Happiness Hacks

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Anger Danger

For a 2 minute audio version click here 

In his writings on character traits, the great Jewish philosopher Rambam largely advocated finding the middle ground between two extremes (the ‘golden mean’ rule). Thus one should be neither excessively stingy nor overly generous; neither an extreme pleasure-seeker nor radically ascetic; overly elated or extremely depressed etc. 

However the Rambam is quite clear that anger is an exception to this rule. In his ‘Laws of Personal Development’, he states the following:
“Anger is an exceptionally bad quality. It is proper to distance oneself from anger to the furthest extreme and train oneself not to become angry even in response to an incident that rightfully calls for anger.”

What is it about anger that makes it so poisonous? Because an angry person loses the ability to properly assess any given situation; this lack of judgement leads to mistakes, often very damaging mistakes. Thus even if anger is justified it invariably leads to loss of control and so often to regrettable conduct.

As Will Rogers once said “People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.”

Though anger is not listed among the Torah’s 365 prohibitions, Rabbi Chaim Vital attested “My master the Arizal was more cautious with anger than with any other sin”

Love builds and anger destroys. A lifetime of work and toil can vanish in one moment of anger. 

Stay tuned for my upcoming ‘Happiness Hacks’ where I will share practical tips for controlling anger in our daily lives.   

Stop Pursuing Happiness

For a 2 minute audio version click here 

There is a puzzling story in the Talmud about one of its greatest figures, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. Lying on his deathbed, he began to weep when his students visited him.

His disciples asked him “Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer!  Why do you weep?”

He responded “There are two ways before me, one leading to paradise and the other to hell, and I do not know to which I shall be taken…”

What could such a great and holy sage have meant by this answer?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained this story as follows:
For all of his life Rabbi Yochanan was so preoccupied with what he had to do, he never thought of himself. Consequently he never had time to think about whether he was deserving of heaven or hell. 

Such questions only arise when one is idle. Rabbi Yochanan was so busy fulfilling G-d’s call, when he came to the finish line, he simply didn’t know where he was destined to go.

This idea holds true in many areas of life, even down to physical health.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote, “When a person begins to feel that he has a heart, head, hand, foot, or any other limb, it is a sign that something is amiss. A healthy person does not feel his limbs due to their constant availability; when he begins to feel them, it is the opposite of health.”

How do we know our body is healthy?  When we don’t feel it.  The healthier a body is, the less you sense it.

Happiness is no different.  Happiness comes when you are at one with yourself, when you are connected to your essence and when your life is connected to your innermost identity.

Take a look at a two year-old running around having a great time.
Sit this child down and ask: “So tell me, do you feel good?  Are you happy?  Do you feel valuable?”  Most likely the child will look at you strangely with a look implying “Stop bothering me; I’m busy living.”

Indeed, when we are truly busy living, the “you” does not occupy independent space. When the ‘I’ is totally in touch with life, it does not inform us that it exists, for it is completely unified with its purpose and mission. It is in this space that one can be truly happy.

We discover happiness when we become a channel for something greater than ourselves.  Instead of searching for what we need, we must search for what we are needed.

We can’t own our happiness. Happiness must own us.  We can’t define happiness. It must define us. 

This is the great paradox:
As long as we pursue happiness as an end in itself, it is unattainable.
Artificial gratification, yes. A good feeling about achievements, yes.  But authentic inner, genuine happiness at the core of our existence, no.
It is only when we forget about our own pursuits and instead devote ourselves fully to a greater cause that we attain genuine happiness.  

The Pursuit of Happiness; Simcha vs. Sasson

For a 2 minute audio version click here  

Thrill or Balance? 
In Hebrew we have a number of words for happiness, amongst them is Sasson and Simcha.  But there is a difference between these two terms.

Simcha is the more common expression of joy.  Sasson is thrill and excitement.  Sasson is also what we like to call “Fun.”   It is usually intense and short-lived.  It is also often the result of an experience or activity: a great game, a good movie, a delicious meal, an entertaining show.
By contrast, Simcha is less intense, but a more internal sense of well-being coming from living a balanced and well-adjusted life.  It is calm satisfaction, or inner fulfilment and contentment.  It comes from achieving goals and living up to expectations.
Whereas Sasson is more spontaneous and explosive, Simcha is more mature, consistent and internal.

Sasson is the voice in our head that insists that life is all about short term pleasure.  Happiness is about self-gratification.  To be happy means to want or need nothing else, to be fulfilled in the here and now.

Simcha is the voice in our head that argues that this is superficial and short-term. The moment the thrill is over, you’re back to your old boring self and you will always need stimulation to make you excited again.
To really achieve happiness is a much more difficult task.  Simcha comes with achievement and success.  It takes years of hard work.  It’s the hard-earned result of self-discipline and self-respect.   Simcha is not feeling good about an experience.  It’s feeling good about yourself.  And that is a long term investment.
I would like to hear from you.  Which one will make you happier?  In your opinion, which approach is the more Jewish attitude to happiness?

Happiness & Discipline

For a 2 minute audio version click here 

The Art of Self-mastery
Much of what we want for our children to achieve is unattainable without the art of self-mastery.  Take happiness for example: A person who is enslaved to their impulses, bad desires or addictions cannot be truly happy. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson said regarding education: “The whole point of education is to change the child’s habitual nature. Children, by nature, do whatever they see fit, without any restraints…..Children must therefore be taught to set boundaries and change their habitual natures, until they attain sovereignty of mind over heart.”

Education is about teaching our children the art of self-mastery. This sort of education is of the utmost importance and is multifaceted. It includes, but is not limited to, the ability to delay gratification and the ability to focus without being distracted. These elements are crucial to success in every area of life - materially, socially, intellectually, morally and spiritually.

The key is discipline.  Not discipline in a sense of punishment, but discipline in a sense of self control.

Simply stated, discipline is the capacity to do something when you don’t feel like it, when you don’t want to and when you think that you can’t. 

We can train our children to act in a disciplined way by pushing them beyond their comfort zones.  We need to set a high standard for them and insist that they reach it, even (and especially) when they protest and proclaim that the standard or goal is not within their reach.
Discipline Redefined
Discipline is usually seen as a necessary evil.  You’re young, you’re irresponsible, you’re ignorant, so you have to obey your parents.
Chassidic teaching sees it very differently.  Obedience is a not a yoke that you don’t want; it is a talent that you never outgrow.
Every human being has limitations.  There are many different things that keep me from functioning. But all that changes when you have discipline.  True discipline means freeing yourself, getting beyond the petty restrictions that limit average human beings and cause them to under-function and under-perform.

Every time a child learns discipline, he or she is moved one step closer to being a mature human being and is empowered to repeat the process again and again.  But most importantly, the more disciplined our children are, the more of a happy and content life they will live.  


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