Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone

Is Happiness a Realistic Goal?

Is Happiness a Realistic Goal?

E-mail
© Spotlight Design
© Spotlight Design

Are you really happy, or just resigned to your lot?

Happiness is an emotional state we achieve when we find ourselves in an ideal situation. The more ideal the situation and the longer we have dreamed of the opportunity, the happier we are. Conversely, we are saddened when we are denied our dreams, when our state of affairs leaves what to be desired.

Take a moment to envision your fantasy life. I'd imagine it would include many of the following: More money, a nicer home, more self-discipline, regular trips to exotic locations, more time to spend with your family, better health, better healthcare, more money, a more understanding and sensitive spouse, a more meaningful life, better jobs for the children, a better relationship with your parents, more money...

"My fantasy life? I'm living it! I can't imagine a thing I'd want to change!"I'd love to meet the person who'd honestly say, "My fantasy life? I'm living it! I can't imagine a thing I'd want to change!"

Considering this all, is true happiness possible? Can anyone claim to be living an ideal life? How can we be happy with mediocrity? Yes, we all have fleeting moments of true happiness, when we experience an event that is so wonderful that it temporarily blocks out all the other less-than-ideal aspects of our lives. But to be happy with life itself, that would seem to be the domain of those life forms that lack the ability to dream and imagine.

As a society, I believe that we confuse happiness with acceptance. Someone who accepts his flawed life with a smile, refusing to succumb to depression and the lethargy that so often accompanies this emotional state, is considered a "happy" person. In truth, such a person has successfully reconciled with his lot, realizing that dreams are just that -- dreams; but can that be accurately described as happiness?

Many of the greatest thinkers and contributors in the fields of philosophy, science, government and more, were known for their melancholy. Could it be that their keen intellect and perception prevented them from settling for imperfection?


Are you wondering why I'm equating happiness with material possessions and accomplishments? How about a quest for spirituality? Can't a meaningful, spiritual life be a source of happiness? Well, seemingly, the spiritual picture isn't rosier. Au contraire. Human nature and spirituality are sum opposites. For the vast majority of people, a self-analysis reveals that the endeavor to be a spiritual/G‑dly individual is practically impossible; comparable to a leopard trying to change his spots (or choose another cliché along the same lines...).

Spirituality; G‑dliness = Selflessness; total commitment to a higher cause; utter revulsion for any act that is detrimental to aforementioned cause.

We can act spiritual and do holy deeds, but isn't it all a grandiose charade? Human nature = Selfishness; commitment to self-gratification (will only renounce a self-gratifying act in favor of something even more self-gratifying); has no concern for any cause other than his own.

(If you think that this definition of human nature is simplistic or incorrect, print it out and show it to any student of psychology.)

We can act spiritual and do holy deeds, but isn't it all a grandiose charade? Whom are we fooling? No matter how we act, it can never change who we are.

Almost absurdly, the human being -- the "crown jewel" of creation -- is the only creature that possesses this anti-spiritual nature. All other creations -- from the most celestial angel to the lowly earthworm -- do exactly what their Creator wants of them, and have no desire whatsoever to stray one iota from their divine mission!

So can we be happy with our spiritual identity and nature? It can be argued that such contentment only serves to dangerously bolster and legitimize our egotistical natures.


So from whence does true happiness derive? Here is what Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says on the matter (Tanya ch. 31):

In order to comfort his heart in double measure . . . let him say to his heart:

"Indeed, without a doubt, I am far removed, utterly remote from G‑d, and am despicable, contemptible, and so on. But all this is true only of me -- that is, my body and the animating soul within it. Yet within me there is a veritable part of G‑d . . .namely, the divine soul and the spark of G‑dliness itself clothed in it, animating it. It is only that the divine soul is in exile [because it inhabits such a lowly body]. . .

"Let your divine soul be more precious to you than your loathsome body...""Therefore, I will make it my entire aim and desire to extricate it from this exile, and to 'return her to her father's home as in her youth,' i.e., as it was before being clothed in my body, when it was completely absorbed in G‑d's light and united with Him. Now too will it likewise be absorbed and united with Him once again, when I concentrate all my aspirations on the Torah and the mitzvot."

. . .This, then, should be one's lifelong service of G‑d with great joy -- the joy of the soul upon leaving the loathsome body, and returning, during one's study of the Torah and service of G‑d, to "her father's house as in her youth."

Surely, there is no joy as great as that of being released from exile and captivity. . .

True, the body remains abominable and loathsome. . . Yet, let his divine soul be more precious to him than his loathsome body, so that he rejoices in the soul's joy, without letting the sadness on account of his body interfere with or disturb the joy of the soul.

So it comes down to this: happiness depends on how we define ourselves, which aspect of our personality we identify with. If we identify with our body and its nature, then the outlook is indeed bleak. If we identify with our souls, the G‑dly spark extant within every one of us, then every mitzvah we do is an exhilarating moment of acute joy. Not despite the body; because of it. Because there's no joy like being uplifted from the very depths to the highest of high.

