Happiness Hacks

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Sweating the Small Stuff

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At times, unhappiness ensues from different forms of minor stresses in life.

The average Australian spends 66 hours a year waiting in queues - and if you shop at Glick’s on a Friday, 166 hours a year!

From a biochemical point of view, stress can lead to elevation in the hormone called cortisol; studies suggest that elevated cortisol may induce depression.

Stress also reduces serotonin, which is thought to be a contributor to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

Some research suggests that minor daily hassles and everyday annoyances like losing things, heavy traffic or feeling time pressure at work, can be, for some, a more likely cause of psychological difficulties than facing major life events.  When we face the latter, we muster up all our coping resources and meet the challenge head on. On the other hand, we tend to overlook minor hassles.   But the stress accumulates and then overwhelms us.

Redefining Patience
I suggest that the antidote to such stress is the age-old virtue of patience.  Patience is a trait that is often called for in our daily life.  I don’t mean patience as conventionally understood eg simply waiting one’s turn or delaying gratification, but rather as the capacity to deal calmly with hardship.

“…..People tend to think of the outward manifestation of patience (calm and tolerant behaviour),[but] it also has an inward, emotional aspect (serene inner states).  In fact, this inner component may be the defining feature of the virtue…

Patience does not always involve a choice of whether or not to wait – the only choice a person may make is deciding how to wait… [I]nstead of trying to change the situation, patient people change themselves to fit the situation.  Patient people are not being passive, but are actively adapting to face their circumstances.” 
- Sarah A. Schnitker and Justin T. Westbrook, “Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?  Patience Interventions to Improve Well-being”.

Luggage Vs. Baggage 
Fascinatingly, the Hebrew word for patience is SavlanutSaval is the Hebrew word for a porter: an individual who carries luggage.  The inner psychological meaning of “carrying luggage” depends on one’s perspective.  One can view the carried item as an efficient way of organising one’s belongings while traveling or as “baggage”, a source of suffering, a burden that weighs one down.       

Developing the capacity for real patience can transform us.  Be sure to catch me next week as we discuss unique ways of building patience in our lives.

Got Regret?

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“My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”- Woody Allen

Obsessive Regret

Humans possess the potential to act either well or badly. Therefore there are times in life when we succumb to our base instincts and behave in destructive ways.

As we have the power of choice, however, we hopefully will seek to right our wrongs and look to live a better life.  In this process we may be motivated to do something which superficially seems noble, but in truth is very counterproductive, namely continuously examine our past misconduct.  The danger here is becoming driven by obsessive guilt and remorse.


We tell ourselves that this preoccupation with guilt demonstrates that we care, that we are sensitive and that we have a conscience.  However the truth is exactly the opposite: it’s really just another form of narcissism, disguised as righteousness.  For even when contemplating our flaws, we are only thinking of ourselves.  How bad I am, how hopeless I am, how doomed I am, how terrible I am.

So while some people cannot stop thinking how superior they are, others can’t resist of thinking how inferior they are.

But both types are thinking only of themselves.

The Kabbalah of Salt

Jewish mysticism uses salt as a metaphor for guilt and remorse. While salt flavours other foods, overly salted food or salt on its own are inedible. If we remain stuck on our past mistakes, we become oversalted and bitter.  Like Lot’s wife, we become paralysed and all growth is stifled. We remain trapped and find even more reasons for guilt.

A little bit of remorse and guilt is necessary in life.  We need to understand our mistakes and feel pain for our mishaps.  This keeps us humble, balanced and honest. Remorse and guilt are essential because they can motivate change. But the moment guilt becomes the dominant emotion in life, it spoils and corrodes all potential to grow.

Don’t dwell on the past. It’s gone. Rather, see yourself as an extension of Divine energy and light.  Instead of ruminating on your lowliness, contemplate on how you are a soul being brought into existence at this very moment with a purpose.  Live right now and the future will take care of itself.


For a 2 minute audio version click here

A major cause of unhappiness is the competing priorities that pull us in many different directions, depriving us of true inner serenity eg I want to spend time with my family, but I also want to advance my career. Conflicts like these prevent wholeness and hence happiness.

In our society five things usually define a person: dignity, money, fame, education, status and Influence.

But these are all external layers, which many people may never possess.

Authentic happiness lies in discovering our oneness, which is the source of everything important in our lives.

Finding the Epicentre

Judaism has always understood that a human being must have an epicentre, a solid inner core that cannot be affected by the fluctuations of life.  This core cannot be made up of many pieces eg possessions, money, holidays etc  because the more we allow life to pull us in all directions, the more we distance ourselves from happiness.

Rather it is our connectedness to G-d, our soul’s love, loyalty, faith and intimacy that we share with our Creator that stabilise our life and make us happy. 

As The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, has written:

“If throughout history an internal peace and harmony has been necessary for a person’s happiness, how much more so in our confused generation.

Concerning a Jew, the only way to reach inner harmony is with a lifestyle that does not go against one’s very identity.  Our identity is one that cannot be switched or changed; it is an identity that is an inheritance from countless generations.  In other words, a Jew can only find peace and harmony within himself through living an authentic Jewish life.  No material wealth can substitute”

Radical Humility and the Happiness Connection

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“Humble people are completely unabsorbed with themselves”
Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth Chabad Rebbe.

Humble people do not view themselves as a topic for discussion and analysis.  Not because they feel bad or unworthy, but because the humble are not absorbed in themselves.  They keep complete focus on their mission in life, as opposed to analysing their place on the chessboard of life.

Humble people don’t think less of themselves.  They think of themselves less!


There is a concept in modern psychology similar to the way we are defining humility.  It’s called “Flow.”  It refers to the mental state of a person completely immersed in a challenging physical or mental task.

In life we spend so much time thinking about our own self.  In flow, there is no room for self-scrutiny.  A climber making a difficult assent is 100 percent climber, or he would not survive.  Flow is a loss of consciousness of the self.  Being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable”
- Paraphrased from Flow; The psychology of Optimal Experience. 

Flow is very similar to our current definition of humility. The ultimate humble person is he who lacks a consciousness of the self, due to his engrossment in his mission in life.

Humility is not an all-or-nothing proposition.  The more we are able to decrease self-evaluation, the more humble we are.   Just as people can go in and out of flow experiences, similarly, we can go in and out of humility experiences.


G-d created man not as a “needy” being but as a “purposeful” being.  This is built into our very DNA.  When we throw ourselves into things beyond the self we experience flow.  And flow is enjoyable.

We live in an era and society in which the self dominates. But man is at his best when focused on what he is needed for as opposed to what he needs. Self-absorption is counterproductive, because happiness lies not in meeting our needs but in achieving our purpose.

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