Filled Bold Humility.)

  2. Hi Sunil,

    It was good to see you yesterday. Thank you for reminding me about this post. As I mentioned, I have seen it before somewhere. What a remarkable woman. She is obviously very gifted and it is so refreshing to see someone who has experienced what she has, with such a positive outlook on life – and at 108 years of age! Wonderful! I think we could learn a lot from her attitude: no bitterness, no hatred.

    It reminds me of an old man I met while in Israel. He had also survived the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Israel had been sent to a camp in Cyprus. As he said: “After surviving the concentration camp in Germany, I was sent to another concentration camp by the British”. He showed me the number on his arm, but there was no bitterness or hatred. I never forget his words: “If I don’t forgive, how can I expect God to forgive me?” He had become a believer in Jesus the Messiah.

    1. Thank you for sharing this Marjun.
      Yes those are powerful and challenging words from Jesus that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others. Ultimately we are the ones affected if we choose not to forgive – or like I heard someone say not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die!

  3. The video is not available. I was reading the comments on the video and I guess I forget that I have control over my feelings. I think they control me and that frightens me. If you can restore this video I would love to watch

  4. As a human being we can not be happy in all situations in our life.But if we avoid thinking much on negative things and give thanks to our Lord for smallest things which he does everyday for us then we can be happy in our life.

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