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Can we be happy again?

In the post-Covid era, many of us will still be anxious, depressed, unmotivated or conflicted. Judaism teaches that contentment is a choice.
Torah advises us to start our day with gratitude. (iStock)
Torah advises us to start our day with gratitude. (iStock)

After two years of Covid-driven anxiety and lockdowns, let’s hope we can smile again in 2022. Omicron has simultaneously ripped through infection-rate records and killed the Covid bogeyman. Spain now wants the EU to treat Covid as endemic, as the UK scraps mask mandates and Covid passports. Israel has nixed its “red list” and reopened its borders. Here, in Johannesburg, big bar mitzvahs are back, and people have “moved on”. 

We’ve started this year with healthy optimism. We’ve been anxious and uncertain for long enough. Now that Covid is on its way out (we hope), the great barrier to peace of mind is gone, and we’re all gonna be happy. 

Or not. 

We forget that we were stressed before Wuhan. Pfizer made money off our mental health long before capitalising on the Virus. What makes us think that we’ll be happy now is what depressed us in the first place. It’s the “If.. then” formula for destroying happiness that gets us every time. For two years, we’ve had the perfect excuse. If I’m not happy, it’s because of Covid. If I’m anxious, it must be Covid. Family strife? Covid. Short-fuse? Covid. Conflict? Covid. “If Covid ends… I’ll be fine”. 

It doesn’t work. 

Reality-check: Sans Covid, many of us will still be anxious, depressed, unmotivated or conflicted. You may have heard the cliche that, wherever you go, you take yourself with you. 

“If… then” thinking is a farce. It dupes us into believing that if we resolve some specific issue in our lives, all will be well. We effectively relive our childhood fantasy that life will be perfect once we get our driver’s license. In real life, new issues quickly replace those we resolve. Instead of feeling great, we grow frustrated at the new problem that “robs” us of our happiness. We can only do so much “if…then” wishful thinking before we realise that there will always be something to niggle us. That’s when we become depressed- or cynical.  

We all want peace of mind. Covid shook that sense of peace, and some of us fell into the trap of believing that when Covid would end, the serenity would return. This year may find us really happy – or unexpectedly more depressed. Judaism teaches that happiness and contentment are choices. That’s why you find joyful people in homeless shelters and millionaires on Zoloft. “If… then” thinking has us believe that the next iPhone, vacation or business deal will fill the void. Torah advises us to start our day with gratitude and to acknowledge that we have all the resources we need to feel good at any time, should we choose to. 

If we think this year will be better because Covid will disappear, we may be disappointed. If we choose to find peace of mind in whatever this year may throw at us, we have a fighting chance of living happily.  

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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