“We’re told that it is a mitzvah to always be happy. What is real happiness? How do I develop and cultivate it so that I can be happy all the time?”
Oh, happiness. Your definition confuses me and your mission eludes me…I only wish there was a way for me to understand you….
I’ve struggled with the concept of happiness my entire life. I know I’m not alone. We all want it. We crave it, equate it with success, build our life missions around being truly happy. But, how many of us know what it really means to be happy? I certainly don’t.
How are we to be happy all the time if we don’t know what happiness is?
Ah. Let us define!
Happiness (as defined by Merriam Webster): “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.”
Happiness (as defined by Pharrell): Happiness feels like a room without a roof...Overpowering, unrestricted joy that tears you right through your barriers (or the roof right off of your house). The lyrics might not make sense, but the sentiment it illustrates does.
Happiness, as driven by societal concepts, evokes a feeling of overwhelming, out of body joy. It’s euphoric, out of this world, bigger and greater that our physical bodies can contain. It’s amazing, but it’s really hard to be on in this way 24/7. This happiness can also exhausting and unsustainable…it’s not rooted in anything.
We spend a lot of time trying to be happy in this way—to feel pleasure and contentment at all times—often going to great lengths to experience it in any shape or form. When we don’t, the emotion is immediately replaced with sadness, frustration, and disappointment.
We’ve smacked an unfair reputation on happiness. We see happiness as one route, without which we cannot experience it at all. I think it’s an unfair expectation to put on ourselves as well. We’re only human.
But, doesn’t the Torah say that one should be happy at all times? In fact, it’s a mitzvah to be happy all the time. So, what gives?
Torah’s expression of happiness is experienced through gratitude. As defined by Chabad.org: Happiness: A celebration of life, in gratitude of its gifts.”
This is not a huge, earth-shattering revelation. We know that gratitude leads to a beautiful life, just as we know that getting eight hours of sleep and drinking plenty of water are both beneficial for our health. And yet…
Gratitude is hard. Roof-ripping happiness is not. However, when you have one without the other, life becomes meaningless, and the very happiness you’re chasing will keep disappearing down the rabbit hole.
Partaking in a life of happiness does not mean running away from your life and into the arms of the things that give you pleasure. Life is life, and sometimes, life sucks.
Happiness is the ability to live this life, whatever it brings your way, with a sense of gratitude for the gifts it has handed to you.
Which is really, really, really hard.
I used to think that happiness meant having a villa in Tuscany all to myself with endless amounts of wine, bread, and cheese for the taking (so dreamy and fattening). With time and perspective, I realized that I was trying to run away from the mundane to experience the extraordinary…but, wouldn’t this dream become humdrum with time as well?
Gratitude is high on my list of aspirations, but at the present moment, I cannot claim to be well versed in feeling and acting from a place of real, deep, gratitude. Gratitude, like self-care, requires discipline. It’s not as glamorous or earth shattering as roof-ripping happiness, but with time, it yields stronger, more effective results. You’ll start to view your life with a sense of happiness for everything, mundane and extraordinary.
Happiness isn’t about indulging in the here and now. Really happiness is cultivated through discipline and practice of gratitude. Life all comes down to how well you practice with the tools you’ve been given. After all, we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have, but sometimes, our tools need to be sharpened.
Happiness is inside, and it starts with you.
Next week, we’ll dive in to how to cultivate and radiate happiness from the inside, out.