(One goal of my blog is to share the thoughts of other rabbis and Jewish teachers, to help make available the depth and beauty of Torah. I read the following some time ago, and thought it well worth sharing).

Happiness 

based on an essay by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein (1991) [1]

1. Happiness Accepts the Imperfections of Life

     The very first aspect of real happiness is: accept the imperfections of life, of ourselves and of others.

     The recipe for happiness may be rather complicated. But if you want an easy, quick and sure recipe for unhappiness: start feeling sorry for yourself. That is what happened to [a] young married couple I counseled [who] were not perfectly happy with each other all the time. Each began to feel sorry for him/herself. From self-pity came resentment; from resentment, hostility; from hostility, conflict; and from conflict, mutually reinforced misery.

     Real happiness requires in us a pretty good “imperfection tolerance” level.

2. Happiness Comes from Within

     Once, I visited an elderly woman, who, in her hospital bed, spoke appreciatively, with a deep inner-feeling, of the light coming into her room towards the end of the day, of the colors of the flowers on the window sill, of her deep satisfaction with her life, of her pleasure in her loved ones, of her gratitude for a simple, ordinary visit. Everything about her was positive.

     Then, I met a young man in the prime of success and health, who had so magnified some alleged, imagined, or perhaps even real trickery on the part of his business associates, that he’d worked himself into a rancor of bitterness, making himself a very miserable person.

     Everything that happens to us in life is a kind of question to which only we can give the answer. Sometimes the questions life puts to us are very, very hard, and over them we have very little control. But over the way we respond to those questions of life, we have a great deal more control. Happiness is the quality that inheres in our response to the questions of life.

     Happiness comes from within.

3. Happiness Goes with Responsibility

    One aspect of life on which happiness hinges is: having good relationships. But there cannot be any good relationships without responsibility: care, concern, burdens. The problem with wishing people “Happy New Year” is that many think of happiness as avoiding the burdens of responsibility. But those who seek happiness on such terms are likely to get a happiness, in the end, that is a fake product. The relationships which give us the most joy also bring with them concern for others.

     All of us have suffered during recent decades because the quest for happiness centered on pure self-satisfaction. What has resulted? Corruption in business; shaking of trust in the financial markets; and worse.

     Those who seek happiness in self-satisfaction alone actually detach themselves from wider levels of their own being – family, community, relationships – which could give a great deal more significance and substance to their lives.

     But those who hold in their hand the true coin on whose face happiness is indelibly stamped, know that on the other side of that coin is always the insignia of responsibility.

     So, the gateway of the kingdom of happiness is action towards some worthy purpose beyond the service of one’s own success. Some effort on behalf of others, no matter how humble or great, leads us beyond the self.

     Sometimes such work does bring with it so much worry and care that it would be indistinguishable from pain were it not that in such deeds, such work, such mitzvot, our soul recognizes its highest happiness.

     Happiness goes with responsibility.

     Let us turn today beyond ourselves, to G-d, Who beckons us toward life’s highest joy, as we send each other greetings of true happiness, and commit ourselves to care for the world in which we live. 

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[1] http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/bronstein_3509.htm