Words to live by:

Let your divine soul be more precious to you than your loathsome body... don't let the sadness on account of your body interfere with or disturb the joy of the soul.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (10)
February 5, 2013
Thank you for your words
I'm at that point in my life in which I'm grappling with issues "in the past" and am turning to Jewish teachings to try to make sense of it all. Thanks to JLI classes, I've become well aware of the animalistic/divine battle within all of us. Thank you for reminding us that mitzvot and forging that connection with Hashem are some of the paths to inner peace and happiness.
Amy Wolff Sorter
Joshua, TX
July 29, 2010
Sincerely wondering....
As far as I'm concerned - the soul's pleasure is completely in my imagination! As much as I know and believe that my soul is rejoicing with every mitzva that I do, I have no tangible, physical way of knowing that! So how am I supposed to make myself dance for joy? Is it all dependent on what my imagination cooks up?!
Anonymous
Philadelphia
December 19, 2009
powerful and helpful
thank you so much for these wise words. This is Torah, digested and brought to a level where we can ingest it and "wear" it, make it part of our thoughts.
wonderful.
everyone should share this with their friends and family!
Anonymous
February 10, 2009
Re: Ignore your feelings? Loathsome body?
I think we are spiritual by the fact that we are alive. How do we experience anything without our body?
I agree that any preoccupation that is an obsession shows that something is missing from one's life, but to make a sweeping generality that:
"...the person who focuses on the body is likely to be depressed."
is an opinion and isn't based on any research or finding that I know of besides the xtian movement.
How do you not focus on your body? Its all you have. Every moment we use our body to see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
When we use any sense and experience something wonderful, don't we react with pleasure? Isn't that our soul reacting with pleasure? Isn't that how we are designed?
Mila
Munster, IN
February 10, 2009
Re: Low Self Image
"Yet within me there is a veritable part of G‑d . . .namely, the divine soul and the spark of G‑dliness itself clothed in it, animating it. It is only that the divine soul is in exile ..."

"True, the body remains abominable and loathsome. . . Yet, let his divine soul be more precious to him than his loathsome body, so that he rejoices in the soul's joy, without letting the sadness on account of his body interfere with or disturb the joy of the soul."

I believe these words apply to everyone -- and especially someone who has a low self image.

All the more reason to focus on the pure and unsullied soul!
Naftali Silberberg (Author)
February 9, 2009
what if our weak points stand out so much in life, that it brings us a low self image of ourselves and brings us into depression?
Anonymous
December 15, 2008
Re: Ignore your feelings? Loathsome body?
You bring up some great points. Allow me to clarify a bit.

The point of this article is that a person has a dual personality, and as such has a choice which part of his or her character to identify with.

By way of analogy, every person has strong points and weak points. Now, three options exist: a) We can focus on our weak points. b) We can choose to deny that we have weak points (perhaps this is what you mean when you talk about “buried feelings”). c) We can acknowledge our weak points while remaining focused on our strong points.

The first option leads to depression, the second is delusion—and no one can hide from the truth forever. The third option is the way a healthy person leads life.

As for your assertion that considering the body “loathsome” is un-Jewish, and comparable to the idea of looking forward to death:

There are two dynamics at play here: a) In truth, the body allows the soul to connect to G-d in ways unimaginable to the disembodied soul. Only by descending into a body and performing physical mitzvot can the soul connect to the essence of her Creator. As such, souls eagerly await the day when they can descend to this world and enter a body. This is why G-d pronounced our bodies to be “good.” b) Despite this all, it is obvious that the soul’s awareness of, and sensitivity to, holiness and G-dliness is much greater than the body’s.

The greatest paradox: it is the un-spiritual and selfish body that allows the person – body and soul – to connect to G-d.

Now, despite the fact that it in fact enables the person to connect to G-d, that’s not the message the body projects. Instead, bodily desires and impulses and its constant preoccupation with self are decidedly un-spiritual.

Thus the person who focuses on the body is likely to be depressed.

Hence the need to focus on the soul—as explained in the essay.
Naftali Silberberg (Author)
December 3, 2008
Ignore our feelings? Loathsome body?
As a student of Psychology, all I've learned boils down to, ignore your feelings and be very sick in your soul. We can only ignore so much negative feelings until they come out somehow. The more buried feelings, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance that it will spill over one day because of some small incidence. G-d made us to deal with our lot and learn from it. If we bury it, we can't learn, but we will suffer.
As for our body, thinking it is loathsome is also a route to mental illness. We're Jews, we're not looking forward to death, but discovering how to live. Our bodies and lives are good gifts that we are given to be able to enjoy this life.
As a former Christian, I was surprised to see you write that bodies were loathsome. That is a very Christian idea, and so is looking forward to dieath in order to be purified to G-d, that our bodies separate us from G-d. G-d made our bodies and pronounced them good. He gave us life and said it was good.
Mila
November 20, 2008
This is all nice in theory, but how do we do this practically?
Anonymous
November 19, 2008
look unfavorably at body?
I recently heard that we cannot merely ignore our physical bodies, because it is only THROUGH the body that we can do these mitzvas. We have to appreciate the body all the more so becuase spirituality without a body, or physical action is nothing. A soul without a body is jsut a neshama in heaven, but becuase we have our bodies we can do all these mitzvahs and get such joy otu of them.
Anonymous
FL
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG