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    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, a 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.
    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
    Happiness does not result from a focus inward, but it results from the
    deep satisfaction and profound gratification of imitating G-d 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 breathe.
    Before I could have second
    thoughts, I felt a nudge and out 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
    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
    G-d 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.