Searching for happiness can often leave you with a stomach ache. You aren’t sure if you want the chocolate cake or the banana split — so you down them both and end up sick.
“I should be happy. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted!” I found myself saying over and over again as I moved myself to Brooklyn as an 18-year-old seminary student.
And then again as I started my year in Israel.
And then again as I started working in a beautiful locale only a few hours away from my family.
But, why? Why wasn’t I happy?
One could wonder if I was really doing what I wanted to do-but I’d rather argue something that we all can probably relate to much better. And that is, conflicting emotions.
Sometimes happiness is much less than black and white.
We desperately want to “feel” happy every morning we wake up. We want to “feel” that warm, fuzzy, exciting feeling that the project we’re working on could get us one step closer to our dream internship.
But, realistically, life can sometimes feel more like a rat-race. And, more often than not, we don’t always see the fruits of our efforts, and we don’t always think that the fruits of our efforts feel good either. Things are going good- maybe even perfect!- but why can’t we feel it?
I think often, when we feel a conflict of emotions, we think that something is wrong. That something has to be “off”.
We want someone to tell us “great job” when we pray Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv.
Or to tell us that we’re not obligated to pray all three.
We don’t want to hear that it’s “complicated, personal and you need to make the decision for yourself.”
When we don’t have that instant gratification of approval, an ego booster that we’re making an amazing choice-we’re met with muddy water. You’re making a choice that’s neither right or wrong, it’s just simply good because you chose it for yourself.
Like the analogy of the chocolate cake and banana split-sometimes we fear our making decisions because what if we pick one and it turns out that the other one is better?
So, all of this leaves our heads spinning, in the constant fear of a better choice.
And that is what has left many of us questioning our happiness.
A lot of our conflicting emotions come from wanting a clear, direct path to the outcome we want in our lives.
We want to do what we “should” be doing to get to that outcome.
I think that the beginning to discovering what happiness really is, has nothing to do with the feeling itself, everything to do with unlearning the habit of wondering if something else could be better and our society’s infatuation with instant gratification.
The idea that I’m supposed to make a decision and instantly feel calm, at peace and see the fruits of it.
I’m supposed to make decisions that always lead to my benefit and never to my lack.
I don’t want to oversimplify the remedy-but I like to start with changing the mindset around it. You can have the chocolate cake, and enjoy it for everything it is, while still wondering if you also would have liked the banana split.
And, you know what? If you would have liked the banana split better-you have to understand that that’s okay too.
Because, you will always miss out on the happiness that is to be found in what you have, when comparing it to what you don’t.