Torah & Happiness
Periodically, we experience negative feelings. We might possess sufficient wealth, family, friends, and health, but emotions of dissatisfaction, greed, jealousy, and arrogance ruin what could be a more even keeled life. We verbalize and act out what we should not, and then have to pay the price by losing a job, a friend, our reputation, or a spouse.
For others, unfortunately, we succumb to feelings of inferiority, persecution, and inadequacy, and allow our burdens, low self-esteem and letdowns to overcome us. They soon become our daily focus, casting a cloud over our every move. We then accept a dreary “fate”, mumbling “Why me?” but never attempt to overcome our troubles. However, problems can be overcome. With time, we can identify how we “got here”, and learn how we can remove our problems. But accept this: there are obstacles on the path to recovery – many self imposed – which we must recognize, and from which, we must not cower or avoid. And it is these very obstacles that caused our predicaments to begin with. However, a source of strength to help us overcome our current state is the desire to be happy. If we retain our hope, and follow a rational path, although it may take some time, we can arrive at a better life where we are truly, deeply happy.
Many individuals rose from poverty, sickness and depression, to wealth, health and happiness. But to do so, reflection was required, so as to identify the cause of their problems. Sometimes, people wish sympathy from others and avoid the removal of their problems, as they would no longer receive that “desired” sympathy. At times, sympathy is our unconscious desire, one that we readily deny. Other times, we might remain with problems because we have not matured to complete independence as we should, and we seek the “parental” care of others to compensate for early years when we were not given that much needed attention. Therefore, we unconsciously desire to remain in poor conditions, so as to generate the missed attention of that parent, now embodied in a replacement figure. If friends or authorities inform us of such unconscious wishes, me might immediately deny such explanations. But any “immediate” denial must be recognized as an ego defense mechanism: another emotion that regularly seeks to secure our dignity. However, we cannot let dignity blind us to the truth about our personalities and destructive drives. Understanding what makes each one of us tick, most times, requires the counsel of a wise, objective individual, and the ability to accept a less-than-desired self-image. For this reason, when one is very sick, the Talmud suggests a visit to a wise man. He is best suited to examine our lives and values, directing us to the sin or error causing God’s removal from our lives, and this illness. It is then up to us to be truthful, accepting what we see as accurate, addressing our shortcomings. We should also view such information as a blessing.
The “unconscious” part of our mind is responsible for our dreams, and many actions and feelings throughout the day. Our unconscious is not something about which to feel poorly or embarrassed, for the greatest people have an unconscious. But its workings deserve examination, so it no longer dictates our moves. By understanding ourselves, and accepting whatever feelings we might have, we can then realize these emotions in action, becoming conscious of their workings, and consciously deciding not to repeat destructive actions, no matter how comfortable or usual they have become. Focusing on the repeated harm our unexamined lives caused us, coupled with a real yearning to become happier, we can do just that.
The truth of this unconscious is readily seen in individuals who have experienced trauma. Take for example a person with extreme shyness. Why is this person more shy than most? At times we might attribute it to familial personality traits, but at times, it is due to some event in childhood. Just as a hand becomes callused when working with rough materials, so too the human mind or rather, the psyche, reacts to events and feelings, and can remain altered for decades. The more impressionable the psyche or the younger the child at trauma, the more affected is the individual.
One way to undo such affects, is gaining knowledge of the self, not allowing ego to deny what might be true, and to work with this new information. Eventually, if we remain focused and optimistic on the real prospect that we can arrive at a happy life, and we dislike our current situation more than the “ugly” truths we might have to face about ourselves…we should be encouraged, and start down the path to recovery immediately. Find a reputable, wise individual, pay him or her whatever the costs, and learn about yourself. This can be a Rabbi, a psychologist, or a friend with a keen sense of psychology and human nature. But accept that this might take some time.
But this is only one method for arriving at happiness, regardless of our current predicament.
Torah and Happiness
You must also be encouraged that God certainly wishes the best life for each of us, and that your very existence is God’s will. Think about that last line for a moment: you exist, only because you were created. And it is God who created you. You are a result of the will of the Creator of the universe. As He wishes the cosmos to stretch forever, He desired your existence. How does that make you feel, that God actually desires you to exist? This must engender in you a feeling of appreciation that you have been given this opportunity of “life”. We cannot always control events that affect us, but we can respond with reason, and we must also know that God has no obstacles if He wishes to assist you. God fully understands the spectrum of sadness through happiness, and that we all experience a myriad of emotional highs and lows throughout our life. And as God created us all, He wishes that we live for a reason: to experience a happy existence. God’s creation of the full range of emotions, coupled with His gift of the Torah, teaches us that living in accord with Torah, we may find a more primary path towards happiness, even if we are currently in a state of turmoil. The error that many people make is that they don’t observe this truth discussed in the Talmud, that God wishes man’s happiness and gave Torah as the solution. They live life as if they know what brings happiness; yet, time after time, we see this is false. Most of us feel “I am trying to be happy”. But we only ‘assume’ how happiness is achieved, and have not determined if our assumptions are valid. But as God created one Torah for all mankind, this means that it is the exclusive path for everyone to achieve happiness. It is therefore the best remedy for every life. This in no way is to minimize personal suffering, but God’s lesson is this: life is not truly enjoyed, if Torah is avoided.
Working on removing our own obstacles, be they great or small, is a must. But this alone does not give us happiness. We are “designed” creatures, which means we have a precise method of operation: there are limitations to our physical abilities, and ways in which we work best. As food is essential for the happiness of our bodies, our more central component, our souls, also require nourishment. If we starve our bodies, we die, and if we starve our soul our soul dies. But this is not something most people accept. Most people ‘assume’ if they obtain what society and the media portray is happiness, then they will arrive at happiness. But you must realize that the masses never studied who is happy and who is not. And if the media is correct, then why do those rich and famous people keep getting divorced, become alcoholics, and lose their lives to drugs? Why are they not happy? Conversely, why are Rabbis, Torah students, scientists and philosophers for centuries, completely engrossed and invigorated when studying God’s universe and laws? Evidently there is more to life than possessions. The life if wisdom has proven to address all personalities, affording all involved with great fulfillment.
We start each day with the Modeh Ani: “Thankful am I before You, King, the living and eternal God, that You returned my soul to me with mercy, great is Your trust”. These are the very first words we are to recite each morning when waking upon our beds. This sentiment, if recited with meaning, can have the most profound effect on the remainder of our day. We rise with the knowledge that God wishes our existence for yet another day. What are we to do with this existence? How can I truly “be happy?”
If we are to truly be happy, then simultaneously with our identifying, confronting and abandoning negative feelings and destructive behaviors, we must determine in which activities we are to engage. Becoming psychologically healthy and at ease is essential, but it is not an ends, and cannot create happiness itself. The human being possesses much energy and much ambition, and if we stifle this ambition and energy, we become frustrated. We are fortunate that God has taught us the precise activities, which will lead to happiness: the Torah laws.
Having created us, no one knows better than God what will offer us the most fulfilling life.