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Choose Happiness

Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Being happy and content doesn't depend on our situation; it depends on the way we choose to look at it. In this week's Torah portion, after being rescued from cruel Egyptian slavery and getting free food from Heaven that could taste like anything they wanted - except for a few foods - some of the people chose to focus on the negative and complained about the few foods the miracle-food couldn't taste like! If we want to be happy, we can always find a reason; and if we want to be miserable, we can always find a reason also. So why not choose happiness?


In our story, a kid is amazed to find out how much the way we look at things determines how we feel.


With the end of the school year approaching, summer was in the air. While most of the kids in Kenny Rose's neighborhood were psyched about the upcoming long lazy warm days of cool fun, Kenny was upset. Why? Because his parents had decided to send him once again to Camp Arrowhead.

Not that he minded the idea of going to summer camp - that was fine, he certainly didn't want to hang around the house all summer. But why did it have to be to the most boring, stupid camp this side (and probably the other side too) of the Mississippi?

"But Dad, why can't you send me to a good camp instead such an awful one?" he had asked in his best, most outraged whine, certain his father would immediately bend to his clear logic.

"Look, Ken, if you come up with the name of a camp you would rather go to, we can talk about it. But if you ask me, Camp Arrowhead is a fine camp, as good as any other. But you're only going to be happy with it - or anything else - once you learn how to look at the good side of things," his father said.

Well, Kenny thought differently. If something was bad -- it was just bad and had nothing to do with how you looked at it. And Camp Arrowhead was just plain bad. But until he could come up with a better choice, it looked like it was Camp Arrowhead or bust.

These thoughts were swimming around his head while he bounced his basketball in the neighborhood court, and he hardly heard the voice that called out to him. "Hey, do you want to play a little one-on-one?"

Kenny looked up and saw a kid who looked a bit familiar.

"I just moved here last week," the boy said. "My name is David. Wanna play?"

"Sure," Kenny answered.

After a couple of intense games and getting to know each other, he and Dave (that was the kid's name) started talking.

"So what are your summer plans?" Dave asked.

"I'm going to summer camp, I guess," Kenny said glumly.

Dave lit up. "Oh yeah? Me too, and I can't wait!"

"Well, I sure can wait," Kenny countered.


"Because my camp stinks, that's why."

"Really? Mine's great. What's so bad about yours?"

"First of all, take the food," Kenny said, "They give you such tiny portions you feel like you're gonna starve. How about at your camp?"

"Oh the food's really great. Last summer I really got into shape and even lost some extra weight by eating the portions they gave us. How's the swimming at your camp?" Dave asked.

"Hah, if you want to call it swimming! There isn't even a real pool. Just one tiny pond full of frogs and who knows what else. What about yours?"

Dave smiled. "Oh, that's one of the best parts of camp for us. The body of water is natural without any chlorine to burn your eyes. It's not too big, so you can swim all the way from one side to the other and they even have these cool nature classes where you can learn all about the different types of local aquatic animals."

Kenny's ears perked up as he listened to how great Dave's camp sounded. Maybe he was going to find a good place to go this summer after all...

"And how are the counselors at your camp?" Kenny asked.

"Are you kidding? They're the best!" glowed Dave. "They are really totally cool and responsible, and really make camp a lot fun!"

"Sounds great," Kenny said jealously. "At my camp, the counselors are always snooping around and don't give you a second to breathe. And if you try to skip out on part of the schedule, boy do they give you an earful."


"Oh, that's my mom calling me. I've gotta go," Dave said as he stood up. "Nice meeting you, Ken. I hope we'll get together again," he added as he started to jog off.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Kenny called out. "Your camp sounds fantastic. Maybe I can go there too instead of my lousy camp. What's the name of your camp?"

"IT'S CALLED CAMP ARROWHEAD," Dave yelled out as he ran off.

Kenny was so shocked, he dropped his basketball. This kid had gone to the same camp as him - but because of the positive way he saw things, he was in a different, and much happier world. Maybe dad was right after all, Kenny thought to himself. A lot does depend on how you look at it. I really don't need a new camp. I just need to learn to look at it with new glasses.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Kenny feel at first when his dad told him that he would like his camp better if he learned to look at the good things about it?
A. He felt that it wouldn't help and his camp was bad, no matter how he looked at it.

Q. How did he feel about it after meeting Dave?
A. When he saw how even though Dave went to the same camp, he liked it so much better because he looked at it in a good way, Kenny felt like he could do it too.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson do you think Kenny discovered that day?
A. Up until then, he had felt that whether something was good or bad was simply an objective fact that had nothing to do with a person's outlook. However, after seeing how Dave was able to frame all the things he felt were negative about his camp into something positive, Kenny realized that being happy about something was more in his control than he had thought.

Q. Why do you think it can be hard to see things positively and how can we become better at it?
A. It is easy to fall so into the habit of seeing things in a negative way that we don't even realize we are doing it. However, if we practice seeing the good in things, although it may seem difficult and forced at first, eventually it will become natural and our lives will become happier than we ever thought they could be.

Spiritual exercise: Right now, pick one thing or situation in your life you don't like, think of something positive about it, meditate on that thought for a moment and observe how looking at it this way makes you feel.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. In your opinion, is pessimism or optimism a more realistic attitude? Why?
A. Although in today's society, we are taught to equate pessimism with realism, this is a mistake and cause of much unhappiness. The spiritual reality is that every situation in our lives has been given to us by God for our growth and ultimate, everlasting good. In light of that, it is much more in line with reality to see the good in things rather than the opposite.

Q. Does this mean a person ought never complain about or try to change anything?
A. While everything is for our ultimate good and growth, sometimes that growth is meant to come from our working to change and improve situations we perceive as destructive or unjust. However, at the same time we must be honest with ourselves and work to see the good in things, to be sure that our desire to change a situation is coming from it being genuinely destructive and not just from the habit of negative thinking.

Spiritual exercise: Right now, pick one thing or situation in your life you don't like, think of something positive about it, meditate on that thought for a moment and observe how looking at it this way makes you feel.


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