​Humble and Grateful:​ A Chassidic Path to Happiness

By Daniel Feld
Essays 2017 / Finalists

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

Man’s Quest for Happiness: A Contemporary Issue
Man’s quest for happiness has been a central theme since the exploration of the psyche and the modern world. Its importance in the human experience has been recognized in multiple studies as being a central life goal [1]. Yet it seems that the more the world evolves and develops, the more capabilities and technologies man conceives, true happiness becomes more and more elusive. It is apparent that there is something missing in the popular formulas for happiness.

So what is it that stops us from being happy?

The answer is entitlement. Our generation feels entitled. We feel deserving and ungrateful of the good we have, and when we don’t get what we want we are disappointed and angry at the world, and overall unhappy. The rampant attitudes of being deserving and entitled torpedo the pursuit of happiness, and produce feelings of sadness and victimhood. Too commonly they destroy a person’s chances at a happy life.

Chassidus provides an answer. It provides a path to living a life of lasting happiness, a happiness free of entitlement, but based on gratitude. A life in which each new day is a gift unto itself, not a given, but something to be cherished. Through the Friediker Rebbe’s Maamar, “Vi-yasfu Anavim Ba-Hashem Simcha,” various chapters in Tanya , and Sichos of the Rebbe we will explore the Chassidic concepts of Hisbonenus (Contemplation ), Anava (Humility,) and the gratitude they produce, as key tools to achieving a lasting Simcha (Happiness) [2,3,4,5,6].

So how do we apply the tools Chassidus offers to live a life of gratitude and happiness?

The Obstacle in Our Path: Entitlement
In order for us to apply the above concepts we must better understand the challenge of entitlement.
Feelings of entitlement stand in the path to happiness. When we feel that we “deserve” to be happy and successful, we set ourselves up for a vicious cycle of unhappiness. When we do not receive what we felt we rightfully “deserve,” we feel cheated and angry. (“I deserve this but didn’t get it!!”.) Entitlement leads to anger and victimhood. With each additional thing we expected but did not receive, we feel that we are victims who never get what we rightfully deserve. Needless to say one cannot be happy when feeling like a victim. Feelings of “victimhood” comes with sadness, heaviness, and can act as an excuse for hurtful actions [ 7].

The entitled person is also ungrateful for what they do have. They feel whatever they have they deserved, and that they should have gotten more. For the entitled person, nothing is ever enough. An ungrateful person cannot be a happy person.

In order to understand how to free ourselves from entitlement and live a life of gratitude, we need to understand how Chassidus sees entitlement. The guiding question Chassidus uses to assess an approach is to see where the approach leads a person’s focus. When someone feels they deserve something, their focus remains purely on themselves, on their own Yeshus (Self-ness) [8].  They do not see who is providing them with what they have. They are focused on their own talents, accomplishments and needs. When they do receive what they expected, they do not feel grateful since they “deserved” it. The more one is caught up in their own yeshus and ego , the more they feel they never get enough. Victimhood and sadness lead to what chassidus calls Kveidus, (heaviness ) [9]. Kveidus pulls us down, further distancing us from Simcha.

The cycle of entitlement can be succinctly represented in a flow chart:
Yeshus & Entitlement ⇒ Not receiving what I “Deserve” ⇒ Anger-Resentment (“Why Me!?”), Victimhood (“Always me!”) ⇒ ⇒ ⇒ Heaviness (Kveidus) & Unhappiness ( Atzvus)

This vicious cycle is unfortunately all too common in our modern society where we are constantly told that we “deserve” to be happy, wealthy, healthy and successful. The entitled man remains a slave to himself, dependant on his own actions and accomplishments, leaving no room for the good Hashem provides. He cannot recognize that the good in his life comes from above, and thus he remains a prisoner of his own self. The more a person is filled with his own Yeshus and ego, the less room there is for the creator [ 10]. He himself takes credit for what he has in life [11]. His fundamental outlook has changed to one of expectation, closing him off to seeing good in his life [12].

The Answer of Chassidus: Life is a Gift
The approach Chassidus offers is profound in how much it differs from an attitude of entitlement. Chassidus frees a person completely from the above obstacle by providing an opposite outlook. It teaches: You are not entitled. You do not “deserve” something. The creation is vast and you are were put here to fulfill a special purpose[13 , 14]. All in life is a gift from G-d and are here to help you fulfill your purpose [15]. Please use it well [16]. By providing a larger framework of our place in the world and the power of our souls, Chassidus gives us the tools to create Anava (humility,) erasing entitlement, and creating gratitude for what we have.

