Happiness Hacks

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The Humility Happiness Link

For a 3 minute audio version click here 

Humility Misunderstood 

We often think that the key to boosting our happiness lies in setting aside negative experiences and trying to appreciate the blessing that we have in life.

In truth, the way that we look at ourselves is also very important.  A Healthy self-concept is vital to happiness and the key to this is humility.

The character trait of Humility is regularly misunderstood.  What does it mean to be humble? Is humility about diminishing one’s own true qualities and achievements? Is humility about seeing oneself as a Shmateh?

So much of success depends on a person’s ability to stand up for themselves.  In business, politics and sports, we glorify self-confidence. Don’t we hurt ourselves if we are too modest? Still, Jewish tradition places great emphasis on humility and sees it as the key to happiness.

Judaism teaches that humility can, and should, coexist with a healthy self-esteem, strength and decisiveness.  How can this be?

Humility Redefined

Allow me to introduce you to the Chassidic definition of humility.

“Humility is not synonymous with inferiority….. The true idea of humility is: we do not take credit for the good we possess, knowing that our attainments are not our own doing but something we received by inheritance.

Moshe for example “Was exceedingly humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth.”  Moses was cognizant of his own qualities and was aware that his lofty spiritual level was unparalleled; but he was stull humble.  He recognised that all of these qualities were given to him from above…. He felt that if another person would be endowed with the same abilities and qualities as he, the other would equal his achievements – or maybe even surpass them.  It was this that led Moshe to be the humblest man of all.”

-          Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

  • Humility does not negate truth; it taps into the truth.
  • Humility does not stem from our shortcomings; it actually derives from thinking about our strengths.
  • Humility is not synonymous with inferiority. 

Humility means we celebrate our intrinsic worth and competence, but we don’t take credit for these qualities.  We see them as a gift given to us and somebody else with this special gift might have been even more productive than me.

Humility Leads to Happiness

This provides us with the mindset for a joy-causing self-concept: On the one hand, we know that we have intrinsic worth and vast capabilities.  At the same time, we don’t feel that the world owes us anything, or that we are deserving of anything special. We are than able to see the good things we have in life as gifts and be happy with those blessings.

Self-esteem & Happiness

Self-esteem is essential for happiness. Joy is dependent on a feeling that one is worthwhile, that one’s life has purpose, and there is significance to ones existence in the universe.

Here are some consequences of low self-esteem and how it impedes on happiness from Let Us Make Man by Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky  

People who have the sense of worthlessness, experience a morbid fear that they are undeserving of joy and that even when they do feel joy it will only be short-lived.  So occasions that should result in happiness, produce anxiety instead.

People pleaser:
People who fear that they are unlikable, try to buy friendship.  They always say “yes” in fear of losing affection and friendship.  As a result they carry a great deal of resentment within themselves and are angry that others are takin advantage of them.

Ill-equipped to deal with everyday stresses:
People who consider themselves inadequate, can perceive many normal stress situations as being overwhelming, not because the challenges are actually so big, but because they feel to inadequate to cope with them. 

Overly sensitive:
People with a negative self-image, may develop a type of paranoia, understanding even benign remarks as insults, and exaggerating any remark or action which maybe be even remotely critical of them.

Based on the above, a key to happiness is humility.  But the Jewish concept of humility is fundamentally novel.

Be sure to catch me next week as we discuss the unique Jewish approach to humility.

Is Happiness Happenstance?

Lucky to be Happy? 

We all know what it feels like to be happy, but the actual source of our
happiness has always been hard to pinpoint.

Ever wondered what the etymology of the word “Happiness” is?

  • Happenstance (a chance happening)
  • Haphazard (randomness)
  • Hapless (unlucky)
  • Hap (Lucky)

There seems to be a connection between happiness and random luck.
(Similarly in Yiddish and German “Glucklich” means both happy and lucky.)

Ancient people viewed happiness more as a sign of luck, and this kind of thinking is still pretty common today. A lot of people assume that being happy means that you’re fortunate, your life was blessed, or that you’re just one lucky son of a gun.

Judaism disagrees with this notion.  Yes, there is no doubt, certain lucky things add a degree of happiness.  But it is in no way the defining factor to happiness.

We see so many examples of people blessed with dream like circumstances and still cannot find an enduring state of happiness.

Happiness is an Attitude  

The Zohar points out that the letters forming the Hebrew word B’simcha-בשמחה (with joy) are the same letters that spell Machshavah-מחשבה (thought)

Happiness is mostly determined by thought processes and attitudes.

Our circumstances are often not in our control, but our mind is under our control.  Our mind is the most crucial key to our happiness.  A Healthy self-concept or self-esteem is vital to happiness.

Be sure to catch me next week as we discuss the unique Jewish approach to self-esteem. 

What Happiness Actually Does

The Happiness Advantage 

We chase happiness for its own sake – it feels good and makes us feel that life is worth living.  But there are in fact multiple fringe benefits to living a life of joy.  Recently, researchers have been studying the happiness advantages, and they have learned some fascinating facts.

Happy people show more flexibility and ingenuity in their thinking and are more productive in their jobs.  The fascinating and now classic “Nun Study” shows a link between happiness and longevity.  Other studies are showing happiness leads to better health and good relationships.

Chassidic and Kabbalistic literature offers a perspective as to why happiness leads to these advantages.

In chapter 26 of his Tanya, the Alter rebbe explains how joy is a prerequisite for self-mastery which might explain why joy is a prerequisite to success:

“This should be made as a cardinal principle:  The internal spiritual battle waged against one’s negative impulses is similar to a physical wrestling match.  If tow individuals are wrestling with each other. Each striving to fell the other, but ones is lazy and lethargic, he will fall and be easily defeated, even if he is stronger than his opponent.  

The same applies regarding the conquest of one’s impulses: it is impossible to defeat them from a state of laziness and heaviness, which stem from sadness and a dull heart, but only from a state of brisk enthusiasm, which derives from happiness and a heart free from any trace of worry and sadness in the world. “

If we want to be successful in staying on our diets, want to be successful in controlling our minds from negative thinking, or any other area of self-mastery, happiness gives a decisive edge.

 The Nature of Joy 

Chassidic philosophy explains the reason for this: The nature of Joy is a revelation and an effusion of self.  When we are happy, we can access and give more of ourselves. Man is gifted with many talents and strengths.  But our full power often remains dormant.  Joy opens the valves of our potential and allows our strengths to flow outward.

Happiness is synonymous with life itself.  “Life” is the person expressing their potential.  Sadness, which is a person’s withdrawal from self-expression, is thus anti-life.  Happy people are often described as “full of life,” while a sad person would be described as “dead inside.”

This is why happy people are more successful in many areas of life.

Self-mastery is required for a good marriage, health, holding a job, problem solving, and many other things, and happiness is a requirement for self-mastery.  Also, Joy, in itself, expresses and exposes our talents and abilities, this helps us in all the above mentioned areas in life. 

This post is is taken from the JLI course How Happiness Thinks, given by Velly in Chabad Malvern.

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