As Yom Kippur approaches, I have a variety of thoughts on my mind. How can I try to make sure the next year will be better? How can I ensure that it will be one of self-improvement?
I’m no rabbi or psychologist, but I’d like to throw this out there. I think the key to having a better year (and life) is to work on becoming happier, more grateful people. Happiness is not a self-serving value. According to radio show host and public intellectual, Dennis Prager, happiness is a moral obligation and a serious problem. It is not something that comes naturally for most of us. It is something that we must practice.
In fact, the Jewish legal tradition demands it of us. The mystics take it a step further and assert that joy is at the root of having a connection to G-d and to humanity. It must be the very bedrock of our efforts.
So where to begin? Well with ourselves of course. But today everything is digital – how we shop, what we watch, how we communicate. Why should self-improvement, growth and teshuva be any different? Allow me to explain.
The internet can be a dangerous place. A hostile jungle of sorts. Peruse the comment section of almost any website – actually don’t – and what will you see? Anger. A lot of it. Negativity abounds. Slander, gossip, defamation. And worst of all, many individuals trying to tear down other individuals. Where users are anonymous, such as YouTube, this behavior is the worst, but even without anonymity it is only slightly better.
For those of us who use Facebook, we can see fights erupt between friends and strangers on almost daily basis. And like most of you, I have been caught up in a feisty Facebook thread at one time or another.
Now, I’m not talking about civil disagreements. That’s fine and the internet is great for the free exchange of ideas and opinions. Good people can always disagree. But the character assassination, the bigotry, and the overall confrontation that occurs online tells a sad story about humanity. Most of what happens online simply reflects what happens offline.
I’m a realist and I’m not preaching over here. I don’t think for a second that we’ll be able to totally change the situation and I’m as imperfect as anyone else. But here is an idea. What if each of us could claim one small space on the internet – It could be a blog, a vlog (video blog), a website, a social media account – anything – that we will fill with nothing but unbridled positivity and joyful or uplifting content? This “project” can be performed through art or music or writing or by simply posting inspirational quotes. It doesn’t matter. The point is to create one small island of goodness and positive thinking in a stormy sea of hatred. Your page won’t solve the problem on a global scale, but it will be one beacon of light. If it only helps you and no one else, it would be enough!
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was fond of saying that if you light one small candle, its light will dispel a lot of darkness, because in a dark place, a little light can be seen from afar. Indeed, this is what he told Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu when the prime minister served as Israel’s ambassador to the ‘house of darkness,’ also known as the United Nations – a body that has long singled out Israel for condemnation and a disproportionate amount of criticism despite its claims of trying to foster world peace.
There are a lot of depressing and scary things in the news on any given day – especially now. And it is important to be aware of what is going on. But sharing something positive or inspiring or even just ‘good news’ can balance it out. Sharing good news might actually be the best place to start.
But what is the thinking behind this idea? To change the world? No, not necessarily. My hypothesis is that by involving oneself in something exclusively devoted to happiness one will ultimately become a happier person. We shouldn’t approach this with the mindset of changing others, but to change ourselves and to become happier – which I think is the key to good decision making. In fact, the idea that happiness is behind good decision making may actually have a scientific basis.
If you struggle with positive thinking offline, I think it is all the more reason to engage in this activity. The page you create can become your own resource for gaining strength or inspiration. Creating a space where others can also share positive insights has the potential to create an entire online community of enthusiasm and growth.
Thinking positively or even writing about it creates a happy mood that is conducive to a positive mindset. A growth-oriented mindset. It is my theory that if we spend some portion of the day or the week doing or promoting something happy or positive, it will have a beneficial effect on our own personalities as well as on our overall health. And hey, it might even impact our surroundings or at least one other person.
This is just an experiment. My project is this blog and in future posts I hope to share whatever positive insights I pick up.
What will be your project? Feel free to let me know in the comments.