Being Happy in a Non-Happy World
By Nachum Mohl
If you were to ask most people what do they want from life, they will tell you, to be happy. But, it seems that being happy is a goal that most people find elusive.
We really must inquire, why is this? Is happiness such an elusive thing that so few people ever realize it?
If you were to ask most people, "who do you think in this world is happy?" they would probably tell you the wealthy are happy. But have you ever occasioned in the houses of the wealthy? If you did, you would see that in reality, there is no more happiness there than anywhere else.
In fact, you probably realize, that with the vast wealth of the wealthy, they also inherit many problems that the average middle class person does not know. True they may enjoy the convenience of being able to purchase that which they desire but this does not bring them any lasting pleasure. They have problems with their spouses and children that the over abundance of money causes. No, sorry, happiness is not with them in greater abundance than with other social stratas.
In reality, always being happy is an impossibility, at least what most people call "happiness". The reason is that happiness, at least the happiness that most people desire is really euphoria, an "up". This is a state that only comes at rare times. Most people confuse happiness with contentment. Contentment is an achievable state, but euphoria, while it is achievable, is not sustainable.
Let us give you an example:
Let us put you into a situation like this. All of your friends are having a really great time. It could be a really wild party, it could be Purim or Simchat Torah celebrations, it could be anything that you think is really super great. Let us say that you come back to the apartment that you are staying in and accidentally get locked in. There is no way to get out, there is no phone and the windows are barred.
You know that your friends will not return until late. You are stuck in the apartment until they return. You resign yourself to your fate. You can hear them having a great time, but you know that no one will come back to look for you.
What can you do? They are having a great feast, fancy foods, music dancing, and expensive liqueur. What can you do? You haven't eaten yet. You go in the kitchen and there is a refrigerator. Not much in there; a few yogurts, some old hard cheese, some soda with no fizz, and some dry bread. There is no radio, no reading matter, just a small folding cot to rest on.
So what do you do? You resign yourself to this lousy quirk of fate. You have no choice, since you are hungry, you eat the food unhappily.
But let us go back into time.
You are in Germany in a concentration camp. You work twelve hours a day at backbreaking labor. You are not given proper facilities to wash, you sleep in a room with a hundred other men, and the sobbing and groaning from pain disturbs your sleep. The stench of filthy clothes is horrible. Three or four men share a flea-infested bed. Food is scarce, starvation is the norm. Once a day you receive scraps of food to eat.
Something happens and you are taken out of the work gang and put in a room by yourself. You must be there for the rest of the day. There is the same refrigerator that was in the above example with the same food. Yogurt, cheese, soda, (a special treat during the war, even though there is no carbonation) even dry bread. There is a cot to sleep on all by your self.
So what do you do?
You eat the food and take a nap on the cot and are very happy due to your good fortune.
What is the difference?
It is not in the circumstances in which you find yourself that makes you happy or content, it is how you view your circumstances that make your life.
More than monetary considerations, more than social considerations, the way in which you see yourself in relation to your circumstances are what will cause you to be either happy (content) or unhappy (not content).
So if this is case, let us ask the next question: How can we bring ourselves into a mental state to really enjoy life, and to be content?
First and foremost know that it is a not difficult thing; it merely takes a bit of mental effort and practice.
What must be done is very simply to realize that all situations come from G-d. He decides who will be rich, and who will be poor; who will be healthy and who will suffer. He is in charge of the world, not you. He grants success, and He causes failure.
This is very important to know. You are really limited in what you can accomplish. This does not in any manner relieve you from trying your best to succeed; this merely means that your ability to achieve (or to fail) is based on the will of G-d. If you succeed, thank G-d, if you fail after trying your hardest, well, maybe G-d had a different reason for the outcome being what happened. You are not to blame.
Secondly, realize that G-d is good. He wants that you (and every one) should realize your potential and succeed in your purpose for which you were created. The problem is that few understand for which purpose they were created. But irregardless if you know or do not know, do know that there is a reason.
Because of this, you are different from all other people. You have your talents and G-d given gifts that exist in you only for the purpose of doing G-d's will. Don't try to be others and don't look to see what possessions others have accumulated. It won't help you, just the opposite; it will only make you depressed.
Thirdly, and perhaps, the most important principle of achieving contentment is to meditate and focus on the good fortune that G-d has given you. Each day, several times a day, count the various blessings that G-d has given to you. Recount to yourself all of the special times that G-d showed his grace on you. Yes, G-d helps every one, even you.
You must focus on these special times, times you were in distress and G-d rescued you. Times that were difficult and somehow you miraculously made it through.
The more that you contemplate on these things, the more you will be able to rely on G-d for the future and to realize that all the problems that you are undergoing now are only for a short time.
On the other hand, if you do not do any of the above, you will continue to be depressed at times, elated at other times. Your life will lack mental stability, you will never reach contentment.
Really, happiness and contentment is in your hands.
from the November 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine