Way #27: Happiness
You can be rich and miserable. Happiness is a state of mind. Develop tools for how to get it.
A young man once came to see me in Jerusalem. He had an unusually happy disposition, so I asked him what's his secret. He told me:
"When I was 11 years old, I received a gift of happiness from God.
"I was riding my bicycle when a strong gust of wind blew me onto the ground, into the path of an oncoming truck. The truck ran over me and cut off my leg.
"As I lay there bleeding, I realized that I might have to live the rest of my life without a leg. How depressing! But then I realized that being depressed won't get my leg back. So I decided right then and there not to waste my life despairing.
"When my parents arrived at the hospital they were shocked and grieving. So I told them: 'I've already adapted. Now you also have to get used to this.'
"Ever since then, I see my friends getting upset over little things: their bus came late, they got a bad grade on a test, somebody insulted them. But I just enjoy life."
At age 11, this young man attained the clarity that it is a waste of energy to focus on what you're missing, and that the key to happiness is to take pleasure in what you have.
Sounds simple, doesn't it?
Way #27 is sameach bi'chelko – literally "satisfaction with one's portion." Happiness is achievable. So why are so many people unhappy? We lack the right tools.
Happiness is a State of Mind
Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire.
- "My whole life would improve if I had a new car..."
- "I just need a better job and then I can relax and be happy..."
- "If only could only meet the right girl..."
You get the car and what happens? For a whole week you're walking on air. Then you go right back to being unhappy.
Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.
The Talmud says:
"Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has." (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
That's why the morning prayers begin with a series of blessings thanking God for the simple and obvious:
- "Thank you, God, for giving me life."
- "Thank God I can see."
- "Thank God I can use my hands and feet."
- "Thank God I can think."
Once you master the art of noticing, appreciating and consciously enjoying what you already have, then you will always be happy.
Make Your Troubles Insignificant
You are standing on the 70th floor of the Empire State Building, gazing at the cityscape. Suddenly a rather large man brusquely pushes past you, wrenches the window open and announces his intention to jump.
You yell out: "Stop! Don't do it!"
The 6-foot-5 figure perched by the window turns to you and menacingly says, "Try to stop me and I'll take you with me!"
"Umm… No problem, sir. Have a safe trip. Any last words?"
He says, "Let me tell you my troubles. My wife left me, my kids won't talk to me, I lost my job and my pet turtle died. So why should I go on living?"
Suddenly you have a flash of inspiration.
"Sir, close your eyes for a minute and imagine that you're blind. No colors, no sights of children playing, no fields of flowers, no sunset. Now imagine that suddenly there's a miracle. You open your eyes and your vision is restored! Are you going to jump – or will you stick around for a week to enjoy the sights?"
"I'll stay for a week."
"But what happened to all the troubles?"
"Ah, I guess they're not so bad. I can see!"
An eyeball is worth at least 5 million dollars. You have two of them? You're rich!
If you really appreciate your eyesight, then the other miseries are nothing. Yet if you take it all for granted, then nothing in life will ever truly give you joy.
3 Misconceptions on the Road To Happiness
Misconception #1: "Once I know the tools for being happy, then it will work like magic."
Don't expect the results to come automatically. It is possible to intellectually understand how to attain happiness, yet not put it into practice.
In fact, many people might actually prefer to be comfortable and unhappy, rather than endure the discomfort of changing their habits.
Just as learning any new skill requires effort, you have to be willing to invest serious effort to achieve real happiness.
Misconception #2: "If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I'll lose my motivation to achieve more."
Happiness doesn't drain your energy. It adds more!
Ask a happy person: "I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?"
He'll say: "Great! Let's go!"
Now ask someone who is depressed: "C'mon, let's go fishing!"
He says, "I'm tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain..."
Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There's never enough time to do everything they want to do.
Misconception #3: Happiness is optional. If I want to be depressed, that's my own prerogative.
A beautiful Sunday afternoon. You're at the park having a picnic with your friends.
Suddenly the air is pierced by one person complaining: "Who forgot the forks? It's too hot for volleyball. I want to go home already."
You have an obligation to be happy when your mood is negatively affecting others. Don't spoil the fun.
We all try to put on a happy face when we're at a party. But what about when we're at home, with our kids? Or when we trudge into the office on Monday morning?
Like an open pit in the middle of the road, a sour puss is a public menace. Being happy is part of being considerate to people around us.
The Daily Pleasure Count
To begin appreciating life, pinpoint some things you are extremely grateful for and count them every morning for one month – e.g. your eyes, your hands, your children, your cat.
Set a time each day to contemplate these pleasures. Feel gratitude for them. This exercise can change the mood of even the most miserable amongst us.
For instance, the next time you visit your aunt (the one who loves to complain), tell her very respectfully:
"Auntie, I came here to suffer with you today. But before we suffer, it's only fair that you also share with me five pleasures that you had today."
"I had no pleasures."
"Auntie, did you have coffee for breakfast?"
Don't let her off the hook with this perfunctory answer. Make her share the pleasure. "Was it sweet? Warm? Did the aroma linger? Did it give you energy?" (She'll comply because she wants her turn to complain...)
"Okay, it was sweet. And nice."
"Great Auntie! Now four more!"
"I didn't have any more."
"Did you wash your face? Was it pleasant? Warm? Refreshing?"
Relive it with her. Then another one. After she describes five pleasures, her complaints won't be nearly as bad.
To really work at this, sit down with your spouse (or roommate) every evening and discuss one pleasure that each of you had that day. At the very least, you'll have a happier spouse or roommate!
Incorporate this into your family routine so your children also learn to appreciate their daily pleasures.
The One-Hour Blessing-Fest
The next exercise is more sophisticated.
Spend one hour writing down everything for which you are grateful.
Most people fly through the first 15 minutes. The next 15 minutes the pen moves more slowly. The next 15 minutes get even tougher, but you can pull through if you include your eyebrows and socks...
The last 15 minutes are excruciating.
Once the list is compiled, add one new blessing each day.
The power of this exercise is clear: You must be conscious of all your existing blessings, in order to appreciate a new blessing that comes your way.
Prioritize Your Blessings
To really hone your skills and become an "appreciation expert," prioritize your list. Which is more valuable:
- Your hands or your feet?
- Eyes or ears?
- Sense of taste or sense of touch?
Comparing each pleasure forces you to qualify the subtle aspects of each pleasure. And to quantify how much each respective pleasure gives you.
Follow this course and work at it daily. Your gratitude will continue to grow, building a solid foundation for a lifetime of happiness.
WHY IS "HAPPINESS" A WAY TO WISDOM?
- Happiness is energy and power for living.
- Focus on what you have and you'll be happy. Focus on what you don't have and you'll be miserable.
- Happiness is not the goal in life; it is the means to tap your inner energy in order to accomplish your potential.
- Happy people are healthy, optimistic, and have more driving force to achieve.
- Happiness is not "living in a state of semi-depression." That's mere survival.
- Happiness is in your control. By not controlling it, you are slave to your emotions.
- Happiness requires discipline, determination and hard work.
- Happiness is not a "happening." Don't wait for it to happen. Go out and create it.