“It’s a hell of a start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” – Lucille Ball
Does anyone know the secret to living a happier life? Is there a science to happiness? In the race to find what we think will ultimately bring us joy, are we are actually hurting our chances of getting there?
Most of us are programmed to believe that success and the path to leading a happier life is derived from a continued focus on getting things done, checking off to-do lists, and moving on to the next objective as quickly as possible. This isn’t to suggest that goal setting and accomplishments are bad, but rather the compulsion to constantly achieve actually delays our happiness and prevents us from being in the moment.
According to a Harvard University study of 5,000 people, scientists found that adults spend only about 50% of their time in the present moment. In other words, we are mentally checked-out or distracted half of the time. In addition to measuring when people’s minds were wandering, the scientists collected information on levels of happiness. They found that when we are in the present moment, we are also at our happiest, regardless of what we are doing. We are happiest in the moment because we are able to fully experience the things going on around us.
What about the connection between happiness and spirituality?
There were recently several publications on this subject, all with a similar finding: those with a spiritual practice, or who follow religious beliefs, tend to be happier than those who don’t. Indeed, there appears to be something to the idea that faith makes us happier, and the ties to faith particularly sticky, even if only for the intimate social and networking benefits that organized religion has to offer.
However, Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks notes in commentary that in Judaism, happiness is not the ultimate goal and that joy is perhaps more central to us as Jews. It is the fundamental difference between Ashrei, the closest Hebrew word to happiness, and simcha, joy. He writes, “Happiness is an attitude to life as a whole, while joy lives in the moment.” Simcha is a social emotion and sense of exhilaration we feel when we are together with others. In the Torah, joy is never about individuals. One of the most poignant facts about Judaism and the Jewish people is that we never lost the capacity to rejoice and celebrate, to find joy, even in the darkest of times. “A people who can know insecurity and still fee
l joy is one that can never be defeated, for its spirit can never be broken nor its hope destroyed.” With a nod to Moses, Sacks states, “The capacity for joy is what gives the Jewish people the strength to endure.”
No religion is “one size, fits all” and happiness is both individual and relative to any given point in time. For me personally, the practice of Judaism – our customs and tradition provides a sense of peace. Shabbat dinner and Saturday morning service allow for disconnect from the rest of my world and opportunity to be in the moment with family and friends. For our broader community, Temple Beth El is a source of happiness, joy, comfort, and support. If you haven’t joined us for Shabbat (stick around for lunch) or High Holiday service, or celebrated the season of joy with us in the Sukkah and partied at Hanukkah, I hope you will consider doing so in the coming year.
On behalf of the Officers and Board of Directors, may 5779 bring health and peace to each of you and the people of Israel.
Martin A. Spokony