By Dr. H. David Burstein March 2012
One of the fondest memories of my grade school years was on Friday afternoons when I had five friends over to our home to play hockey in our basement. When people mention “The Original Six, my thoughts turn first to those times with these friends, more than to that bye gone era when the Maple Leafs had won the Stanley Cup 4 times in my life before I was 12 years old.
My parents still live in the house. Although the rec room has been turned into storage space, I have cleared it up so as to allow my two young sons room to play hockey in the same location that I enjoyed in my youth. There is a memory I hope to recreate.
During the cleanup, I found a cassette tape of a lecture by Rabbi Noah Weinberg entitled “Happiness (http://www.aish.com/sp/48w/48954586.html). Like a great piece of music his beautifully crafted talk warrants repeated listening. Of the many points made, three ideas in particular stood out:
- Happiness is energy and power for living
- Happiness is not the goal in life; it is the means to tap your inner energy in order to accomplish your potential
- If you dont appreciate what you have, you wont appreciate what youll get
We are all responsible for our happiness. There are people who are blessed with happier dispositions. For most of us happiness is not our “default state of mind. It does not just happen. Many expect happiness to be handed to them. They feel they are entitled to it. But it does not work that way. We have to work on it like any other life skill. We are endowed by God with the right to pursue it. The problem is that many of us do not know how or where to find the sources for happiness.
Self generated happiness often comes when we reflect on the amount of hard work that has gone into an accomplishment. And even then, it is not just the reaching the goal, but what you do with it. I have often wondered about athletic accomplishment. I can appreciate the passionate dedication that ultimately resulted in the moment of victory, but what about the next day? With our professional accomplishments, getting through dental school should be a source of happiness. But how have we have conducted ourselves since is more important.
Some of the energies for happiness have the component of time to them. There are sources from the past, present and future that are there to be tapped. They come to us from macro and micro sources.
In Thomas Cahills “the Gifts of the Jews, he talks about Jews inventing “linear history.
“Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies–a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence–and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today. (from the overview of the book review on Amazon.com)
I see Judaism to be a psychological technique as much as a religion and ethical system. When practiced properly it should make us happier because it inculcates gratitude and gives purpose and meaning to our actions. We are being reminded that it was God who created the world and took the Jewish people out of slavery. Remember what was done for you. In Harold Kushners book “Conquering Fear he points out that humans are often afraid of moving forward. This fear of man is an early observation of Gods. He does not want us to be afraid. He is here to help us conquer our fear. Gods first critical observation about what he created is that it was not good for man to be alone. He gave us the other people of our lives to give us the energy of encouragement and confidence.
On a personal level, we need to use our memories to have perspective for all the good that has occurred in our lives. We tell stories, we look at pictures, we get together with family and community to repeat rituals that remind of the lessons of the past. It taps in happiness energy.
Many years ago Dr. Laura Schlesinger told a story that she once had a fortune cookie that said “Happiness is not perfected until it is shared. Just waiting for the feeling of happiness is not enough. With whom do we share the energy?
This is part of the sadness when a relationship ends, a loved one suffers from a disease like Alzheimers, or actually dies. With the loss of the ability to share memories, a source of happiness energy has been taken away.
Happiness energy in the present should be obvious. I do not think it is a coincidence that the word present (time) is the same as word present (gift). I dealt with present happiness in my article entitled “You are Lucky to Read This. We need happiness energy as a fuel for our free will to be activated. My sister Judy, who died of cancer in 2009, had a bout of depression during her illness. But she told me that being depressed was worse than having cancer, as your free will has been taken away. Her depression had overwhelmed her even though she had made it to being a happy person.
Happiness energy about the desired future is often trickier. How often do people say “When such and such happens then Ill be happy. But if a persons value system is not balanced, even when they do reach their goal, they often set themselves up for disappointment. Or they are impatient and expect the process to be linear.
But the energy of future happiness has to be broken down into planned flexible steps as opposed to climbing up a steep incline. We must celebrate the movement forward and recognize the incremental success, and accept the encouragement we get from family and friends if we slip up along the way.
As a way of figuring out what is important in life, ask what you want your tombstone to say? Most people want to be known for our devotion to our loved ones. Were we positive or negative energy in the lives of others? If is was positive, it must have been partly a result of our happiness level in being with them. As Dennis Prager says that being happy is as much a moral obligation as it is a selfish pursuit. Just keep yourself open to see that for all the trouble in the world, happiness energy is all around us.
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