Happiness is never a happening.
Happiness, our sages tell us, is an obligation. Depression, in most cases, is self-indulgent; a convenient way of rationalising why not to face up to responsibilities.
In Judaism, happiness is never a mere happening; the happy man must struggle for his happiness. But with the requisite effort, it is guaranteed, no matter what one’s situation in life. Without the effort, misery is also guaranteed, again, no matter what one’s situation. There are plenty of happy ‘failures’ and miserable billionaires out there who prove that. I want to talk next time about how to guarantee happiness. For the moment, though, I want to discuss why happiness is such an important responsibility in Jewish thinking. I think there are at least three reasons.
Firstly, and maybe foremost, in one’s relationships with those around. Happy people love other people. They rarely get upset with others and are only too willing to help when called upon. Statistics of violent crime tell us that almost invariably, happy people are not violent people. The miserable mugger will mug you and give you a kick for good measure. The happy mugger will apologise and leave you enough for your bus fare home. Domestic violence doesn’t occur among happy people. When we are unhappy, we invariably take it out on other people. When we are happy, we invariably want to share it with other people. Think about someone stepping on your foot on the Tube after a difficult and tense day at work. You would be livid. Now imagine the same thing happens – on your way back from picking up your lottery jackpot cheque. If you even notice, you may apologise for getting in the way. For those around you, especially family and friends, you owe it to them to be happy.
The second reason, though, is more personal. Happy people are usually more motivated and energised. If you wake up happy, you jump out of bed. If you wake up miserable you hit the ‘Snooze’ button – for the fifth time. If you are happy, you look forward to life. If you are miserable, you dread it. Happiness provides one with the adrenaline one needs to accomplish what one wants. Misery is like quicksand. It quickly saps your strength. As well as to others, you owe it to yourself to be happy.
But the final ‘person’ you owe it to is G-d. If you give your child a fantastic gift that you have laboured hard and long in order to provide him with and you come back the next day and he is miserable, how does that make you feel? Miserable yourself. Most parents will tell you that there are many things they want for their children. Above all, though, good parents will tell you that as long as their children are happy, that is by far the most important thing. G-d is our Father in Heaven. Above all, He wants for us to be happy. He has put in a great deal of ‘effort’ in order to give us the gift of our own existence and a gorgeous world within which to experience it. When we are miserable, it is the most upsetting thing of all for Him. What an incredible waste of time this world is for G-d if it can’t make His children happy. Much as we owe it to ourselves and those around us to be happy, we also owe it to G-d.
OK, it all sounds easy. We owe it to everyone to be happy. It makes sense from all angles. Yet is happiness really something that is in our hands to control? Isn’t happiness fickle and mercurial? If you can have miserable billionaires, then surely there can be nothing that will guarantee happiness?
Absolutely not. Happiness is 100% within the reach of every person. You just have to know how to attain it. If G-d expects something from us then He must have given ways and means of accomplishing it. Happiness is no different. If you want it, it’s yours. Next time, I will discuss how.