Ray Gardner walks with a limp. Some shrapnel is left in his hip from the war, and another wound took out his left eye. Ray works hard to feed his family, yet he remains, despite his apparent hardships a jolly man.
I met Ray one summer when I took a job mowing lawns and trimming trees. A summer job for me. A livelihood for Ray. His lot in life seemed a bit sad to me, but surprisingly he was a bubbly, fun, and jubilant man. Every day I’d say, “How ya’ doin’, Ray?” and he’d reply with a big smile, “Fine, thank the good Lord, and you?”
Our boss, Dave, the owner of the landscaping company was born into great wealth. He was unhappy, and an alcoholic. He’d have a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer under the dashboard of his truck when he picked us up in the morning, and it was gone by nightfall, whether we helped him drink it or not.
If being poor and disadvantaged doesn’t prevent you from being happy, and on the other hand, being rich and privileged doesn’t prevent you from being unhappy, what, then, is happiness really all about? How do we access it?
True Happiness is a Spiritual Pleasure
Every pleasure in life is a piece of Godliness that we can connect to. The awe of a sunset, a baby’s smile, a hitting a home run, and winning the lottery are all experiences that God created and have a special connection to the Infinite. The more real the pleasure, the more of a connection to the Infinite.
Some pleasures bring a momentary happiness like an ice cream cone, or a new car. This is only a temporary joy. The Infinite Being created the physical universe as finite. The physical world by nature is temporary, and pleasures that are tied to physicality are therefore limited. Our joy from these pleasures is also temporary and limited. In contrast, we experience joy when we do the right thing under difficult circumstances. That joy is much more meaningful, and longer lasting. If you save someone from drowning, you might feel an inner joy from that event the rest of your life. Physical pleasure gives temporary joy, spiritual pleasure gives longer lasting joy.
True Joy Comes from Within
To access more joy, we must understand that true joy comes from within. When we have an experience that gives us true joy we aren’t really having an external experience, like we are when we eat a hamburger. The external event is merely allowing us to get in touch with the joy that’s inside us. That’s why it lasts much longer. We all have tremendous joy imbedded in our soul. The soul is a source of unbounded joy. When we are able to focus correctly, we can unlock our hidden storehouse of happiness.
Changing Your Brain
What most of us do (who are Joy-challenged), is habitually ponder our difficulties, troubles, and problems. When we mull over negativity, we increase our negative feelings. This is a natural habit for many people. The Torah says to avoid “turning after your heart”. This means that we naturally follow our emotions rather than lead them. We need to use our mind on purpose. We need to control our thoughts and focus on our blessings. By “thinking on purpose” we can direct our thoughts onto all the things that are going well and right; we can think about all the resources we possess to help us deal with our challenges. This way, our brain is holding the reins, not our heart. For some, their brain works like a T.V., whatever comes on has their attention. We should strive to make our brain more like surfing the internet, where we are the ones who pick and choose what to think about.
The power of happiness is in our hands.
Joy is not just something we want; it is a catalyst for great spiritual accomplishments. One of the greatest kabbalists, the holy Ari, said that joy caused him to reach his high spiritual level.
Happiness is also a moral imperative. We are transgressing when we are depressed, and we are fulfilling a commandment when we are happy. It is one of the spiritual challenges of life.
Think of something to thank God for every day. Write it down. Try this for forty days and you’ll soon feel a subtle change taking place in your emotion of joy. And with that change you might just feel a tiny bit closer to God.