Tag Archives: Meaningful Life

Happiness is Contemplation

happy-cat1Passover ended less than a week ago.

Many Jews say that Passover is our favourite holiday. And why not? On Seder nights, we gather for food, friendship, discussion, and intergenerational activities. Food – both ritual food and just plain tasty food – sits at the centre of the table.

Passover can also be an exciting project, involving creativity and problem-solving. Some people couple it with spring cleaning. Some host a Seder and creatively adapt tradition in new ways each year. Some try out unusual gluten-free recipes.

Passover falls just six months before everyone’s other favourite holiday: Yom Kippur.

Yes, Yom Kippur, the holiday on which more North American Jews attend synagogue and stay home from work than any other. On which people gather in order not to eat. And to engage in 25 hours of self-reflection, stimulated by the poetry of the prayerbook, set to haunting music.

Who would have thought self-reflection could be so popular?

Nowadays it seems people will do almost anything to avoid being alone with their thoughts and feelings.

Years ago, my fellow commuters and I would sit on the bus, watching the passing scenery and musing about human nature. Now we sit staring down at our smartphone screens, playing, reading or texting.

Years ago, a person would take a walk “to clear my head.” Now, when we walk, we stick earbuds in our ears, and listen to tunes or a podcast as we stroll.

These are popular habits. But they don’t represent a shift in the needs of the human psyche. In fact, our love of self-reflection is alive and well.

Recently, the idea of “Happiness” has been dominating the “self-help” psychology book market. Most books echo a single general theme: Happiness begins with self-reflection.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the best-selling, down-to-earth book The Happiness Project. Rubin’s website tells you how to begin your happiness project: Ask yourself some questions. “What makes you feel good?” “What gives you joy, energy and fun?” In other words, reflect and begin to know yourself.

Robert Holden is an inspirational speaker and veteran of the Oprah show. His latest book on happiness, Shift Happens, hits you with its message right in the first chapter. To find your “Unconditioned Self,” observe yourself, identify the layers of hurt and grievance that obscure this self, and learn to lift them. In other words, reflect, get to know yourself, and understand how you can grow.

Martin Seligman, a research psychologist, directs the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania. His website invites you to participate in his research on happiness. You can fill out a questionnaire assessing your emotional makeup, character strength, or work-life balance. The questions start you thinking, “How do I approach life, and how does that contribute to my happiness?” You reflect, you get to know yourself, you understand, you begin to make a plan.

Aristotle’s ideas are back on the best-seller list. In the 4th century BCE, he wrote, “Happiness is contemplation.”

The ideas of Kohelet, author of the Biblical book Ecclesiastes, are making a comeback. Kohelet found that, among life’s ups and downs, “wisdom is a stronghold.”

Often we talk about “finding” meaning, as if we can look outside of ourselves and stumble upon it. Perhaps we should talk more about “making” meaning. Because happiness seems to come through the activity of knowing and growing ourselves.

Ancient and modern teachers agree: Happiness is not a product, it’s a process. A process of reflection, forgiveness, self-assessment, and growth. One that we do over and over again.

In spite of all our habits of avoidance, we can’t help but reach for happiness.

Image: robservations.ca; cross-posted at OnSophiaStreet

Posted on April 7, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Dream Big

Happy New Year Everyone! I have spent a good part of the weekend reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I am fascinated by the various themes he highlights in Steve Job’s life. Before reading the book, I knew that Jobs was a visionary, but his gift for pushing himself and others to accomplish new creative feats is extraordinary. As Isaacson says, “Jobs lived at the intersection of the humanities and technology.” He was able to blend technological know how and beautiful design principles in a way no one else has been able to achieve. He succeeded partly by pulling people into his “reality distortion field.” He saw the world as he saw it, and refused to see it through anyone else’s eyes. This ability both drove others crazy, and inspired them to achieve the impossible.

The dawn of a new year is the perfect time for all of us to think about our own “reality distortion fields.” What do you envision for yourself in the next year? To borrow a phrase from an Apple advertisement, “Think Different.”Challenge yourself to dream the impossible, to push the edges of your own imagination. What do you want out of your life and how are you going to get it? We are all very good at making and breaking our New Year’s resolutions. So this year, don’t resolve anything. Do not make a vow you cannot keep, but do dream.

Dreams are what push us to lead meaningful lives. In order to accomplish something you must first dream it, visualize yourself doing it. In the Bible Jacob dreamt about reconciling with his brother Esau, and not only reestablished his relationship with his brother but brought himself closer to God as well. Josef saved himself from imprisonment by interpreting Pharos dreams. By being open to using his mind to look at the world differently, Josef was able to understand the visions in Pharos dreams better than anyone else. His ability to “think different” freed him from jail and set him up for a prosperous life.
Jobs dreamt of changing the world, and he did.

What is your dream and how can you follow it? Identify your passions, be yourself, and follow your own instincts.

May this New Year inspire you to dream big. And may you find the right path to making your dreams come true!

Posted on January 2, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy