Happiness is something we create for ourselves
The month of Adar, and the holiday of Purim in particular, reminds us to bring ourselves into a higher state of happiness. The notion that we can intentionally heighten our feelings of joy in this month teaches a valuable life lesson: Happiness is an inside job. It depends on us, rather than on outside circumstances. And yet, it’s common to think of happiness as arising (or falling) from our life experiences.
“My husband is so unromantic. He doesn’t even know when my birthday is. My friends get gorgeous pieces of jewelry from their husbands, flowers, chocolates, and more, but I never get so much as a card,” says Dafna.
Dafna isn’t just making an observation about her husband. She’s truly suffering. Her heart is breaking because she herself is such a giving, loving, openhearted person. To have to live with a cold partner is very difficult for her.
“My sister’s husband adorns her with gifts even on a regular weekday, for no reason whatsoever! He’s just a generous, amazing husband. Why couldn’t I have gotten a guy like that?”
However, Dafna’s sister, Aliza, isn’t as happy as Dafna imagines. “Yes, he buys me plenty of gifts. It’s his way of buying me off. Moshe has no time for me. I see very little of him, as do the kids.
“Dafna’s husband, Josh, is home all the time. I know he’s there for dinner, doing homework with the kids, doing the bedtime routine. She has no idea how lucky she is. I’d give up any of these bracelets and rings for a husband like that!”
Dafna and Aliza have an older sister, Talia. At 33, Talia is a widow and a single mother. “Ezra was a great guy. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone as wonderful as him ever again,” she says, when asked about her husband. Tragically, Ezra passed away just six years into their marriage. Talia was understandably devastated but she chose to pick herself up and carry on.
“Yes, I’m alone now. But I have three beautiful children who I love so much. I have a good job, wonderful friends, and a supportive family. In the first year of Ezra’s passing, I thought that life was over for me. There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed, and had it not been for my three little ones, I definitely wouldn’t have.
“But I didn’t want those kids to have a shell of a mother so I made a decision: No matter what, I would be happy again. I would find and celebrate every good thing for the rest of my life. I made a project of it, studying works on gratitude and happiness, and thankfully, it really worked. I can honestly say that I’m happy with every blessing that I have. I’m really happy.”
Each one of us has tremendous reason to be grateful and equal opportunity to be happy. Our state of mind and heart depends largely on our perspective. When we focus on what’s missing and what’s wrong, then naturally we feel dissatisfied, irritated, and displeased, if not worse.
Simultaneously we experience the chemical consequences of those negative emotions: fatigue, tension, weakness, and other symptoms. If we’re miserable long enough, even our physical body will begin to malfunction in numerous big and small ways.
We’ve been created to thrive on happiness. The mitzvah of serving Hashem with joy brings reward in both This World and the Next. In This World, cultivating the correct perspective leads to enhanced emotional, physical, and cognitive functioning. Although we’re all lacking things we want, each one of us has exactly what we need. Focusing our attention on what we have is the key to a sustained state of happiness.
In her tenth year of marriage, a crisis permanently changed Dafna’s perspective. Her husband was in a serious car accident that almost took his life. Fortunately, he survived, but the scare, the idea of possibly losing him forever, finally made Dafna appreciate everything good that he brought into her life.
In this state of gratitude, she no longer cared about his romance-deficit and even began to view it as a lovable “quirk.” On special occasions, she bought herself gifts “from him” (with his cooperation of course!) and lived happily ever after. Her mental attitude healed her heart.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 732)
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