By Rabbi Daniel Bortz
Some of my most satisfying, truly joyful feelings have come after very challenging experiences. We see that happiness doesn’t come through avoiding pain and discomfort; from working out in the gym to childbirth, pain with a meaningful purpose can actually be a joyful experience.
Happiness is a byproduct of living a meaningful life, going in the right direction with the feeling that we’re doing what we were fashioned to do.
Do you know anything in this world that exists without a purpose? Therefore you of course have one! What meaningful differences have you made and can you make for the world – for those around you who need most what only you can give?
Once we decide on a path and set goals, our happiness can’t only be result reliant. We have to enjoy the process. If we do things only as a means to an end: “I will definitely be happy if x, y, & z happens for me,” it will wear off quickly and we will just raise the bar to the next achievement. Anyone with ambition may understandably struggle with this concept. But make sure this desire to achieve isn’t rooted in a lack of self-love; that you need to accomplish something specific to be worthwhile. You are intrinsically worthy of love with a unique Divine spark within that can’t be measured in its great value.
Hustle and put in the requisite work needed for success in the areas that matter to you, but base that on a foundation of trust in Divine providence. Your ultimate success isn’t only up to you. G-d says: “I will bless all the work of your hands” – put in hard work, but the blessing will come from Me.
A huge aspect of happiness is awareness and gratitude. It’s a sad fact of the human condition that we take for granted what we’re used to having. Judaism is obsessed with making continual blessings – for our ability to see and walk, to use the bathroom or eat an apple, and praying three times a day – all in order to instill in our psyches a daily awareness and sense of gratitude. Imagine seeing a suicidal man standing on a ledge. You ask him: “Close your eyes. Imagine in addition to all of your struggles, you had been blind your whole life. No color, sights of children playing, no ocean or sunset. Now imagine your vision was restored! Would you still jump? Or would you want to stick around another week to enjoy the sights?”
The mind is a muscle, and like a muscle it must be exercised consistently to achieve optimal results. Be intentional each morning that today will be a day of growth, no matter what happens. Events are often neutral; how we process them decides if they are good or bad. Listen daily to positive resources you like to learn from and emulate. Make personal affirmations. Surround yourself with people that elevate you, not bring you down. The mind is malleable; we can create our mindset anew. But it’s only achieved through consistent work.
Nourish your soul and what’s truly valuable as much as you nourish your body. If this weren’t true, shouldn’t an endless stream of physical and material pleasures bring lasting joy? My experience speaking with and listening to those who have tried that course is that it doesn’t. Learn Torah wisdom and spend time in prayer and character refinement, help others and make a lasting impact, deepen your relationships with those you care about, and bring joy and pride to your Creator.
Wishing you much success in living a happy life! We’re all in this together.