Happiness Hacks

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The Kabbalah of Positive Thinking

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“Think good and it will be good!”
-The Tzemach Tzedek

When faced with challenges, negative attitudes cause one to shut down and decide from the outset that no matter the effort, failure is inevitable.

A negative attitude is like adding a foul-tasting ingredient to a recipe; no matter what you do to enhance the food, the taste is spoilt.

On the other hand, with a positive outlook one enters a situation confident of success from the very start.   That optimism allows one to truly apply him/her self without being held back.

 Put simply, a positive attitude allows you to give it your best shot.

But there are some limits to the effectiveness of positive thought. 

Sometimes the forces of adversity are just too strong to overcome.

This leads us to a deeper perspective on the power of positive thinking.

Kabbalah points to the fact that man has the power to influence the spiritual realms; our personal conduct elicits corresponding heavenly energies.  As the Zohar teaches, “The upper world gives to the lower according to the latter’s situation.”

When a human being approaches life with optimism and alacrity, he causes the higher spheres to do the same.  This positivity on high is translated into tangible goodness in our lives.  The Zohar continues, “If one maintains a bright face below, so is the illumination for him from above.”

“A person must speak and act in a positive manner, and a matching attitude will become permanently lodged in his heart.  Accordingly, G-d will arouse a merciful spirit upon him with joy and gladness of heart ....”
-The Tzemach Tzedek

This is the Kabbalistic dynamic of positive thinking: by thinking good we are truly influencing the outcome.  We are generating a flow of positive spiritual energy which translates itself into substantial results.

Talk the Talk

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Many people worry about the future.   These worries, as reasonable or unreasonable as they may be, get in the way of our wellbeing and impinge on our joy.

There is a verse in Proverbs that says: “A worry in a person’s heart – cast it away”.

Is this verse advocating to ignore or suppress worrying thoughts?

Words in the Torah don’t have pronunciation vowels, so the word Yaschena “cast it away” can also be read as Yasichena from the word Sicha, which means to talk.  This leads the Talmud to interpret the verse as:  “A worry in a person’s heart – speak about it with others”.

But possibly the basic translation and the Talmudic interpretation actually complement one another.  The Talmud suggests a means through which one may be able to cast away worrying thoughts i.e. by talking it over with another person.

Our speech has the power to trigger our mind to think deeper.  Speech not only expresses our thoughts but also enhances and creates more thoughts.  When one articulates an issue they are facing, the spoken idea becomes clearer in the mind.  With a deeper understanding and broader picture, more perspective is gained and the worry might ease.

The Tzemach Tzedek commented on the phrase: "...with others" that they are "others" only in the bodily sense, but are completely one in spirit with the worrier.  This helps the worrier feel more loved and connected, which is very satisfying in itself.  

The Joy of Returning

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Once on the day after Yom Kippur, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe asked his father, “What must we do now?” His father replied, “Now, we must begin to do Teshuvah.”
My superficial understanding of this story is that Teshuvah is something that we must do on every day of the year.
‘Teshuvah’ is commonly and wrongly translated as ‘repentance’.
Repentance in Hebrew is actually ‘Charatah’, which implies remorse or a feeling of guilt about the past, to such an extent that someone decides to become a ‘new person’.
‘Teshuvah’, however, means something quite different, namely to “return" to the old i.e. one's original nature. Teshuvah underlies the fact that the Jew is essentially good and that it is only desires or temptations that temporarily distract us from being ourselves and true to our essence. Thus Teshuvah means rediscovering our true selves, our genuine ‘I’.
Most people don’t consider happiness to be a spiritual quality. In Judaism, however, happiness is a spiritual obligation. As it says in Psalms “Serve G-d with Joy; come before Him with Joyful song”.  This also includes our service of Teshuvah.  Our motivation to do Teshuvah doesn’t arise from an awareness of our shortfalls, but rather from the appreciation of the infinite potential within our souls.
The idea of Teshuvah and the fact that nothing stands before it brings an immense sense of joy.

A Tale of Two Chassidim

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 There were two Chassidim who lived in the city of Babruysk. Both were truly committed to their Judaism and they would often spend hours immersed in soulful prayer. However one was constantly sad while the other was always joyful.
The first Chassid would contemplate the origins of his soul, where it was completely united with its infinite Divine source, before it entered his body then compare it to where his soul was now, inhibited by human needs, limitations and failings.  This perception led him to bitterness.
The joyful Chassid’s Divine service, however, was motivated by optimism.  He would contemplate on where his soul was now and its potential for even more accomplishments through Mitzvot. In this way the soul climbs the ladder of spirituality and experiences meteoric growth.  He understood that we fulfil our mission in this world when we are challenged by our bodily existence and work to transform the physical around us into the spiritual, and in this way we rise to a level that is completely beyond our previous status.
At times bitterness can lead to dissatisfaction and like medicine when employed periodically, it can bring positive change.  But when one is constantly dissatisfied, that ultimately turns into negativity.  Constant joy, however, breeds an open mind and an open heart.

-   Based on a talk by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn
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