Four Grades of Happiness: Pleasure, Family, Wisdom, and Spirituality (A four-part series)

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What is Wisdom?

What is “wisdom” exactly? Its one of those things that we have a sense of yet find hard to define exactly like “love” and “humor”. But platitudes abound that sound wise and are in reality empty statements.

“Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” Is that really true? Actually, I’ve found that love is saying you’re sorry an awful lot. Why shouldn’t you say you’re sorry if you accidentally hurt the one you love? You may not want to. It’s uncomfortable. But it’s the right thing to do.

Wisdom vs. Platitudes

So how can you distinguish wisdom from empty words? Wisdom lasts. Wisdom has a way of solidifying something you’ve always sensed, but never expressed. Wisdom can change your outlook for good. Pleasure and happiness can come from wisdom, but the wisdom has to be real, not a platitude. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Maybe, or maybe you should give up and do something else. Platitudes are like candy. They make you feel good, but when you examine them closely they are just empty calories.

What is it about wisdom that produces happiness? When you understand something about the universe, remember it, and are able to use it, things feel right; the universe is in your hands. Rabbi Luzzatto, the famous kabbalist from the 1700’s wrote that a healthy mind craves truth. But it’s not quite real if it goes in one ear and out the other. When we remember it and have an opportunity to use it, all the atoms and molecules are in line, we feel like we have mastered some small part of the world. This produces happiness.

Certainly for some of us, merely understanding life calms us down, gives us a sense of serenity, that we’ll know what to do when we need to. If I learn an insight into love for example – it’s hard to love others if you don’t love yourself – that insight makes me feel a bit more secure that I have some understanding about love, one of the most important emotions we have.

Remove Your Burden, Joy Remains

We are naturally filled with joy; you can see this in children most easily. But life’s challenges weigh us down. Wisdom is guidance for all the areas of life’s challenges. With wisdom we are more able to muster our resources, less fearful about the consequences as we are more likely to be successful. Armed with ten insights into marriage, you are less likely to end in divorce. When you look at the statistics on break-ups, marriage is daunting. If you spend time learning wise things about male female relationships, like – women crave unconditional love, while men crave unconditional respect – you feel more confident that you can deal with the challenges of marriage. By removing life’s main worries, happiness springs forth from within us.

Psychologist Victor Frankl made his entire practice out of man’s inner need for meaning. Wisdom teaches you the meaning of something. They are one and the same. Without wisdom we become depressed. So much of life’s downers are based on a lack of meaning. We feel our job is meaningless. We feel our life is meaningless. We feel our suffering is meaningless. These thoughts naturally lead to feeling down, or the need for counseling. Wisdom in the broader sense teaches you about the meaning of life in general, or your life in particular. Without it we are lost. One of the most difficult and unpleasant thoughts is the possibility that life is meaningless. And the opposite, understanding the meaning of life, brings serenity and peace of mind.

Wisdom itself includes all the concepts of happiness, serenity, and peace of mind. All the things in life that provide happiness for us like relationships, family, love, physical pleasure, honor, self-control, personal achievement, spirituality, and our relationship with the Infinite, is wrapped up with wisdom. You can’t possibly access happiness from any area of life without wisdom. The Torah has words of wisdom for every single possible area of life. No stone is left unturned. Spiritual principles guide us in every nook and cranny of life, because the Almighty is infinite and everywhere.

Wisdom and Happiness Are Intertwined

Wisdom leads to happiness, and happiness leads to wisdom. The greatest kabbalist in the past 500 years was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. When asked how he attained such a high level of holiness and wisdom he replied that it was all due to the fact that whenever he did a mitzvah, whenever he knew he was fulfilling the will of the Almighty, he felt incredible joy.

Wisdom and happiness are intertwined. They go together. Joy expands our consciousness.

As with all spirituality, when you grab a hold of a small piece of the Infinite, you grab a hold of it all. So wisdom leads to more wisdom. More wisdom leads to more wisdom and happiness.

When you seek the light, more light comes your way.

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My favorite joke of late:

A dog walks into this bar, jumps up on the stool and says to the bartender, “Hey barkeep, it’s my birthday today. How ’bout a free drink?”

The bartender turns, looks at the dog and nods his head, “Sure pal, toilet’s right down the hall.”