Being Happy - Jewish Style

    June 1998         
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Opinion & Society

Achieving Happiness

By Dr H. M. Marvin

Perhaps the biggest desire in todays fast paced society is being happy. A simple desire, certainly, however it is more and more difficult to attain. With domestic strife and violence increasing and the fenzied persuit of pleasures and thrills beckoning for our attention, happiness is all but concealed. Not just a fleeting euphoria, a passing elation, that like a summer cloud, elusive and intangible, there for a moment, to remind us of it's existence, and then, once again gone. Is happiness a unatainable goal for us? Is it something that does not exist, but just a Madison Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. gimmick, just a clever method of wetting our desires to buy a new product?

And yet there are individuals who are truly happy. Has life has smiled benevolently upon them, like the sun rays piercing through a hole in a cloudy sky? And the rest of us, must we walk with dark clouds overhead just catching glimpses of a legendary rainbow of happiness?

Perhaps, the answer can be found in a Jewish folk story:

A hundred years ago, a wealthy merchant came to a large city for business. He took a room at the local hotel. Durring his stay, he heard that a very wise and holy Rabbi lived in this city. The merchant decided to visit this famous Rabbi.

Arriving at the Rabbi's home, the merchant was dismayed. This Rabbi, who was known for his scholarliness and holiness, the head of a large and well known school, boasting many brilliant students, lived in a small simple shack. The merchant eyed the Rabbi's one room house with a simple clay floor, furnishings of the bare minimum standard (and perhaps sub-standard).

The merchant could not contain his surprize. "Is this how a gifted Rabbi lives?"

The Rabbi was surprized too. He asked the merchant, "Why? What is wrong? How do you live?"

The merchant replied, "I have a beautiful home in a small city. I have a beautiful garden surrounding the house. I have many rooms, not just one. I have very nice furniture, hand carved wood, with soft filling and velvet covers. I have the nicest paintings on my walls, painted by artists from France. And you," he said, turning his head, and pointing to the baren walls, "Why don't you live in nicer conditions?. Your school has many wealthy students. Certainly you may charge them tuition!"

The Rabbi turned to the man in surprize. "But are you not living in a simple one room apartment at the local inn?"

"Rabbi, I am surprized at you! That is not my real home. I am just staying there temporarily. After a week or so, I will return to my city and my real abode. This room is just temporary."

"Ah, I see." said the Rabbi. "But I, too, am only here temporarly. This is my temporary home too. My real home is in heaven. Soon, I, like you, will leave this temporary home and I will go to my real home which is ever so much nicer that this."

From this story we can learn several points that will bring us to be truly happy.

The merchant felt that being happy involved acumulating wealth and displaying it in an austentacious manner. He required the reassurement of others to fortify his miss givings that wealth brought happiness. Obvious to everyone who has a functioning brain in his head; money, materialism, and their persuit do not bring happiness. The merchant, like so many others in our generation, fell into the common rut of self deceit. Rather than acknowledging the emptiness of wealth, his conscious display of it props up his false givings. He knows that it is not necessary, but it justifies his giving his life over to aquiring it. He acknowledges, however, that for a temporal domain, he can live with much less.

The Rabbi, on the other hand, challanged the merchants basic assumption. Is this world the world, or is it a mere vestibule leading to another more rewarding domicile? The Rabbi tells the merchant that this world is merely transient, therefore, we may make do with less and still enjoy it.

We, also, can do the same. No one today needs to live in poverty. But if we realize, not just intellectually, but also emotionally, that we don't really have to strive for outlandish physical attainments; that modest comforts and modest fare reduce the lure of the falseness of "success brings happiness" mentality. That being happy is not materially oriented (basic needs are obviously a requirement); being happy is based on the feeling of self satisfation in relation to our friends and family.

Once we not just learn this simple lesson intellectually, but when we live it, then we will be truly happy. Happy not only with what we have, but happy in spite of what we do not have.


from theJune 1998Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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