“Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot” Pirkei Avot 4:1

I was having one of those days. I had overslept, which, of course, had thrown the entire morning routine into a scene from the Titanic. Lunches, coats and umbrellas were flying, not to mention the grizzly frowns on the little people departing for their classroom adventures. The rest of the day didn’t fare much better; it consisted of one discontented client, a grumpy secretary and a cross-exchange with my architect who never seemed to get those sketches right. All this would have been tolerable, I mused, if it was only one of those days, but I began to realize that all of my days were slowly transforming into only those days.

My life had become one big rutAs I sank into the driver’s seat on my commute home, I began my daily personal prayer to G‑d, and opened, rather ungratefully, with my list of grievances about how I had survived yet another stressful day of unsuccessful attempts to balance my heavy workload, responsibilities of motherhood and refinement of my character traits—which, after several outbursts throughout the day, I knew needed emergency repair. I felt my frustration mounting as I thought how, once again, my day seemed to seize me rather than me seizing the day. There was no advancement in creating a more peaceful home where I didn’t serve as the twenty-four-hour-a-day unpaid moderator; no advancement at work, and no advancement in accomplishing even one of those Rosh Hashanah resolutions I had made only a short four months earlier.

My life, I muttered to the Sustainer of the Universe, had become one big rut—and the more I pondered this thought, the more my jaw tightened. I knew something had to be done, but what? I had been searching and searching for a remedy—for an escape from these invisible barriers that seemed to block all my attempts to change my life into the direction I wanted it to lead. I hadn’t been able to find a less demanding job that would allow me more time with my children, my interests, and simply, more time for myself. I was, to put it bluntly, stuck. My visions of being a relaxed, tranquil mother, raising the next generation of righteous people while administrating a blossoming career, had gone up in smoke.

What was I supposed to do to transform my days—to lift them from the mire and to slow the pace? I had tried being more organized, more assertive, and more accepting. I had searched the wisdom of our sages and poured out my heart in prayer, but nothing seemed to move forward, and quite the contrary, as my resentment mounted, life was moving in reverse.

Suddenly, as if from another realm, a thought popped into my head—“Be happy and you will grow.” What on earth did that mean? At first, I ignored it because it seemed like such an obtuse answer, but the thought mercilessly boomeranged in my mind as I pulled into my driveway, exhausted, frustrated and ready for the Battle of the Bedtime routine.

“Be happy and I will grow,” I repeated to myself as I struggled to bathe my slippery four-year-old—noting with irritation that she had managed to shower me as well. “Be happy and I will grow,” I said aloud while once again picking up the dirty laundry off the floor. “Be happy and I will grow,” I groaned the next day as I took on yet another impossible assignment with a ridiculous deadline.

I should just seek happiness—periodAnd then it hit me: the obstacle was the remedy. The “apparent” stumbling blocks to my growth—the static situation at work, the unending grind, the monotonous peacemaking at home—were all there to teach me that I should just seek happiness, period. Not in reliance on some artificial marker of success, but for the sake of happiness, because happiness itself is growth. If I could be happy in my present rut, if I could see the good in it, then I would grow as a person. Maybe I wouldn’t be on the cover of “Mother of the Year Magazine,” but I would grow because I would find joy in my struggle.

Joy is the key to closeness to our Creator. Through joy, as we learn from our sages, and particularly Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, spiritual blessings and abundance flow to the person. Depression and sadness have the opposite effect; they constrict the flow of blessings, and moreover, they actually deplete the blessings a person has already received, and like a downward spiral, they lead to further sadness and depression which leads to a further depletion of spiritual blessings.

Okay, now I got the message, but how was I supposed to find this pot of joy? And again, I remembered the wisdom of our Sages—joy comes from appreciation. In other words, I should start counting my blessings. In fact, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the key to joy is to think positively twenty-three hours a day, and to spend only one hour a day focusing on what you deem as lacking—both spiritually and materially.

And so, I began. In the morning, I really thanked G‑d for returning my soul, for giving me heat on a cold winter morning, for the fact that my husband had already woken for his morning prayers (testifying to his great character despite the winter cold), that my children were sleeping peacefully (yes, in sleep they managed to stop quarreling), that I had a welcoming mug of coffee to start the day, and that my fridge was chock-full of food. When my children began bickering over whose turn it was to make the beds, I thanked G‑d that I was blessed to have children who could bicker, and for giving me the opportunity to teach them about orderliness and cooperation.

On the way to work, I thanked G‑d for the job I had waiting for me, the fact that I had clients, and that I had convenient transportation. When I got stuck in a traffic jam, I thanked G‑d for giving me more time to reflect in personal prayer during my commute.

As I went through the day, an amazing transformation happened. I began to actually feel joy, and with that, my physical appearance transformed. I no longer had my regular afternoon headache—in fact, I noticed I had more energy than usual.

My children actually began to bicker lessAs the days progressed, I realized that my children actually began to bicker less, and my heavy workload seemed more manageable. In fact, the more I thanked G‑d—even for the seemingly “bad”—the more I saw, with my own eyes, situations transformed for the “good.” I understood, of course, that I should always strive for improvement, but while struggling in these efforts, I needed to take pleasure in my lot, or I would never really sense accomplishment or blessings at all.

I realized that in all my years of soul-searching, the answer had been there all along—I had just overlooked it. But I didn’t regret this either. In a way, it was fortunate that it took me this long to be thankful, because now I could really appreciate that all those days were nothing but a gift.

In memory of my mother, Annilee Patricia bat Rita, on her ninth yahrzeit, the 22nd of Shevat.