> Family > Heart of Matter

Fun vs. Joy

December 9, 2009 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Finding the keys to happiness this Chanukah.

“I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior that my family deserves…I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves.”

(Tiger Woods on his site,

It seems as if each month brings us another scandal involving someone famous who appears to have it all. Why risk it for some temporary pleasure? What are they seeking? Why does it seem as if some of the people who should be the happiest are not?

Here is a super talented man, with a gorgeous wife, a wonderful family, and fabulous fortune and fame seemingly living the American dream. Yet he couldn’t stay on course.

Let us all beware. There is no one and no life circumstance that is so perfect that it is beyond temptation.

Running Nowhere

I recall a dismal phone conversation that I once had with a husband whose wife had grown distanced. This couple had everything one could wish for. Beautiful children, a home out of Architectural Digest, and a supposedly fairy tale marriage filled with travel to exotic locations. The wife decided that she “just wasn’t happy” and informed me that she would be telling her husband that she wanted a divorce.

"Our definition of happiness was warped and now we’re paying the price.”

“Do you know what I feel most sorry about?” her anguished husband asked when I told him that there was nothing left for me to do. “We’ve spent years trying so hard to have fun, seeking out pleasure and excitement, but we’ve neglected our souls. Our definition of happiness was warped and now we’re paying the price.”

He was right. Our society’s definition of happiness is distorted. We are given these wonderful families, precious children to raise and love, but we make a huge mistake. Instead of appreciating all that we have, we keep an eye on that which we feel we’re missing. We grow miserable and dissatisfied.

We find ourselves constantly running, chasing the newest and the latest, hoping that finally we will be happy. We run to the mall, we run to the gym, we run to the latest hot spot to vacation. We run everywhere but home. We believe that each new pleasure will rectify our unhappiness.

Somehow, though, we still can’t seem to find real happiness. We are left with this gnawing discontent, an emptiness that never seems to fill. Sadly, we fail to realize that happiness lies within.

“If Only" Living

We look around at others and think to ourselves that life would be better if only. “If only I would’ve married her, if only I’d have an understanding husband like him, if only I’d have that job, that home, those kids, then I’d be happy.” We see other people’s lives and imagine that if we would just live like them, we would finally feel the joy. We never seem to be content with what we have, assuming instead that we’d be happy if only our circumstances would be different.

We fool ourselves and think that a quick fix or instant pleasure will bring us the happiness we so badly desire. And our children grow and imitate our foolishness.

“If only I’d have that Wii, I’d be so happy!”

“I just need that Playstation, and then I’ll never ask you for another thing!”

When we spend our days chasing false dreams of happiness we lose sight of our potential to experience joy each day. As we anticipate future pleasures we forfeit the joy of family life.

We dream about tomorrow never realizing that we are unwittingly wasting today. We cannot imagine that those most ordinary of moments that we spend with each other create treasured snapshots of our lives. Indeed, it is through the ordinary that we create extraordinary sanctity within our lives.

Priceless moments slip through our fingers. Slowly, never comprehending what we have done, we grow unhappy and disappointed. We’ve lost the joy and coupled with that loss we’ve relinquished our blessings.

Fun versus Joy

Amazingly, there is no word for ‘fun’ found in the Torah. The Torah speaks about joy, gladness, and happiness but never fun. Fun is fleeting. The Torah speaks of the everlasting. Joy, on the other hand, transcends time

Fun is fleeting. Joy is everlasting.

If you seek happiness that is enduring, you need to distinguish the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘joy’. Fun is seeing a hit Broadway show, spending the day at a spa, or trying the latest hot restaurant. Joy is watching your baby take his first step, seeing your two children getting along at last, or walking your child under the chuppah.

The moment we decide to redefine our definition of happiness and finally recognize the true blessings that lie within, joy becomes our lifelong companion. We learn to cherish that which is everlasting. We discard the consuming "if only" and trade it for the bliss of ‘I’m so happy.” And our children grow up in happy homes knowing what really counts in life.

The Light of Chanukah

Chanukah, the festival of lights, is here. We recount the miracle of the menorah, our unimaginable victory over the Greeks.

The Greeks didn’t want to kill us; they just wanted us to assimilate. Pursue materialism, worship your bodies, study philosophy and forget all this talk about being a spiritual people. The laws of nature rule the universe. Be scientific and logical and leave your mitzvot behind. The Greeks created edicts and laws so that we would not be able to honor Shabbat, festivals, and the new month. Their message was clear: Do not think that you can create holiness and invite Godliness into your homes. Joy comes from the worship of the body; you must ignore your soul.

We Jews believe in the light of the soul. Mitzvot allow us to take the physical and elevate it into something spiritual. Marriage becomes holy. Children that we bring into the world are holy. Shabbat infuses our days with sanctity. Homes become a resting place for God’s presence where peace and blessing reside.

Can there be any greater joy and contentment than the knowledge that one’s life is infused with sanctity? Why look to others for happiness when the most delicious happiness lies right here?

This Chanukah, as you kindle your lights take a moment and reflect upon the triumph of the soul. Our mission is to discover the little flask of oil, the little moments that may remain hidden from view. Know that you have the power to create light and dispel the darkness of taking your blessings for granted. Each candle allows you the opportunity to recognize and feel gratitude for the various blessings that you have been given. Infuse your life with sanctity by living Jewishly. If you are able to vanquish the darkness you will find that joy accompanies you throughout your life.

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