The Secret to Happiness
Sukkot (Leviticus 22:26-23:44 )
Happiness has a secret formula. On Sukkot - the Jewish 'happiness festival' - the Torah asks us to try our best to be in a happy, joyful frame of mind. How we choose to look at our life and the things in it, can determine whether we'll be happy on Sukkot - and all year long.
In our story, a couple of kids discover that happiness is a choice.
"It's so nice having both of my granddaughters here at the same time," the smiling older woman said to Laura and her cousin, Amy, who'd come with their families on a holiday visit. "I heard you've both started taking after-school art lessons," Grandma said. "Tell me, how is it going?"
"Well," Laura said through her wide grin, "I'm happy to say that it's going fan-tas-tic! I'm in a class with just nine other students, so we get lots of personal attention from the instructor. And even though it's a small class, everyone has such different personalities - some kids are more serious, and others are more laid back - so it's guaranteed never to be boring. Also, the instructor is great! She really wants us to develop our skills, so she gives us these very interesting practice exercises to do and she also assigns projects for us to do at home. Oh, and the best part is that she takes us on trips to art museums and explains the history of the famous paintings we see and what it is about them that makes them great."
"Wow, that's just wonderful," Grandma said to the beaming Laura. "And how are your art classes going, Amy?"
Amy was distractedly looking out the window as her Laura spoke, and now let out a sigh. "I must tell you, not so good - in fact quite bad."
"Really? Why is that?"
"First of all," she frowned, "the class is too small. I mean, how can a person draw when the teacher is hovering over you all the time? And at least, if you're stuck in a small class you'd think everyone would get along - right? But half the class is too intense, making everybody nervous and the other half just wants to joke around all the time. Not only that - it's hard. The instructor is always making us do these pointless drawing exercises, plus homework assignments! That is, except for the times that she drags us out to some dusty art museum and talks our ears off about the prehistoric pictures on the wall!"
"Hmm, it sounds like you're really not having a good time," Grandma nodded her head. "You know, Laura's art class sounds so wonderful. Maybe you should see if you could switch over to the class that she's taking? You'd be much happier."
"Huh?" Amy said, "What do you mean switch to Laura's..." The two girls looked at each other then they both started laughing.
"Grandma," Amy finally blurted out, "we are in the same art class - didn't you know?"
"Oh, really?" Grandma said, with that special smile that told you she might just know more than you think she does. "Well then, if that's so, then maybe all you have to do is see if you could just switch the way you ... see."
Q. How did Laura feel about her art class?
A. She was happy about it because she looked at it in a positive way.
Q. How did Amy feel about it?
A. Even though she was in the same class, she was unhappy because she looked at it negatively.
Q. What life-lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Happiness doesn't as much depend on any particular situation as how you choose to view the situation you're in.
Q. Who was being more realistic: Laura or Amy?
A. In general, the 'reality' of a situation is a product of how we choose to look at it. Almost any situation can be viewed as positive or negative. While Laura may not have been any more realistic than Amy, she was just as realistic - and a whole lot happier!
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you believe that happiness is a choice? Why or why not?
A. If a person views an event or situation as positive, he will naturally be happy. If he views it as negative, he will be unhappy. Every situation or event has positive and negative aspects (albeit, sometimes the positive ones dominate or vice versa); when we choose whether to focus on the positive or negative, we are in effect choosing whether to be happy or not.
Q. What possibly can be positive aspects of 'bad' situations, such as disasters, crises, etc.?
A. As the saying goes, 'it could always be worse' - focusing on that can provide positive feelings even in the most trying times. On a deeper, spiritual level, our sages and mystics teach us that whatever G-d sends our way - without exception - is, in the ultimate sense, the best possible thing for the growth of our eternal soul and the ultimate, unending pleasure it will experience in the future.