Have you ever noticed that people become more of who they are as they get older? Over the years adversity chips away the exterior facade, leaving our true selves exposed.
I witnessed this first-hand with my maternal grandfather. As he got older, he always seemed to be complaining. He shuffled through life with a frown on his face, grumbling about this or that. He appeared irritated at everyone and everything.
My father is just the opposite. In his seventies now he lives in chronic pain from an injury he received in the Korean War. My wife Gail recently asked him to rate his level of pain on a scale from one to ten.
To our surprise, he said, “About 9.9.” She asked him if it was always this intense. He replied, “Pretty much.” Wow. I can’t imagine.
But, honestly, being around him, you would hardly notice. He occasionally winces, but he never complains. He rarely talks about himself. He always seems to be joyful and smiling. My mother is the same way. They are two of the most positive people I know.
I didn’t think about this too much until I watched an interview Tony Robbins did with holocaust surviver, Alice Herz-Sommer. At 108 years old, she lives by herself in a tiny London flat with no assistance. Remarkably, she still practices the piano three hours a day.
In the interview Alice says she learned two important lessons from her mother:
- Never complain. It doesn’t change anything. It only makes you miserable.
- Be thankful. Treat everything in life—whether good or bad—as a gift.
Looking back, she was even grateful for her experience in the Nazi prison camp. She says, “I learned from the bad, but I focused on the good.”
As I watched her in the interview I was struck by just how joyful she is. She seemed to be constantly smiling.
You and I have the same choice as we get older: we can complain or we can be thankful. It’s really a matter of perspective. It comes down to what kind of person you want to be. And it ultimately determines our happiness.