Joy, happiness, contentment, fulfillment – they’re all something each of us look for and need, yet so many of us can’t seem to find! We’re even commanded to be happy throughout Tanach and to serve Hashem with joy. But it’s often not that simple to just be happy.
Why not? Why can’t we just simply be happy?
Is it our anxiety fuelled by the threat of political uncertainty?
Is it technology reprogramming our brains to see things differently?
Is it our increasing materialism and decreasing spirituality?
Is it a state of mind influenced by our health, wellbeing, diet and lifestyle?
Is it the constant flood of (mostly irrelevant) information that bombards us daily?
Well whatever it is, happiness is an elusive emotion for many and (sadly) we’re becoming less happy. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never really discussed or examined happiness in the past, so now feel the need to look at it.
I think the reason is because most of us don’t even know what happiness is and therefore we look elsewhere for it.
The definition of happiness is different for everyone. Some define their happiness based on achievement, others based on family. Some base their happiness on their education and others on giving. Many use a combination of the above. An interesting feature of those factors is they are comparisons between us and others. And I believe, this comparative mechanism of appraisal is where both the problem and solution are found.
Humans are hard-wired to compare things. Appraisal is an innate mechanism which we consciously and unconsciously use it to make our choices. In today’s world, our choices are very influenced by what we are presented with as the ideal. We are constantly reminded that happiness is found in wealth, beauty, relationships, health, status and travel. Whilst these factors are important in achieving fulfillment, the goals we are presented with are too unrealistic. Try as we may, it is difficult for most people to be very wealthy, always looks fantastic, have perfect relationships, radiate health, achieve social status and travel to exotic locations. And because of that “failure” we then see ourselves as lacking a measure of happiness as haven’t reached those ideals. But maybe the way forward is to see things honestly, individually and use appraisal in a healthy manner.
An honest look at your life should reveal that it probably doesn’t suck. Of course it’s not perfect, but whose is?! This is the easiest, more realistic form of comparison – self-appraisal. Your life always has room for improvement, but looking at things over a decent period of time – say months and years, will reveal not only how you got to where you are, but also where you want to be. Start with honesty and look at things over time. You’ll probably be happy with what you find!
Similarly a positive, happy perspective is possible in almost every situation. Much like the “is the glass half-empty or half-full?” analogy, we can choose how we see and feel about things. For example a change in your work situation can be seen as a negative because you might make less money or as a positive because it’s an opportunity to change direction. Your relationships with loved ones can be challenging, but they are also growth opportunities to understand both yourself and the other individual. Your health is often a direct product of your perspective, thus seeing your choices as steps towards improvement frames everything you do. You can choose to keep things in positive perspective to build a happy outlook for anything that comes your way.
The road to happiness is not a magical formula purely dependent on wealth, health and location. It is also not a definable state of existence where everything is perfect, pretty and easy. By looking at ourselves firstly and realistically, our ability to gain happiness becomes a process of continual positive challenges from within. Self-appraisal is really just getting to know yourself. And the better you are at that, the happier you’ll be, because no one else can tell you what it is that makes you happy.