Staying in There
By Nachum Mohl
Compared to previous generations, our generation seems blessed with a material abundance here to fore never enjoyed. Perhaps for our grandparents, who weathered the great depression, we live in a world of plenty. Our ancestors from the turn of the 20th century had to work long hours to make enough money just to put food on the table and pay for the bare necessities, shelter, and clothing.
We on the other hand live in a truly blessed time; a time of plenty of material items and even much leisure time. If they, who labored so hard just to eke out a living, who had little time to "enjoy" life, then would it not seem logical that we, who do not have to toil for our livelihood, who have so much spare time to pursue our pleasures, would it not seem logical that we should be a happier group?
I have never failed to marvel at the seemingly obvious contradiction here. Why is it that our generation is so filled with unhappy individuals? We see people seeking psychiatric and psychological help. There is a never seen before high divorce rate to the point that young people are afraid to get married, preferring to live together to see if it will work out. (And that still does not insure a successful marriage!) A new term to add to our vocabulary: "Starter Marriages".
Why is it that we see, not just the poor income having problems, but also the upper income groups too?
Perhaps we can find an answer to this problem, and in doing so, avoid the problem for ourselves. Those of us who have studied the Mishnaic Tractate, "Ethics of the Fathers" A compendium of the thoughts and ideas of our wisest sages, will understand that the answer is simple.
"Envy, bodily desires and desire for self aggrandizement take a person from this world."
These three things are perhaps the most deadly character faults that a person can possess. Just one of them can remove a person from this world. That means he will not be able to enjoy his life, it does not mean that he is removed physically from the world, although that certainly can happen in extreme cases.
Only one of those bad character traits is enough to ruin a person's life. How does it work? Most people can understand that bodily desires, the desires that spring from the body, meaning the desire to over indulge in food, sex, or drink can ruin a person's life. This is clear to all. We all know what overdoing food, sex, or drink can do, and we know what each his. We learn to control these urges and we fight that they should not control us.
The concept of self-aggrandizement is also a familiar evil to most. By the time a person reaches adulthood, he realizes he isn't perfect and the older he gets the more it becomes self-apparent.
The real problem for our generation is really in envy. "Envy?" you should cry, where do I suffer from envy?
Let us understand how envy works. We either see or hear about something that some one else has, that we don't have. We feel that had we had this thing, we would be more fulfilled, completed, happy, etc.
But you may resist and claim, but I have no envy of my friends - and you may be correct. But unless you are one of the very special few who has not seen an advertisement, a TV commercial, etc, you must understand that the adman gets his paycheck by making you feel that if you had just this "thing" you would be happy, fulfilled, content, etc. And of course when you see, some one (whom of course you do not know) driving a what-ever, or wearing a what-ever, or going to eat a what-ever, you begin to think that maybe you also need this what-ever to bring you the fulfillment of what ever you are lacking.
In reality, advertisements stimulates you to even emulate life styles that are so notoriously unreal, and yet, you could believe that your happiness is truly waiting for you via this "neat", "cool" or "chic" lifestyle. Look around at what the youth are doing - walking around dressed like "what-ever". Where did they get the idea that this is beneficial? From the advertisements that surround them and then their peer group reinforces it.
Why are many people so unhappy? Because they are following what they have been told to do, as if this will guarantee happiness! How ridiculous!
Do you really believe that acting like an actor in a movie, commercial, advertisement, etc, will bring you happiness?
Only by being who G-d created you to be can make you happy. But that requires introspection which few of us have been trained to do.
As long as people try to be other than themselves, they can never be happy. And contrary to popular belief, it does not mean to fail to meet other's needs. It means that you can never achieve independence from mankind. You have been created to help benefit mankind in your own particular manner, both within a family environment and also in a community setting.
Happiness is not the surge of joy one feels when he finally reaches a life goal; happiness is the feeling of wellbeing generated by giving of yourself to others.
Envy is the eye looking to see what others have that you do not have. Happiness comes from seeing what others do not have that you can give them.
from the February 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine