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    When the

    Founding Fathers


    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


    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, a 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.

    Simcha, happiness, occurs when

    we make the decision to focus on the

    blessings in our lives, no matter how

    challenging or formidable the struggles

    we face simultaneously. If our

    happiness results from the blessings

    we already have, we can always find

    happiness because we always have at

    least something. But if our happiness

    is determined by what we don’t have,

    “If only I had more money, a nicer

    house, a better job, a more loving

    spouse, more loyal children, etc.” we

    will never be happy because we can

    always have more. Therefore, by definition,

    there will always be something

    we don’t have.

    The decision to be b’simcha, happy,

    doesn’t only affect us but it can positively

    influence our environment and

    family. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a

    physician at Harvard Medical School,

    authored a study that concludes that

    happiness, scientifically speaking, is

    literally contagious. The same way a

    person yawning causes others to also

    begin to yawn, when one person

    smiles or is happy, it is infectious and

    draws smiles and happiness from others.

    It has been suggested homiletically

    that the etymology of the word simcha

    comes from sam-mo’ach, focus your

    thoughts. Make the decision to be

    happy and the feeling will follow.

    2) Happiness comes from giving,

    not from getting. It comes from being

    a giver, not a taker.

    After many years concentrating on

    what makes people depressed, social

    scientists are now beginning to study

    what makes people happy. Their answer

    is counter-intuitive. Paradoxically,

    it turns out the biggest obstacle

    to achieving happiness is our own

    pursuit of it. When happiness is defined

    by our needs, our wants, and our

    desires, it will remain elusive and unattainable

    for we will never have everything.

    Instead, studies show that

    people report better health and greater

    happiness when they volunteer for a

    worthwhile cause or spend time helping

    others. Moreover, studies have

    shown the efficacy of volunteering

    and helping in combating depression.

    Happiness does not result from a

    focus inward, but it results from the

    deep satisfaction and profound gratification

    of imitating Hashem and helping

    others. At the end of Hilchos Megillah

    (2:17), the Rambam makes an

    incredible comment. He asks, if a

    person has limited funds and has to

    choose between having a more lavish

    and luxurious Purim meal, more extravagant

    and impressive mishloach

    manos, or giving more matanos

    l’evyonim, money to the poor, what

    should he do and why?

    The Rambam codifies that the resources

    should be dedicated to helping

    the indigent and poor because Purim

    is about simcha and there is no

    greater happiness than bringing joy to

    others, especially the underprivileged.

    Someone once wrote to the

    Lubavitcher Rebbe z’l in a state of

    deep depression and hopelessness.

    The letter essentially said, “I would

    like the Rebbe’s help. I wake up each

    day sad and apprehensive. I can’t concentrate.

    I find it hard to pray. I keep

    the commandments, but I find no spiritual

    satisfaction. I go to the synagogue

    but I feel alone. I begin to wonder

    what life is about. I need help.”

    The Rebbe sent a brilliant reply

    back that did not use even a single

    word. He simply circled the first word

    of every sentence in the letter and sent

    it back. The author of the letter understood,

    and he was on the path to greater

    happiness and hope. The circled

    word at the beginning of each sentence

    was ‘I’.

    A self-centered person, a taker, can

    never be happy in life because they

    could never take enough. Givers find

    joy in doing for others and therefore

    have great access to happiness because

    there are always ample opportunities

    to give.

    3) Surrender control and let go, let


    Several summers ago, on a visit to

    Israel, I decided to go skydiving and

    to appreciate our homeland from a

    new perspective. After a comprehensive

    five minutes of instruction, I was

    taken up in a tiny plane that if I wasn’t

    crazy enough to jump out of, I was

    crazy to get into. With a soft helmet

    on, and goggles on my face, they

    placed me with my feet dangling off

    the side of the airplane. We were

    12,000 feet in the air and the beautiful

    land of Israel was a fuzzy blur. I vividly

    remember leaning over and looking

    down and feeling like I couldn’t


    Before I could have second

    thoughts, I felt a nudge and out of the

    plane I went. I was heading towards

    Mother Earth travelling over 100

    miles an hour. The wind was rushing

    all around me, my arms and legs were

    extended, and I think I tasted my

    spleen. For a brief moment, I felt panicked.

    “This is absolutely nuts, what

    kind of crazy, insane person does

    this?” I thought to myself. I started to

    get scared, worried and anxious and

    then I remembered.

    Immediately behind me, attached

    by numerous metal latches and clips,

    was a big Israeli man who trains paratroopers

    in the Israeli army and who

    does these jumps around 8–10 times a

    day. We jumped in tandem and the

    moment I remembered that he literally

    had my back, I felt the biggest relief

    and was able to enjoy the rest of this

    remarkable experience.

    The difference between a miserable,

    painful, anxious experience and

    the experience of my life, was remembering

    there was someone who had

    my back and who knew what he was

    doing. Six thousand feet and forty

    five seconds into the jump, he pulled

    the cord, the chute released, we sat up

    in the harness and for the next 10 minutes

    had the most extraordinary ride

    over Israel, checking out our magnificent

    homeland from the sky and giving

    Israel a huge virtual hug.

    We need to take initiative, put forth

    our best efforts, and do everything we

    can to bring positive outcomes in our

    lives. However, believing that we can

    control and manipulate every outcome

    and result places impossible

    stress and pressure that preclude our

    ability to experience happiness. There

    is nothing more liberating, cathartic

    and joyful than doing our best, and

    then letting go of our need to control

    and allowing Hashem to do the rest.

    No matter how hard we try and

    what kind of effort we produce, our

    lives are going to inevitably and invariably

    throw curveballs our way.

    The difference between panicking

    anxiously or enjoying the ride is our

    ability to let go. Perhaps this is what

    the pasuk means when it tells us,

    “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha, serve

    Hashem with joy.” The greatest service

    of Hashem is feeling the simcha

    that can only come by recognizing

    that He has our back so we can enjoy

    the ride.

    Stop pursuing happiness and

    start experiencing it.