Editor’s Note: Jewish Sacred Aging welcomes a new contributor, Rabbi Lynnda Targan. You can learn more about her at her website.
The Declaration of Independence calls the “pursuit of happiness” one of its inalienable rights, and the “psychology of happiness” is among the highest attended courses offered among today’s Ivy League colleges. But long before either of these modern ideas came to be, Judaism was at the vanguard of the happiness track. You may ask how a religion known for its guilt factor is compatible with pursuing happiness? Reflect on this…
Judaism considers the pursuit of happiness an obligation. The Torah teaches, “You shall rejoice with all the good that the almighty has given you.” (Deuteronomy [26:11]) The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic Movement states, “The Almighty has sent you into this world on an appointed errand. It is God’s Will that you accomplish your errand in a state of bliss.” True happiness means becoming a partner in Creation with God or a power greater than yourself in the universe. Judaism also posits that to be happy is to be in a heightened state of spirituality and is, therefore, an obligation to yourself, spouse, partners, co-workers, friends, community and humanity at large. In the presence of others, if we show a happy face, we elevate them. Cheering people up is a great act of kindness, and transmission is an extremely high value in the Jewish tradition. It’s an ongoing sacred practice requiring mindful actions.
Regardless of a person’s life circumstances, the pursuit of happiness comes as a choice. We read in Deuteronomy, “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse—Choose life, so you may live.” We don’t always get what we deserve or deserve what we get, but we do have the opportunity to choose how we react to our situation. If we choose to have a good day, to make the most of our position, and to walk the unknowable path ahead with optimism, faith and resilience we invariably move ourselves to a better place.
To facilitate the process, it is incumbent upon us to develop an inner climate of gratitude. At one time or another life may be taking us on a difficult course, but if we focus on what we can glean that is positive, we invite the uplifting spiritual sparks to enter. A gratitude journal or daily posting may be helpful. Staying connected to community is also key. Finally, doing something good for someone in need is one of the best routes to personal happiness.
Whatever steps you make on your ongoing pursuit of happiness, set your kavanah, your intention towards building a life of joy and wonder. Remember, transforming sadness into happiness is a blessed state of being which requires a commitment only YOU can make.