So what are the steps in applying it to our life?

2 Essential Steps to Happiness: Humility and Gratitude

Step 1: Humility

a. Humility and Joy

To reach happiness, the Frierdiker rebbe teaches us to be humble [17]. He explains, that though Anava
and Simcha are seemingly opposite attributes, one cannot reach Simcha without Anava[18]. Just as man stands between heaven and earth and is a combination of a physical body and a spiritual soul, so to a person must internalize the humility and self-nullifying ability of earth, in order to experience the lightness and freedom of Simcha. Anava is also the precursor for gratitude. When a person becomes aware that everything in his life is a gift and was inherited and given by G-d, they become grateful for the incredible gifts in their life. Gratitude becomes possible through humility [19].

b. Humility as the Antidote to Entitlement

Anava defeats entitlement . As soon as there is no more entitlement, there is room for joy. Anava frees a person from his feelings of entitlement and allows gratitude. As the Frierdiker Rebbe explicitly states: “Someone who feels his own Self-Ness (Hargashas Atzmo) thinks mistakenly that he “deserves”… and moreso his Self-Ness ( Hargashas Atzmo) is the cause of his sadness… Therefore Anava is the vessel for Simcha!” [20] The Frierdiker Rebbe profoundly explains, that through Anava
a person can go out of their Hargashas Atzmo and feelings of entitlement, thus making room for joy.

Step 2: Gratitude

Gratitude is the awe and recognition that is created when Anava overcomes entitlement. Tremendous gratitude washes over a person when they can see the gifts they have been given. There is now room for joy. The importance of gratitude in Judaism is apparent by how much of the davening is expressions of gratitude, from Modeh Ani until Aleinu.
When someone has humility, they can be grateful for everything in their life. For breathing and for family. For all of their skills and gifts, for their wants and dreams, for the sun outside. The first thing the grateful person wants to say is Modeh Ani.
Thank you for giving me everything! Thank you for giving me life!

The question remains: We get it. Anava is key for Simcha by defeating entitlement and creating gratitude . But practically, how do we do it?

Hisbonenus as a path to Humility
In Chassidus there is a concept called Hisbonenus (Contemplation and Introspection,) which is taking time to contemplate an idea, such as how small we are and how great G-d is. Hisbonenus is the central tool in Chassidus for internalizing and applying concepts central for Avodas Hashem. Hisbonenus can create inside of us Anava and gratitude (see chart below.) Taking the time to contemplate how vast Hashem is, and how he has placed us in the world, and given us special tools to fulfill our purpose, humbles us and makes us grateful for our parts in the world. Hisbonenus is the tool with which one can free oneself from one’s Yeshus and Kveidus and come to Anava, gratitude and Simcha Pnimis. Hisbonenus is the hands-on tool required to actualize Chassidus.

Hodaya and Anava: Two pillars for Happiness
Hisbonenus is an essential tool to reach gratitude and humility. Hodaya and Anava are the two pillars that lead us to Simcha.

Chassidus Applied: From Theory To Practice 

3 Steps on the Path to Happiness

3 Steps  What to do? Tips
1.       Hisbonenus -Contemplation Set aside a time in your day for contemplation and introspection. Pick a fixed time of day:  Eg. In the morning upon awakening, at night before going to bed. Take a minute for contemplation when struggling with feelings of sadness/anger.


2.    Anava – Humility


During Hisbonenus acknowledge G-d’s greatness, his ability to give life and create the world. Realize how small and lucky you are for what you have, and for your role in creation. A time to erase one’s ego before G-d. Humility will help you fight entitlement. Use the feeling of humility to understand that you don’t necessarily “deserve” what you felt entitled to. Anava will help you fight feelings of anger and disappointment from previous expectations, and make space to see the good in life.
3.    Hodaya – Gratitude During Hisbonenus focus on the good in your life. Realize how lucky you are for what you have, and take a moment to thank Hashem. Look around you and notice the small things: If it’s a sunny day feel grateful. If you feel good, be thankful. If you feel joy, be grateful too.

