Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happiness Is An Avodah

I heard this idea presented in shul tonight.

We all want to be happy. Most people strive to achieve happiness, but stumble and struggle, and are even discouraged that they may ever be truly happy.

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Often enough, however, we tend to think that the source of our happiness comes from some external source. If only we had X, Y, or Z - then we'd really be happy. But, because we don't have those things right now, we aren't happy, and we believe that we can't be happy without them.

Rav Yaakov Weinberg Z'tl said that this is a harmful train of thought. By declaring that you can't be happy because you don't currently have X, Y, or Z - you are deciding for yourself not to be happy. Happiness shouldn't be dependent on something external to us. Rather, it is self-generated from within our own minds and souls.

Rav Weinberg elaborated on this theme, saying that this is one of the reasons why Sukkos, known as Zman Simchaseinu - the Time of our Happiness - follows Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a rather somber and serious period of time. First, we recognize HaShem is our King, and then we plead for our lives from the Ultimate Judge - which doesn't leave a lot of room to focus on happiness.

However this process of going through the Yomim Nora'im is meant to help us recognize a thought pattern that we should ingrain into our daily lives. What brings us true happiness should be the realization that HaShem is indeed, our King, and we are His servants. By doing His requested acts of service, namely the Mitzvos, we will be productive and rewarded, and our internal happiness will stem from our spiritual connection and relationship with HaShem.

Happiness is part of our Avodah of HaShem. It takes hard work, like any Avodah, but we will be better off because of it.


While thinking about this idea, my mind started making other connections and expansions on the concept.

I know I myself have often focused on external things that I believed, once I attained them, would bring me happiness, but in reality, happiness needs to be self-generated. Whatever stage we are in life - single, dating, engaged, married, parents, grandparents - there is always bound to be something not quite perfect, something lacking in what we expected to have at this stage.

The most stereotypical example is someone engaged and soon-to-be married.

He or she often believes that as soon as they leave the chuppah for the yichud room, everything will be glorious, full of rainbows and sunshine. The truth of the matter is, marriage isn't a happily ever after - it's really hard and requires a lot of work. It can, and will be difficult at times - and couples will struggle with one issue or another.

Nevertheless, everyone still has some positive thing(s) in their life that they have been given as blessings from HaShem. Recognizing them, expressing gratitude for them, and enjoying them - will produce happiness.

If I recall correctly, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz wrote in one of his books (I think The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life) that happiness is never an end goal, a destination to be reached or a stage to achieve, rather it is the journey in life itself.

So no matter what troubles are thrown at you in this often crazy world we live in, there is still something we can all recognize and latch onto that will help us create that self-generated state of happiness.

Of all the things I've learned while married, I must say that this is one of the most important: having Simchas HaChaim. Without it, life can get quite dreary and dreadful.

So let us all strive to elevate our minds, bodies and souls with the simcha of the forthcoming chag of Sukkos, and by internalizing Rav Weinberg's ideas, let us choose to be happy, and hopefully we can carry that simcha with us throughout the rest of the year.

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