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What My 8-Year-Old Taught Me About Happiness

What My 8-Year-Old Taught Me About Happiness

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My daughter and I were having a cup of tea together one evening. When we finished, I glanced up at the clock and told her, “Off to bed.” She got up to brush her teeth and handed me her water bottle to fill up, but I suspected that she was just trying to stay up a little longer. “It’s late already; she has to go to sleep,” I thought to myself, but that’s not what I said. I don’t know why, but instead I said, “You don’t need any more water. I don’t drink water all night, Papi doesn’t drink water all night.”

“But I’m not you, and I’m not Papi,” my incredibly wise 8-year-old daughter answered me. I marveled at her and her wonderful, healthy sense of self. You see, as parents we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that our children’s wants must be our wants, their likes our likes. A mother might take her daughter shopping and insist on buying a certain outfit, even if the daughter doesn’t like it. She imposes her tastes on her daughter. Then, when the daughter doesn’t want to wear the outfit, the mother becomes offended and makes the daughter feel ungrateful for not wearing or liking the very outfit that she didn’t want to get. The daughter feels bad about herself and unhappy.

And as children, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we have to be our parents. I recently had a young mother come for a reflexology treatment for stress. One thing that she shared with me was how incompetent she felt. When I asked why, her response was, “Because my mother can do so much more. She works full-time and keeps her house perfectly clean, and I can’t even keep my house clean working part-time!”

I told her how each person is created with different strengths and different weaknesses. You can’t compare yourself to what you are not—so you can never compare yourself to anyone but yourself! Comparing people, or expecting one to do what another one does, is like trying to make orange juice out of apples. I also pointed out to her that she sees her mother now, as a woman with more than 20 years of experience at keeping a home. She doesn’t know what her mother was like when she was newly married.

Back to me and my daughter . . .

“You’re right! You are not me, and you’re not Papi. But it’s time to go to bed!” I said this time with clarity—knowing that the “no” was because I didn’t want to give it to her, not because she has to be like me or her father.

Last Shabbat, I told this little story to our guests. A woman in her mid-70s started to tear up and get emotional upon hearing it. “I was never allowed to just be me! I was never liked for just being me!” Stories from her childhood—stories from more than 60 years ago—came up, and she spoke with anger and sadness. At that moment I understood the words of our sages, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion”1 in a different light. I always understood this to mean that you’re considered rich if you’re happy with what you have—if you’re given a silver bracelet, you don’t desire the gold one. The person who always wants something different, or more, will never be happy. While this is true, and this is how the commentators understand this teaching, I think that it can be understood in another way.

A person who is wealthy, who is happy, understands that she has a portion! We are all doled out certain characteristics and circumstances in order to fulfill our purpose in life. Just knowing that you are special, that you have a certain portion, that your very existence is worth something valuable in and of itself can bring you to happiness. I find that many of my clients who are sad and depressed either don’t see their their worth, don’t feel like they are fulfilling a purpose, or are always comparing themselves to someone else. However, when they begin to internalize the fact that they were created with uniqueness, with a certain mission, I have seen time and time again that they lift themselves up. Happiness is a state of mind that we achieve when we feel we are doing what we are here to do.

As the sages teach: “All Israel has a portion in the world to come, as it is said: ‘Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; a branch of My plantings, My handiwork, in which to take pride.’”2 think that if each Jew could internalize this message, that we all have a unique mission and portion, then he or she would be happy. I know that understanding my inherent value at just being me—the beautiful soul that G‑d created—certainly makes me happy. I don’t want to be sitting at a table in 30 or 40 years, crying because I didn’t feel appreciated or loved for being me. And I would hate to think of my daughter feeling that way. To prevent this, I need to start now by loving and connecting to that holy spark that is inside of me and inside of her.

When G‑d gave over the Ten Commandments, He did so in the singular, not in the plural, as though speaking to an individual, not to a group: “I am G‑d, your (singular) L‑rd, who took you (singular) out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves . . .” The reason for this is twofold. Just being part of Israel gives you an identity and a mission that is important. And you, as an individual, have a distinct portion and a unique role that contributes to the collective. You, as part of the group, and as an individual, have a special relationship and bond with G‑d. He is your G‑d, and He took you out of Egypt. Each one of us has a portion, and when we internalize this and remind ourselves of it, we can see our wealth and be happy.

Footnotes
1.
Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1.
Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Alan S. Long Island, NY June 12, 2016

A beautiful interpretation, and excellent article by the author.
So...you'll give your daughter water next time she asks? Reply

Raymond Bastarache NB Canada June 9, 2016

To be content........is G-d's way? Yes? Well, said Elana. My comment, please? G-d divided the land among the Jews in Joshua's days accordingly? some had more? some had less? Perhaps, G-d knew that each tribe could only handle the portion of land He was allotted. No use of envying another's property? because it's a bigger portion? If we judge ourselves among ourselves we are not wise. The words of Agur son of Jakeh "lord give me neither riches?(less I be full and deny thee, and say who is the Lord? nor poverty? less I break out and steal? and take the name of the Lord in vain. Give me the food convenient for me...Yes? this is the secret for each one..my portion? Oh! Lord? what can I can handle? that will please you? and in return please me? No man liveth for himself and die for himself...we are the Lord's. Often time? children are unique? have a variety of talents in some area, where others flourish in other. My prayer is Lord where do I fit? in your kingdom? Beautiful article, Elana. Shalom, Shalom. Reply

Anonymous Upstate NY June 6, 2016

Thank you. What beautiful perspective that arrived in my email at just the perfect moment. I truly appreciate you sharing this with us. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn June 6, 2016

what an inspiring thought:) thank you for this new insight! Reply

Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
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