The Daily Prescription: Chassidus Practices for Simcha
A person needs to make a time every day to assess and reinforce their Anava, gratitude and Simcha. Below are practical tools that apply the concepts discussed in the essay to everyday life.
– Follow the Alter Rebbe’s  suggestion to take the opportunity upon first arising as a set time for hisbonenus. This short practice provides the opportunity to begin one’s day with contemplating one’s place in the creation, and creating Simcha
for the day .[21 , 22]

– Start your day with Modeh Ani [23 ] and take the time to say each word with kavana, and to be thankful to Hashem for giving you another new day.

– As part of Hisbonenus add a personal Modeh Ani prayer . For example: “I just woke up in a beautiful world created by you. How lucky I am to be here, to have been given my body, my soul, and my talents. In this special place on earth I am here fulfill my specific role to spread G-dliness and to do good, for which I was given the gifts that I need. I am humbled by the responsibility and my special role. Thank you Hashem for putting me here .” [24]

– Take 5 min every day to write down something you’re grateful for and something you are humbled by.

Conclusion: A Humble and Happy Life
Chassidus frees us from entitlement and Yeshus, allowing us to serve Hashem with joy. It accomplishes this by providing us with the tool of Hisbonenus, with which we can reach the Anava and gratitude required to have true Simcha. By applying the practical tools of Chassidus to our everyday lives, we can live with a special joy ( Simcha Shlayma.)[25] This simcha is free of expectation and entitlement, since we recognize that what we already have is a wonder. Through studying and applying the wisdom of Chassidus we should merit to live “with a calm spirit, expanded wisdom and true, inner Joy (Simcha Pnimis ViAmisis.)”[26]


Footnotes and Sources
1 The psychological and physiological importance of happiness has been studied extensively from a variety of scientific and physiological approaches. Two notable schools of thought in which happiness is an end goal is in the noted Hungarian scientist’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi “Flow Psychology,”

and in Abraham Maslow ’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” in which happiness is one of the the overall end goals. Recent books on the search for happiness include: Sonja Lyubomirsky , The How of Happiness, Handbook of Emotions (2000), Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, Lucky Go Happy: Make Happiness Happen! (2014), Dennis Prager, The Key To Happiness (2014) to name a few.

2 Rabbi Yosef Yitchak Schneersohn, 1880 – 1950, The 6th Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic Movement

3 Sefer Hamaamarim “Vi-Yasfu Anavim Ba-Hashem Simcha” 5710 p237 – 242. This discourse is based on the verse from Yeshayahu, Chapter 29, 19, “The humble’s joy in the Lord shall increase.”

4 Tanya Likutei Amarim Chapter 3, Tanya Likutei Amarim Chapter 14, Tanya Likutei Amarim Chapter 33, Tanya Iggeres Hakodesh Epistle 11. The above chapters of Tanya among others explore approaches of Hisbonenus (
Contemplation) and their connection to creating Simcha (Joy) each through a different path (i.e. by creating Yira, Ahava
and Shiflus as paths to Simcha.)

5 Likkutei Sichos, Vol 36, Parashas Yisro p99, Toras Menachem 5713, part 3, Parshas Eikev, p119.

6 The English translations to the above Chassidic concepts do not always convey the entirety of the meaning of the original hebrew terms. For the purposes of this essay the closest English translations were chosen, with the hope that the discourse throughout the essay will fill in whatever meaning was lost in translation.

7 “Victimhood” plays a role in being able to do evil acts. Not surprisingly a large percentage of crime perpetrators see themselves as the victims. For further discussion of the negative role of “victimhood” plays in society see: C. J. Sykes, A nation of victims: The decay of the American character, St. Martin’s Press: New York, (1992). Stanton Samenow (2007), The Myth of the Out of Character Crime. Emily M. Zitek, Victim Entitlement to Behave Selfishly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010, Vol. 98. Cambridge Journals, 2009 Vol 91, A sense of self-perceived collective victimhood in intractable conflicts.

8 The Chassidic concepts of Yeshus (Self-ness) and Gasus Haruach (Coarseness) are discussed in multiple places in Chassidus. It is a difficult concept to translate into English and connotes an exaggerated sense of ego and a heightened sense of self importance. Sources include: The Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos, Vol 36, p99. Toras Menachem 5713 part 3, page 119. The Mitler Rebbe , Toras Chaim, Shmos Vol. 1, 24,3. The concepts are learnt out partially from an exploration of the talmudic dictum “Ain Ani Vihu Yicholim Ladur,” (“I and Him cannot rest together”) (Sotah 5a) referring to G-ds inability to be where there is ego and yeshus.

