When the Founding Fathers included the pursuit of happiness as an American right and entitlement, it is almost as if they conceded that happiness can be pursued, but it is unlikely to ever be attained. If you look around, you can’t help but notice that for many, the pursuit has grown tiring and indeed, many have given up. In the last twenty years, there has been an astounding increase in antidepressant use by Americans. One might even suggest that the growing effort to legalize marijuana nationally is driven by a community eager to find pleasure and happiness, even if it is by escaping reality.
In 2006, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote a book called “Stumbling on Happiness.” In it, he argues that the things and experiences we typically predict and imagine will bring us happiness, rarely do. Rather, he says, happiness is elusive, and we should learn from how others have stumbled upon it. The first part of his thesis is undeniable. Study after study has concluded that money, fame, and power not only don’t contribute to happiness, but often are obstacles to and detractors from experiencing it. So how do we finally attain it?
1) Happiness is not an emotion; it is a decision. Stop waiting passively to feel it and start actively choosing to be it.
In Parshas Ki Savo, the Torah says, u’vau kol ha’berachos ha’eleh, v’hisigucha, which literally translates as “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you.” What does it mean v’hisigucha, to be overtaken by blessing? Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin explains that Hashem gives each of us beracha, blessing in our lives. That blessing can manifest itself in all types of form – material possessions, meaningful relationships, special skills, wonderful opportunities, family, and the list could go on and on. The first blessing is the particular gift. But even more important and an even greater blessing is v’hisigucha…to recognize, appreciate and acknowledge the blessing.
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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.