Happy by Choice – Parshat Ki Tavo
We all want to be happy. You know how I know? From all the ads for programs on how to be happy. And many of them are quite successful. Even the American Declaration of Independence, proclaims the right to pursue happiness as an inalienable right of all humanity. I know I want to be happy.
In a negative sense, the Torah describes the importance of happiness. This week's parsha, seems to say that "The Rebuke" is visited upon us as punishment. Punishment for what offense? Lack of happiness. The verse describing this punishment reads: "Because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happiness and with gladness of heart."1 Such punishment for not being happy? What is really going on here? What makes unhappiness so serious that it is considered a transgression?
The Imrei Emmes, a 20th century sage of the Gur chassidic dynasty, offers an explanation which seems quite similar to some logotherapeutic values. People are not perfect, he says. But the ability to retain happiness and remain a willing servant of God will sustain them, even when imperfect. A person can achieve that sense by choice. And in some ways that is what makes it an imperative (more on that in next week's blog). That person, however, who cannot maintain happiness when failing is almost destined to fall/fail even more. It is almost as if by not choosing happiness, you are choosing to fail. If you maintain your happiness and satisfaction with what you have, even if you falter, that will be enough to sustain you – essentially, you can choose to be happy.
Of course, there can be other circumstances or clinical depression which may interfere. This is not to trivialize suffering or offer happiness as a quick fix. It is rather to invite you to consider developing an attitude that will require work and investment of time and energy to achieve.
Clients have told me that they feel calmer and less anxious just knowing that there is meaning in their lives, even if they have not yet uncovered it. That knowledge helps them with the different pressures they experience on a daily basis. That meaning necessarily takes on a different form and content for everyone – but it is also there for everyone. It helps people maintain a level of sanity though their lives may be topsy-turvy. People confused about their sexual identity, living with a spouse or child suffering from mental or physical disability, trying to find livelihood when so many are still being laid off – these people are all struggling. A recent study in the University of California San Diego showed that "Presence and search for meaning in life are important for health and well-being…" Their actual circumstance may not have changed but they are living a healthier life.2
People living with existential vacuum, in which they sense no growth or purpose to their actions and lives, are suffering from their inability to find any meaning and this will impact on their general well-being. Engaging in activity which has meaning to us will a) bring about a sense of fulfillment and even joy and b) prevent and even alleviate this sense of existential vacuum.3
So, when we maintain a healthy attitude even when we err, we will not only prevent ourselves from falling further, we can even continue on a path to our own meaning and a sense of joy will ensue.
Have A Great Shabbat!