What's Your Perpetual Motivation?

Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known living survivor of the Holocaust, died Sunday. She was 110 years old. She and her five year old son were imprisoned at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, while her mother and husband were sent to Auschwitz and were later gassed. Herz-Sommer and her son returned to Prague after the camp was liberated by the Soviet Union in May of 1945.

A music teacher and accomplished pianist, Herz-Sommer was known for her strict routines, eating only chicken or fish for 30 years, swimming daily, and refraining from alcohol. She lived in London until her death. Her life story is documented in the short documentary, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

When I read stories about amazing people like Herz-Sommer, I always ask myself, "How?" How could she find the will to live when facing such tough circumstances-and wondering if I would have the motivation to survive a similar situation. With that in mind, I wanted to find what gave her the motivation to keep going. And I found two in an article in The Guardian-discipline and optimism.

Discipline included her consistent playing of the piano, even while in the concentration camp. She was quoted as saying, "And I was thinking when we can play, it can't be so terrible." In fact, she credits the ability to play the piano as one of the reasons her life was spared in Theresienstadt.

The other source of her undying motivation was optimism. In a 2006 article in The Guardian, she said, "I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things."

That got me to thinking. What are the sources of perpetual motivation for me? If you have many of my blog posts, you know that family and my spiritual beliefs are big ones for me. Regardless of what is happening in any other area of my life, my family is a constant source of strength for me and keeps me pressing on. And my spiritual beliefs help me keep things in perspective.

But what's my equivalent of "playing music" like Alice Herz-Sommer? What is it I turn to doing when everything around me seems to be working against me? One would have to be recognizing how good I have it compared to so many other people in the world. I have clean water to drink, plenty of food to eat, and shelter for myself and my family. Just recognizing that gives me the needed boost to tackle the toughest issues.

Another would be growing things. Whether it's a houseplant or tomatoes, a pine seedling or turnips, participating in the miracle of new life always reminds me of the promise of tomorrow.

Ultimately, however, I could benefit greatly from exercising Herz-Sommer's outlook of "I look for the good things." Focusing on the positive feeds our motivation to continue, while dwelling on the negative drains our physical, mental, and emotional resources.

Ironically, on the day Herz-Sommer died I came across a quote that affirms much of what her life stood for. The quote reads:

Smile every chance you get. Not because life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you had anticipated, but because you choose to be happy and grateful for all the good things you do have and all the problems you know you don't have. -Author Unknown

Rest in peace, Alice Herz-Sommer. What a better place the world is because you saw life for the good it had to offer, even in the face of overwhelming difficulties.