When my grandpa was only ten years old, the Nazis invaded his village and murdered his entire family. Having narrowly escaped, he was left utterly alone to wonder the forests, only to end up in a sealed ghetto awaiting his turn to die. Yet, despite his past, Grandpa is, without a doubt, the happiest person I know.
This has always been a mystery to me. I often feel that the tribes and tribulations that I suffered in the past detract from my happiness today. Yet compared to his life, my life is but a box of chocolates!
Three years ago, I got a first glimpse of hope at solving this mystery. My dad had asked me if I would write a book about Grandpa’s life. After two years of writing and interviewing Grandpa Srulik, I was still nowhere near understanding the root of his happiness. Indeed, I’ve learned that his life was even harder than I previously thought.
So I decided to cut to the chase and asked Grandpa directly. The following interview has been translated from Russian.
Maya: Do you consider yourself to be a happy person?
Srulik: Of course, I’m happy!
He chuckles. I note how quickly he identifies with this description. I wonder whether it is his ability to stay in the moment that helps him stay happy. Perhaps he doesn’t think about the past.
Maya: Do you ever think about your past?
Srulik: I think about it frequently, how else?
Maya: Then how do you manage to stay so happy?
Srulik: Because I went through such a difficult, scary life. Because of this I greatly value life. Because of this I am happy.
I heard similar sentiments expressed by others, but I know that this cannot be the whole story. So often we do just the opposite! We attribute being miserable today to things that happen in our past. Surely, something is missing.
I try a different approach.
Maya: How do you stay happy on a daily basis?
Srulik: You need to learn to be happy from any success. Any success at all. Even good weather counts. When some misfortune happens, we need to view it with humor and think of it as temporary. Distract yourself with something. Think of something else.
Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve got to dig deeper!
Maya: What do you tell yourself when misfortune happens?
Srulik: I tell myself “It’s only temporary and there is no need to turn it into a tragedy. For instance, if something hurts, there is no reason to panic. You know that the doctors will heal you. This is how it happened many times.”
Maya: Is there anything else that helps you stay happy?
Srulik: You need to have a good mood. Good family, good children, good work, and then you’ll be happy. You need to be a sociable person. I love and respect all people. After what happened to me, I don’t only value my own life more, but I deeply value the lives of all human beings. It’s very important to have good company and good friends. I view everything with optimism, it’s very important.
Maya: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Srulik: Yes. It’s also very important to not get so low morally that you get into drugs or alcohol, because they destroy a person morally, in particular they will destroy one’s ability to sustain a good mood.
Maya: You are very smart.
Srulik: If I wasn’t smart I would have been gone long ago [he laughs]. But you are much smarter than me!
Grandpa was never good at taking complements. But, I am grateful that he shared his wisdom with me and I am delighted to share it with you.
Grandpa's story, Running from Giants, is now available on Amazon.