Who is going to be happier, the person who is grateful for being alive or the person who takes it for granted? Religion inculcates gratitude to instill obedience to the Lord, and the byproduct is contented people.
If one were to focus – merely pay attention – when making a berachah, not only would the Almighty be happy, so would the one offering the blessing. Berachos inculcate gratitude; the more you appreciate, the happier you are.
The Jew begins his day by saying: “Modeh ani l’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam… – I am grateful to be alive another day before the King…” Could there be a better way to start the day? Not everyone wakes up in the morning, and I am so happy to be among the fortunate ones.
I once brought a not-yet-religious guest we had over for Shabbos to the Neve Yerushalayim seminary for beginners. Years later she confessed that when she walked into the dining room and saw everyone talking to their food before they ate it, she thought that they were really spaced out. But now, years later – after becoming religious herself – she finds berachos her fulcrum for appreciation and subsequent happiness.
The common perception is that happiness is awaited. Accordingly, people expectantly go through their lives awaiting the event that will make them happy. “If only I find the right girl, or land the right job, I’ll be happy.” (One cannot deny that the right one is a big help and the wrong one is a big hindrance.)
The common question, “What makes you happy?” assumes that generally one is not happy; something must occur to make one happy. It would be far more productive to think au contraire. Unless something is actively impinging on your happiness, be happy. There is so much to make one happy, content, appreciative and grateful. Thus the default should be, “happy.” The alternative is being chronically unhappy.
If one were to make a list five years ago (an insight from Dennis Prager) of the things that would make you happy, chances are that most of that list has been achieved. But are you happy? In all likelihood the answer is negative, which means that there is either something wrong with your list or something wrong with your attitude.
Prager further pointed out that most people associate happiness with fun, but the words are not synonymous and the concepts vary sharply. Fun is the joy you experience during an act; happiness is the subsequent state.
In other words, the tingle on the tongue from Coca Cola is fun. But when it is over, it’s over. Likewise a roller coaster ride and a humorous video clip. These may be fun activities, but they do not make you happy.
Sometimes engaging in fun can diminish happiness. It’s fun to eat cheesecake, but once you get on the scale, you are less happy than when you ate the cake. Attending a sporting event is fun, but afterwards when you are caught in stadium traffic you are hardly happy. How much more so if the fun activity was sinful.
The reason that fun cannot provide happiness – indeed diminishes the chance of achieving happiness – is twofold. Firstly because fun is a drug, and like all drugs, you must always increase the dosage. Yesterday’s fun does not satisfy as much today, hence you must up the dosage.
It used to be fun skiing, but now you must ski slalom, or bungee jump, or attempt skydiving. The list of extreme sports is ever expanding. Horror movies of yore do not provide the same punch of terror as contemporaneous genre. Tomorrow’s films will contain even more blood, organs and severed body parts in order to raise the adrenalin level and keep you scared.