Often people think they will be happy when their goals are met. These goals can be noble, sublime and lofty – but usually they are not. Usually the “happiness” goals are: bright, respected, thin, desirable, and rich. Some of these goals are potentially dangerous, but the one that will ensure that happiness will never be achieved is the desire to be rich.
There is nothing wrong with money and there are plenty of philanthropic individuals who have significantly enhanced society. However, one who seeks to be rich in order to be happy has embarked on an endless path, for there is yet an individual who has concluded, “Now I’m rich, now I’m happy, now I’m stopping.”
As Dennis Prager points out: the Forbes 400 (list of America’s wealthiest citizens) is a killer for everyone but Number One. The pain of number 396 is probably only surpassed by number 401. The goal to want to be rich is a prison sentence to being locked-in-focus regarding the wealth of others.
But the problem which all of these goals share in common is that our desire to be thin, bright, desirable, rich, etc. is primarily sought in order to impress others. Our lives revolve around the proverbial “them” and what will they think and what will they say. This brings us back to never-ending adolescence.
Because we are so intoxicated over what others will think, we also imagine that all of the “others” – those in the distance – are happy.
Ironically, we have a great debt of gratitude to Hollywood celebrities, sport stars and politicians, for we imagine their lives to be grand and glorious. But when you read their memoirs you discover that they lived horrid, hollow lives.
Elizabeth Taylor is considered one of the most glamorous actresses to have ever graced the stage. Yet she was married eight times and had many romances independent of her marriages. Kitty Dukakis was envied as the woman who was destined to be the first lady. After Michael Dukakis’s defeat by George H.W. Bush, Kitty not only succumbed to her drug and alcohol addictions but also resorted to drinking rubbing alcohol in a suicide attempt. The examples are limitless, and one wonders if an actuary has been able to compute the ephemeral lifespan of a rock star.
The vast majority of us should be overjoyed at our health and our wealth, the political and economic freedom that we enjoy, and that we have not lost a child or suffered extreme traumas. We are better off than 90% of the people in history, but instead of appreciating, we are remorseful over what we are missing – like former baseball star pitcher Dwight Gooden, who couldn’t enjoy his $6 million because his fellow star pitcher Orel Hershiser was receiving more.
The antidote to the despoiling obsession regarding others and the greatest component to achieving happiness is gratitude.
There is an inverse relationship between expectations and gratitude. The more you expect, the less grateful you will be; the less you expect, the more you will be grateful. This is why expectations are an obstacle to happiness. One who always expects to be well will not be able to grin and bear ill health, misbehaving children or unexpected traffic.
Expectations ruin gratitude.
Gratitude is acquired by concentrating on what you have – not on what you are missing. People focus on what they do not have, and what they have lost. Everyone can write a diary of his or her life that would either make the reader cry or admire what a blessed life has been lived. It is up to us to decide which diary we wish to author: the book of happiness or the book of misery.Rabbi Hanoch Teller
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