Happiness Hacks

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Happiness Depends on Self

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Usually external factors are beyond our control, thus we can’t depend on them to find true happiness. Further, if we do rely on external factors such as wealth or fame for our happiness , these factors master us.

For the individual to control his or her own happiness depends on developing a positive outlook to whatever life brings us.

This concept of seeking happiness in a way that depends only on yourself can be found in ‘Ethics of our Fathers’. Here the Mishna teaches that the wise man is one who learns from everyone, independent of any intellectual deficiencies in oneself.  The honourable person is one who honours others, irrespective of whether he receives honour from others. The wealthy person is one who is satisfied with what he has, regardless of the amount.

The message is quite clear.  Do not seek or demand happiness through factors dependent on anything external to us. Base your happiness on your own attitudes over which you can be the master.

Judaism does not deny that certain external situations are conducive to happiness. Nevertheless, none of these can guarantee personal happiness.  Observation of ourselves and others will show many examples where one is blessed with dream-like circumstances, but still cannot find an enduring state of joy.

Once we accept the responsibility for happiness, independent on the good or bad fortune in our lives, our attitudes and thought patterns will sustain our happiness, not the chase of illusions.

The Happiness Attitude

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

From a Jewish perspective, happiness is mostly determined by our thought processes and attitudes.  Thus happiness is really not a single feeling, but a state of being that is brought about through a range of attitudes and spiritual activities that make a person view life differently.

This is emphasised by the Zohar when it points out that the letters forming the Hebrew word B’simcha-בשמחה (with joy) are the same letters that spell Machshavah-מחשבה (thought)

While our circumstances are often not in our control, our mind is under our control.  Proper attitude is a character strength where instead of trying to change the situation, I change myself to fit the situation.

By constantly involving ourselves in spiritual activity, we can achieve a positive attitude that causes happiness. 

By placing less emphasis on the physical pleasure of life and by endeavouring go out of one’s self eg involving oneself with charity and volunteering, this uplifts us and makes us more appreciative of what we have, where our daily activities become a more joyous experience.

It is for this reason the Mishna in Avot states that the three physical emotions of jealousy, lust and glory remove a person from this world, as these are desires that can never be satisfied.

It is our spiritual activity that can put one’s life and all the nonspiritual activities life entails into proper perspective, leading to a much happier existence. 

Happiness & Spirituality

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The Hebrew word that most approximates happiness is osher.   In the Torah, the osher sense of happiness is achieved through spiritual activity.  In Jewish teachings, physical actions cannot bring happiness because man’s physical desires can never be totally satisfied.  Even things that at one point in life made us very happy, eventually fail to make us happy.  We experience an emotional spike of joy when we get something new, but then the new becomes normal and we don’t find happiness in normal. So we look for the new new.  The cycle never ends.  When we are so focused on getting more, we lose the chance to focus on what we already have.

Spiritual experiences, on the other hand, cause a much longer lived pleasure.  It is a rich pleasure that does not easily recede over time. 

The Torah’s examples of activities that lead to Osher are: Those who hold onto the Tree Of Life, that is, the Torah.  (Proverbs 3:18).  A Torah way of life, if lived properly, gives a person an inner feeling of wellbeing and satisfaction along with feelings of accomplishment and spirituality that can change a person’s entire attitude about life.

Another example is from Isaiah 56:2:  One who keeps the Shabbat and does not violate it is called happy.  A properly experienced Shabbat brings feelings that last well beyond the one day. 

The very first verse in Psalms begins with the statement that he who does not follow the advice of evil doers and who does not go in the path of the wicked will be happy.  By associating with and following the path of righteous people, one can experience a special feeling between people who care about each other.

Spiritual pleasure does not always need to be religious in nature.  Examples are experiences of deep friendships or meaningful experiences of personal growth.

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