The real question is “What is happiness?” We seem to be a very unhappy generation. Even when we say “This makes me happy”, “I am happy”, “I would be happy if you would do this”, “I will be happy to do that”, do we really mean happiness? Do we even know what happiness feels like?
Happiness comes from gratitude – something in life that demands gratitude would usually make us happy – which in essence makes the question “Where has the gratitude gone?” True gratitude can only come from being unburdened. The weight of being burdened doesn’t allow us to feel gratitude. So what is it that’s burdening us? We are carrying the weight of ourselves, of taking ourselves too seriously. Once we let go, it becomes possible to get in touch with those feelings of gratitude and happiness.
Now, why do we take ourselves so seriously?
Do I deserve?
By the way, the need to speak about happiness means that we’re not happy. If we were really happy we wouldn’t be talking about it. We would just be happy.
One of the reasons we take ourselves so seriously is deservedness. We are told, taught and constantly reminded that we deserve, that we are deserving. Where does this come from? Now, it is a virtue to think of others as deserving. When you see someone suffering you think “No! They deserve better than that”. But I’m not even sure what that means. You wish better for them but deservedness is really an unnatural and unhealthy concept.
In truth it’s not really a natural fact of life. In actuality we are given a hundred years of life for free. We are certainly not born deserving, yet God gives us life. Consequently we are indebted just by being born. However, we are also given a mission and a purpose. Acknowledging that fact gives us the right to ask God to provide us with the proper conditions to fulfill our job. But deservedness has got to go.
God is Good.
So the first thing that drains our happiness is this feeling of I deserve. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t expect God to give us good things, great success and His great blessings. We certainly do expect it because God is generous and good and He has given us everything until now for free, so He will certainly continue to do so.
The problem starts when we have that feeling of entitlement, a feeling that we deserve. Because this feeling is too self-aware and too judgmental. Once we start trying to figure out “Am I getting as much as I deserve”, “Am I getting less than I deserve”, it becomes burdensome; and if “I’m getting more than I deserve”, that can be worrisome too. So the whole subject is really not worth getting into.
We don’t deserve, but we get because God is good.
Don’t Be Too Attached to the Physical.
One of the first tests that God put the Jews through when they left Egypt was asking them to follow Him in to a desert without giving them a chance to prepare food. The virtue that was tested was the ability to do without, to take our physical existence a little less serious. If we have physical comforts, great, if we don’t have – that’s fine too. He was looking for a sense of indifference, the ability to rise above and transcend the petty needs of the physical.
Unfortunately we are so attached to our physical needs that we have no time to be happy. Things have to be just perfect: the food has to be just so, the temperature has to be just right, we must have enough sleep, a second cup of coffee etc. We can’t function without them. We need to transcend some of that in order to be happy. So, to paraphrase, we need to focus on what we’re here for, and not what were here after.
Another thing destroying our happiness is doubt. When we’re not sure, when we are not certain, we can’t proceed with confidence and that takes away our joy.
We’re uncertain about so many things, and the list keeps growing. We’re not even sure if we belong on this planet or not. Are human beings welcome as part of nature? Or are we polluters just messing up the beauty of nature with our very presence?
So why are we here? We must have a particular purpose, a particular function that justifies our presence on this earth.
Not being certain as to what our identity is and what our purpose is, again, drains us of all enthusiasm and joy.
So we need to know clearly what we are here for.
Shame, Regret, Guilt.
The final culprit draining the happiness out of our lives is guilt. We don’t know what to do with it; we don’t know how to handle it.
About the Author: To meet Rabbi Friedman and to inquire about training visit Rabbimanisfriedman.org
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