An article in the Wall Street Journal recounted the introduction of the iPhone 4 (now an ancient dinosaur) to the public in China. Apple created such a demand for the product that thousands of people camped out in freezing weather in front of the store. Right before the store’s opening, however, the crowd became a mob. Eggs were thrown, people were beaten to the ground, and Apple had to postpone the debut.
Imagine. They weren’t giving away the iPhone 4. This was not fifty percent off or even Black Friday. People were willing to do anything just to be the first to own the phone, obviously needing something to satiate an emptiness within.
The truth, of course, is that nothing physical – no iPhone, no iPad, no technological marvel of any kind – will ever truly fulfill a person. An unhappy person cannot become happy by acquiring items. Happiness has to come from somewhere else.
Our culture has led us to believe the road to happiness is achieved through purchasing. And there is always something bigger and better being created. Ironically, even with so much at our fingertips, the numbers for depression and suicide are on the rise. We consume, yet it never seems to satisfy.
“I want more,” our inner voice whispers. But chances are it is begging for a different type of “more.” Perhaps we are using the wrong currency to elicit joy and satisfaction.
When thinking about the happiest moment in his or her life, each person conjures up a singularly unique experience. Yet inevitably the common thread is connection: connection to oneself, to another human being, or ultimately to God Himself.
On the flip side, our saddest moments have to do with disconnection – loss of a loved one; a miscarriage; divorce. Happiness is not just fun or leisure or consumption; it’s connection. The soul longs for it. We aren’t really looking for an iPhone 4; we are looking for a relationship.
What would you say if you were asked, ”Whom do you love the most in this world?” Many would answer that they love their parents, their siblings, their spouse. It is not because of money or looks. We may like people for physical reasons but that is not why we love them the most in this world.
People often love others deeply because they “understand them” or because they “do so much for others.” These are spiritual answers. In relationships, we are looking for the face of God. We like people when we see Godliness in them, and we like them even more when they draw Godliness and connection out of us.
How, then, can we quench the soul’s thirst and connect to others, to God, and to ourselves?
Giving is one of the most effective ways to bring about this connection and thereby create much joy.
In college I was a part of the “kindness” committee. One of my roles was to organize and recruit volunteers for Friday morning visits to the local soup kitchen. This task was highly undesirable because the college we attended did not have classes on Fridays, making Thursday night “party night.” Finding volunteers was nearly impossible, yet somehow between fifteen and twenty exhausted women agreed to join. On the way there we were practically still asleep. Yet after making plates of food, serving the homeless as royalty, and listening to their stories with open hearts, we felt energized. On the bus ride home we were actually exuberant. Giving to others gives to you; it gives you a surge of energy and allows you to give more.
Giving connects us to God. Through giving we imitate Hashem, creating a similarity between us and the ultimate Giver. Similarity breeds connection; you might meet someone and realize you are both lawyers. There is an instant connection because you have been on a similar life-path. So, too, when we imitate God we create a similarity that ultimately connects us to Him, thereby creating joy. Those of us who took it upon ourselves to serve the homeless felt energized and on fire on those Friday mornings because we tapped into our inner flame, connecting to our Godliness.
Giving connects us to others. When we give to another human being it unites us. After serving and speaking to the homeless, we felt more connected to them: they had feelings, they had stories. It bonded us.
Giving connects us to ourselves. Giving causes us to stretch ourselves and surpass limits, thereby learning about our true capabilities. We were exhausted on those early bus rides but the experience taught us that although tired, we were capable of so much more than we had thought.
Giving connects us and satiates the thirst for “more” we all share. That connection is the eternal currency that brings lasting joy to our souls.