Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

The Pursuit of Happiness Nazir 13 Psychology of the Daf Yomi

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph Discusses a scenario, whereby one person overhears another, declaring, “I hereby accept upon myself being a nazir if a child is born to me.” The person who overhears it says, “Myself as well”. The question is, what did he mean by, “myself as well”? Did he mean, “I, too, will take this vow upon myself in gratitude for your having a child”, or does he mean, “I, too, will take upon myself this vow in gratitude, if have a child, like you.”

Our Gemara’s case can be understood as a discussion about what is the most likely motivation and intention behind the statement. This brings to mind a study about what actually makes people happy. One might think that what makes people happy is enjoying good things and having good things happen to them. However, contrary to this assumption, the research shows that people feel more happy when doing acts of service to others, and making them feel good.

According to researchers Titiova and Sheldon (“>Happiness comes from trying to make others feel good, rather than oneself”, March 2021The Journal of Positive Psychology.):

Americans are guaranteed the right to “pursue happiness” for themselves. But might they be better off if they pursued happiness for others? In five studies we compared the two strategies, showing that, ironically, the second pursuit brings more personal happiness than the first. Retrospective study 1 (N = 123) and experimental studies 2 (N = 96) and 3 (N = 141) show that trying to make someone else happy leads to greater subjective well-being than trying to make oneself happy. In all three studies, relatedness and need-satisfaction mediated the condition differences. Study 4 (N = 175) extended the findings by showing that trying to make others happy is more personally beneficial than when others try to make us happy. Study 5 (N = 198) found that feeding strangers’ parking meters produced the effect even though the participant did interact with the targeted other.

The final point in their findings about producing a good effect, even when the receiver is not recognizing who it comes from, supports the Jewish notion of Mattan Bsesser (see Bava Basra 9b). Mattan Bsesser is giving charity without the recipient knowing who gave it, and even the giver knowing the recipient. Not only is this spiritually commendable, it seems to have the same positive psychological effects.

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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