Dei'ah Vedibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Prescription for Happiness

by Rabbi Shimon Margolin

Happiness! A much sought-after commodity.

But how many acquire it? The world is full of advertisements offering happiness — the holiday of a lifetime, a dream house and other less worthy suggestions. But do these really bring happiness? They may achieve short-lived pleasure, but long-term happiness is another matter.

Some people deceive themselves into thinking that they would be happy if they had made their million. But does wealth bring genuine happiness? As Rav Dessler zt"l points out (Michtav MeEliyohu, vol. 1, page 1), the millionaire may seem happy. But ask him personally and he may confide in you and tell you of his troubles with his business or his health or his family.

Others delude themselves with alternative ways to achieve happiness, but if these relate to material achievements or acquisitions, they are far from a true solution. Our Sages tell us (Pirkei Ovos 4:1), "Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has." Wealth does not bring happiness. It is the attitude to life, rather than the bank balance, which brings happiness.

Of course, a person has no right to say, "I'm not going to worry about money," and instead allow himself to fall into debt, when with a little more care he could have avoided this. If he sees no way of getting out of debt and the situation arose because of his negligence or lack of foresight, he is condemned as, "The bad man (who) borrows and does not pay back" (Tehillim 37:21).

What a person should not worry about is keeping up with the Joneses (or the Cohens). Just because my friends or neighbors have the latest modern gadgets in and around their home, or the latest model of car, does it mean I have to have these things too?

Rav Yisroel Salanter is reported as having said one should not spend even a small coin unnecessarily. So before buying something one should consider: Do I really need it? If the answer is no, then regardless of the tempting discount — don't buy it. Keep the money for something more worthwhile.

The Torah warns us against thinking "my strength and the power of my hand has acquired for me this wealth. Instead you shall remember it is Hakodosh Boruch Hu who gives you the strength to acquire wealth" (Devorim 8:17-18). The Chovos Halevovos explains that if one trusts in Hashem as one should, one will not rely one one's money but instead regard oneself as a guardian of money deposited with him, as it were, to be used in accordance with the wishes of the Divine Depositor. As long as he has the money he will thank the Depositor. And if he loses the money he will not mourn his loss but will thank the Depositor for taking the deposit back from him. Such a person will be happy with his lot and he will not desire to get someone else's money (Chovos Halevovos, Sha'ar Habitochon, Introduction).

If a person looks at life materialistically, the more wealth he has, the more he will want. "The one who has a hundred wants two hundred, and he who has two hundred wants four hundred" (Midrash Rabbah, Koheles 1:34).

So how does one become happy and retain a happy disposition and outlook throughout one's life? It would seem this can be achieved by working in two directions.

One is to understand our true relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We thank Him every morning for "having given me all my needs — she'oso li kol tzorchi." This means nothing comes naturally — everything that happens to us is by Divine miracle.

The concept of "nature" is an excuse thought of by those who do not want to accept Hakodosh Boruch Hu as the only force deciding what happens in the world in general, and to the individual in particular. The Divine Power affects us even to the extent that the Midrash says, "for every breath we breathe we should praise Hashem" (Yalkut Shimoni on Tehillim, 150). Not only that, but even something that may appear bad for us, is in fact good, because as Dovid Hamelech says, "Hashem is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works"(Tehillim 145:9).

Once we accept these principles, we will realize that we have an enormous number of reasons to feel grateful to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Not just that we can breathe, but that we can see, walk, talk and think — and so on. Also, we can wonder at the many extremely complex yet efficient systems in, for instance, the human body, such as the blood system, the nervous system and the digestive system. As we say in the brochoh of Asher Yotzar (after taking care of our bodily functions) that if one of the closed organs in the body were to be opened, or one of the open ones were to be closed it would be impossible to stay alive.

So one can well understand how Iyov could say, "And from my flesh I see Hashem" (Iyov 19:26).

If only we stop taking things for granted and remember that everything we have is a gift from Hashem, we will fell genuinely grateful to Him. This, in turn, will make us happy, for we have the gift of life and we have been given the opportunity to live according to Torah and mitzvos. As Rashi explains (Kiddushin 80b): Why should a person complain about what happens to him, after he has received all the kindness that I, Hashem, am doing with him? I have given him life and not brought death upon him.

So if a person wants to be happy, he should look positively at what he has. The gift of life and all that goes with it, is a kindness from Hashem. Let us see the good in it and use it to the best of our ability to do His will.

The way to do Hashem's will of course requires guidance. One requires a knowledgeable and G-d-fearing teacher with a lot of common sense, so that one can learn to serve Hashem correctly, yet with consistent happiness.

The second way to achieve happiness depends on how we think of other people and how we relate to them. The Torah tells us (Vayikra 19:15): You should judge your fellow Jew with tzedek. Rashi explains this to mean that you should judge him in the scale of merit. This means to presume any act of his was good, even though it could possibly be judged unfavorably.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what someone said or did, was with bad intention. Many times one may be wrong. A whole book has been written about this, called The Other Side of the Story (By Y. Samet and published by ArtScroll). If one gets used to judging others favorably, one is much more likely to retain a happy disposition than if one looks too critically at others.

This is even if one says nothing and just thinks about someone. If one tells of one's unfavorable suspicions to other people, one may well be guilty of loshon hora. If one is really bothered about another's unfavorable behavior or speech, one should speak directly to the person concerned, in a friendly way.

It is not only to think well of others which is required. We also need to try and help others in any way we can. This will engender good will, and one will feel happy having given of oneself without selfish motives. As Rav Dessler said, giving to others helps us to fulfill the mitzvah of loving our fellow Jew — the giving (hav in Hebrew) brings love (ahavoh) as a result.

On the other hand, one should not expect gratitude or even acknowledgement from the recipient of one's efforts. One will then never be disappointed at a non-response. It is always good to be "low in expectation but high in motivation" (Heard from Reb Yonah Goldhirsh of Bayit Vegan).

There is yet a third factor affecting one's happiness. This is one's attitude to oneself. If one is too concerned with material comforts, or is oversensitive to what others say or think about oneself, one is unlikely ever to be happy.

We should realize that no one is perfect — neither ourselves, nor anyone else. We should aim for spiritual perfection, but not be discouraged that we are not there yet. "The good person even if he falls seven times gets up again, but the wicked fall once (and despairs of self- improvement)" (Mishlei 24:16). Similarly, lack of perfection in others should not frustrate us. We should try in a friendly way to win them over — if they are prepared to listen. If they are not, "Just as it is a mitzvah to say what will be listened to, so it is a mitzvah not to say what will not be listened to" (Yevomos 65b). This is regarding adults. Regarding one's own children one has a responsibility to educate them to become worthy members of our people. If necessary, ask advice. Rav N. Orlowek says be fair, firm and friendly to your child (My Child, My Disciple, chapter 4).

So in fact, there are three directions by means of which we can hope to achieve happiness. First, to appreciate every big and small thing Hashem has done and continues to do for us, and to try to respond by keeping His Torah and mitzvos with renewed vigor. Second, by being helpful to others and being generous in judging them, without expecting anything in return. Third, by realizing our good points and by always aiming to improve, but not being discouraged by our failures.

It follows that if in general we aim to be positive at all times — seeing the cup as not half-empty but half-full, we will surely get help from Hashem to live a life of genuine, rather than superficial, happiness.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.