9 See Tanya, chap. 1 for discussion about the Kveidus and Atzlus (heaviness and laziness) stemming from the element of earth in the Nefesh Habihamis (the animal soul). Also see Tanya, chap. 26 and Sefer Maamaraim of the Rebbe Rashab, 5659 p112

10 See footnote 8

11 Chassidus learns about the concept of a person feeling they created everything from their own power, from the archetype of Pharaoh of Egypt in the verse “Ki Li Yi-ori Vi-ani Asitani,” (“For the Nile is mine and I made it.”) in Ezekial, Chapter 29, Verse 3

12 This idea is expressed in other Chassidic traditions as well, albeit from slightly different perspectives. Examples include: Rabbi Kolonamus Kalman, (student of Rebbi Elimelech of Lizhensk) in Maor Vishemesh, Parashas Vieschanan , p31. Rabbi Nachamn of Brezlov, Shivchei Haran/Sichos Haran chap 261, Chayai Moharan chap 562, Rabbi Yackov Yosef Katz (a student of the Baal Shem Tov,) Sefer Toldos Yackov Yosef, Parashas Kedoshim .

13 That is namely, to serve Hashem through fulfilling the Torah and keeping the Mitzvot, and to affect one’s surroundings and the world for the better, making them a dwelling place for Hashem. One’s role in the world, and the mechanism through which the fulfillment of the Torah and Mitzvos fulfills it, is a beautiful and vast subject in Chassidus, and is beyond the purview of this essay. Please see Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36, pp. 1 – 6. Tanya, chapters 36-37. Dvar Malchus p. 63, 5752, among other sources for more discussion on the subject.

14 In addition to one’s purpose, Chassidus sees innate worth in every person stemming from their containing within them a “Chelek Eloka Mima-al Mamesh,” “an actual part of G-d.” See the Alter Rebbe, Tanya Chapter 2 based on a verse in Job Chapter 31, 2, amongst other sources.

15 The Bitachon (Faith) that everything in my life is for the good is an additional important aspect Chassidus recognizes. Chassidus understands the Talmudic saying, “ For I was created to serve the Creator,” (Kiddushin p.82b) as the realization that comes from the bitachon in the Creator of the world, and in His particular placement of me inside of it, in order to fulfill my purpose. For a larger discussion of the role of Bitachon in chassidus please see the 2016 essay, “Positive Thinking Through Powerful Faith.”

16 Though the ideas in this paragraph are expressed in the author’s own words, the ideas are heavily sourced in Chassidus.

17 See footnote 3.

18 The Frierdiker Rebbe explains: Simcha (Joy) is a contagious, ever rising, outward spreading feeling which puts lightness in one’s step. It brightens the mood and makes a person reach higher. Anava( Humility) on the other hand is an internal character trait, that focuses one internally, nullifying ego and entitlement. Though seemingly opposite, at the end of the Maamar we see that they are actually interdependent qualities continuously creating one another.

19 Though in the Maamar the Frierdiker Rebbe does not use the term Hodaya (gratitude,) he does describe the feeling by describing the difference when a person experiences what they have in their life as a gift and inheritance instead of something they deserve. Please see footnote 3-5 for more sources relating to recognition and gratitude in Chassidus.

20 See footnote 3. “דמי שמרגיש את עצמו הנה הוא מוטעה לחשוב שמגיע לו“

21 Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745 – 1812, the 1st Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic Movement

22 Hisvaduyos ,10 Nissan, 5742, pp.1190-2000, also see beginning of the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur

23 The first prayer in the Jewish prayerbook said when a person first wakes up.

24 The exact wording should be individualized.

25 See Sefer Hamaamarim “Vi-Yasfu Anavim Ba-Hashem Simcha” 5710 p240 for a discussion as about the special quality of Simcha that comes from humility – a “ Simcah Shlayma.”

26 A blessing from the end of a Rebbe letter, Igrot Kodesh, Part 14, 314


About the Author

Daniel Feld L.Ac grew up in a Berkeley Chassidic family, studied in the Yeshivot of Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz, and went on to complete a Masters Degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco. A licensed acupuncturist and practising Chazzan, Daniel enjoys learning Chassidut with his wife Shoshana. He also runs Acupuncture Israel, a Jerusalem based acupuncture clinic specialising in bringing acupuncture to the Anglo and Yiddish speaking communities in Israel. For additional info see the Jerusalem Post article “The Young Chabad Herbalist.”