I have been writing for a few years now. Everything from loss, fear, love, grieving and gratitude; unfairness, life gone askew, HaShem and everything in between.
I have learned my lessons the hard way most of the time and I know that all other lessons I will learn in the future, B’ezrat HaShem, will not be the easy way either.
It would be great if we would pray for wisdom and it would be magically bestowed upon us. But it doesn’t work that way. Usually you get thrown into circumstances that will make you wiser if you pay attention. Sadly in my case I gain wisdom harder than most because I am ‘blessed’ with an uncommon stubbornness that makes lessons harder to stick, but HaShem is good to me and has enough mercy to teach me not because I am great but in spite of myself most of the time.
The latest lesson I had to learn was how to be happy.
I've learned that we have been primed to pursue happiness. It is in our blood, no matter how bad our circumstances are. And sometimes that pursuit is harming us and it can be a dangerous trek, one which leaves us empty-handed, disappointed, and yearning for more, one which consumes our lives with perpetual wandering, like an Israelite tribe that never reached the Promised Land... Because, so often, the pursuit of happiness manifests itself in an unending attempt to free our lives of pain and of trouble. It manifests itself in an insatiable search for the best. It manifests itself in a blind disregard for the blessings that fill our lives.
Usually things go well for a while and then out of the blue, without warning, life seems to go wrong. The good turns to bad. We feel helpless, or confused, or angry.
And what do we do?
So often we go looking, searching for something better, off on a metaphorical journey in pursuit of happiness, believing we can find a place that will numb the pain, a place where things will be easier, where life will no longer be like this.
We are inundated in life with the lie that ‘something better’ exists, that there are pacifiers for all of our problems, and that if only we do something, or go somewhere, we’ll solve them, and then we’ll be happy.
We are primed to believe that the pursuit of happiness can lead us to a happy place, so we constantly search. But what happens when we get there?
I use to think ‘if I only get to Israel, I’ll be happy’, or if only I gain more knowledge, if only I would lose weight, if only I’d be more rich, if only I’d get to travel more, if only I do this and that, then for sure I will be happy. It ended up that no, I wasn’t.
The pursuit of happiness is dangerous, because it can lead us to believe that happiness demands the escape from trouble, that there is a garden-like place, somewhere, if only we can reach it.
I lied to myself for years thinking that it’s not me. It’s not my fault that I’m not happy, because if only things could be easier, things could be better, things could be different, then I’d be as happy as I want to be.
But there is no magical place that once you reach you’re happy. These places appear as an oasis in the distance, but as soon as we near them, they fade away into nothingness.
Am I saying there is no happiness? No. Of course there is. But maybe, just maybe, it’s not a feeling you get once you’ve reached a certain destination, but rather a state of mind and an understanding of HaShem’s way.
Judaism’s understanding of happiness is rather different than what we may have come to expect. It sees happiness as the symptom of a life filled with meaning, filled with purpose, and filled with devotion, rather than an item we can obtain by accomplishing specific tasks, reaching certain places, or undoing past errors.
The Scriptures push us to imagine a world free of slavery, and war, and bloodshed, but never do they give us a simple path to ending any of these maladies. We are left to be the change we want to see in this world, something which we can accomplish by manifesting the will of Adonai in our lives.
"Happy is the person who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners or joined the company of the insolent. Rather, the teaching of God is his delight, he studies that teaching day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades." (Tehillim/ Psalms 1)
This happiness, the happiness derived from a life filled with meaning, a life committed to The Word, is a happiness of balance – one rooted in Scriptures, a happiness that allows for introspection, and perspective.
Judaism teaches that happiness is the result of our actions and the way we choose to view the world, not an abstract ideal that we should pursue.
I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. So I tried to stop looking outside myself for happiness and instead changed the lenses I use to look at the world and the things that happen in my life. I learned to stop pursuing happiness elsewhere and, instead, find happiness in the place I already am in.
Yes, each of us lives life walking down a broken, messy path, filled with sharp edges and pits and cracks that hurt us deeply, that disappoint us, crush our spirits and question our faith. Life is hard. Life can be unfair.
Each of us, at one point or another in our lives, will be hurt, will meet sadness, will be dealt unfair hands. We cannot inoculate ourselves to troubles any more than we can choose to stop breathing. We do not have the free-will to author the books of our lives – our world is filled with too many characters, protagonists and antagonists, to narrate by ourselves.
But we can choose how to tell our stories. We can focus on the positive, on the good, on the funny and meaningful and holy.
We can live our lives in the constant pursuit of something better, something less troublesome, something external, we can live our lives in the constant pursuit of happiness out there, or we can pursue the happiness we deserve in here, internally, through a steady dose of reflection, commitment, and teshuva (return/repentance).
One path leads us in pursuit of something better,something that does not exist. The other leads us up the path of focused attention to deliberate appreciation for what is; gratitude for what we do have.
Bat Melech בת מלך