There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times about Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, whose obituary mentioned “her unalloyed joy in making music and, quite simply, in being alive.” Herz-Sommer died on February 23, 2014, at age 110. She is interesting, not just because she survived the Holocaust and lived so long, but because of the quality of her life.
Music saved her
She was a concert pianist before the war, and music saved her life and that of her young son at Terezin, the camp in Czechoslovakia, where they were sent as Jews during the occupation. She played with the orchestra at Terezin, a part of the Nazi propaganda machine to show how well the prisoners were treated. “Through making music, we were kept alive,” she said.
Optimism sustained her
In her later years she continued to practice the piano for hours each day. People gathered outside her apartment building in London to hear her play. She lived with verve and optimism and didn’t let the tragedies she suffered blunt her enthusiasm for life.
The joy in everyday life
Alice Herz-Sommer is a powerful example of someone who found the joy in everyday life. When she lost the use of her index fingers in later years, she revamped her technique—no easy task—and continued playing the music she loved with eight fingers. Her life proves that we don’t have to have things just the way we’d like in order to be happy. In other words, happiness is an “inside job.”
People often believe that if they can just get that next promotion, make another $50,000 a year, buy an apartment, meet the right person, or have a child, they will be happy. The truth is that if they don’t know how to be happy without those things, if they get a new title, make more money, own an apartment, are in a relationship, or have a child, they will be the same unhappy person they are now, because mental health is what allows a person to appreciate their good fortune, and none of these external changes will increase mental health.
If you’re not fully enjoying your life, therapy can be a wonderful investment in yourself and your satisfaction in life—more than a vacation, new furniture or wardrobe, or anything else. To learn more about therapy, take a look at my approach to individual counseling, read the frequently-asked questions, and contact me if you’d like to work on making a more enjoyable life. I look forward to speaking with you.