Essays 2019 / Joy and Happiness
How to Live a Happy and Fulfilling Life According to Chassidus
This paper will focus on the age-old question of how one can find true happiness even in the darkest of times. One issue focused upon in this paper is “Why did G-d put individuals on this earth, only for them to be unhappy?” As well as, the idea of selfishness being an instigator of unhappiness. Many have attempted to answer this question and help find methods to deal with unhappiness. This paper will focus on how to live a happy and fulfilling life according to Chassidus.
Chassidus is a way of looking at the world that enhances the life of Torah and Mitzvos by bringing life and happiness into it. It is a known fact that atoms are undetectable to the naked eye. However even though most people have not seen atoms it is still an accepted fact that they exist. So too, man’s naked eye cannot see nor comprehend G-d’s master plan for the world and the way he runs the world yet one must accept the fact that there is a plan for the world even if one cannot see it . But, if one was given a road map and instruction book as to where to look, one would be able to see the atoms that make up the world. Chassidus is one of G-d’s roadmaps for his people to connect with him and to help them understand the workings of his ways.
Begin from the question: Why is being happy considered so vital to living a useful, productive, and enjoyable life? Then on to: Why is being sad or unhappy so detrimental to the possibility of living a fulfilling life? And finally: Why should happiness have such an impact on a person’s life? It is a common assumption that when a person is at their happiest, the person embodies more resolve in decision making, determination to succeed, and drive to live life in the best way possible. There is an air about this person that proclaims that they have a greater commitment to life. There is a sense of joy and contentment in everything a happy person does that creates a pleasant atmosphere for all around them to enjoy. Not only is this person happy in physicality, but they are also happy and healthy in mentality. The optimist in the happy person stands at attention and everything in life always has a shine of positivity to it.
True happiness is not a mood or a state that is reached in one day. It is not a state that one is born into. True happiness is a level of happiness that is reached when one has a happy state of mind, and one goes from bottom to top. To find happiness and be happy, one must first understand what sadness is and why a person would have reason to be sad to understand what true happiness means. The Tanya teaches that there are only four possible sources as to where unhappiness would stem from: circumstance, personal failure, loss of self-worth, and sadness with no obvious reason, as listed below.
- Circumstance – Sadness stemming from circumstance stems from when something bad, or a difficult situation occurs to a person. Hard circumstance can cause a person to delve into sadness or depression.
- Personal Failure – Failure to attain set goals are a major source of unhappiness for the average individual. Setting a goal for oneself and not reaching it has been known to lead to disappointment and lack of will to continue aiming to reach the set goal.
- Loss of Self-worth – A widely acknowledged source for unhappiness and depression is the loss of self-worth. Humans direct self-loathing and self-deprecating thoughts to their own being multiple times a day. These thoughts make a person feel useless and unnecessary, which in turn cause the individual to believe they can have no positive impact in their daily life.
- Sadness with No Obvious Reason – Lastly, there is the unhappiness and sadness that has no source. An example of this would be when a person knows they have all that they need, lack for nothing, and yet, are still so down.
Using teachings from Chassidus and the Lubavitcher Rebbes, one can understand how to find happiness and be happy even when true happiness seems beyond reach. Teachings from one of the Rebbes is a something that should stay with an individual through their life. There is a statement from the second Rebbe “When two men work together they are joining the power of two good inclinations versus one bad inclination and there is thus two times the power to figure out the problem and to fix it.” Never be afraid to ask for help when it is needed, even when the impression that one individual may bring unhappiness to the other individual threatens. A common misconception about happiness is that one should be happy in whatever situation they find themselves because they have this situation and not someone else’s since “one never knows when it could be worse.”. However there is major flaw in this notion, since it does not make that one should be happy with his situation but rather it just makes him happy that he does not have the other person’s situation.
Two characteristics stand out throughout the learnings of Chassidus. Emunah, belief in G-d and His doings, and Bitachon, trust in G-d and his doings. The difference can be understood through a parable. There were once three farmers that needed rain. So they went out together to the fields to pray hoping G-d will answer their prayers. In middle of their prayers a fellow farmer saw them and confronted them, telling them that they’re all a bunch of hypocrites. Not understanding what he means they ask him to explain himself. He answers them “if you really trusted g-d then you would have brought umbrellas”. From this story we can understand the difference between belief in G-d and trust in G-d. The first three farmers had belief in G-d the fourth farmer had trust in G-d. It is explained in Chassidus that one characteristic cannot exist without the other. A person must not only believe that G-d will bring goodness to them, but they must also trust that G-d’s goodness and acts are there only for his/her benefit and all will be well. Through Bitachon is how a man can find happiness in circumstance.
When a person accepts that he/she does not understand everything and does not know the outcome of circumstance. And yet, has absolute trust in G-d, that the outcome of the circumstance will only be for good. That is the true definition of living and finding happiness in Bitachon. Bitachon comes from the Hebrew word Betach, “Absolutely”. Bitachon is the ultimate trust in G-d that He will always be there to help and there is no need for worry. It is explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Lekkutei Sichos, that when a person truly trusts G-d, when he has absolute Bitachon, one may trust that the outcome will only be good. To take a leap of faith into the abyss of trust, to completely trust in G-d, and abandon human-made plans, is what makes a man worthy of understanding that G-d is good in his entirety.
An important idea in Chassidus is the idea that G-d gives hardships to every individual according to their potential. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once explained that “The good thing in life only comes through toil and hard work, sustained over a period of time.” And to find happiness even with the hardship of personal failures is the greatest toil of all. It is not G-d’s will to cause harm to His creations. Rather, it is the will of G-d to watch as His creations take on the challenges he gives them, and find a way to find happiness in the hard work. If G-d wanted to challenge every individual’s personal failures, why did He not make one generic test for every individual to take? The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s explains in a discourse: “Every person has amazing potential, yet it lays dormant inside him/her until a challenge arises that forces every person to tap into their individual vast resource of potential.” The challenge of finding and creating happiness even with personal failures is a gift G-d gives in order to help every individual reach their potential. One can understand this idea through three examples on three levels A) physical, B) emotional, C) spiritual.
A. It is known to happen that if a mother g-d forbid sees her child stuck under a car, that she will lift the car in order to save her child. Where does this strength come from? The answer is that she is not suddenly granted new strength but rather she tapped in to her great reserve of energy and strength that was lying dormant inside her.
B. When a mother does not see her child for many years then one day he comes home, the moment she sees him she is overcome by great feeling of love that she had never felt before when he was at home. Is this a new love? No rather this love was sleeping inside of her and now seeing him again has awakened it.
C. A Jew who is not the most observant or caring about g-d. Nevertheless, when he is put to the test either denounce his Jewishness or be put to death, he will find within himself a level of faith which he never believed he had. This is not a new faith but rather he awakened a deep faith that was inside of him but inactive.
In all three cases they always had this potential inside of them yet it remained untapped until now when the situation demanded it. This is the reason for one’s soul being sent down to this world, to bring out their potential, which can only be done through challenges.
This is the difference between bad and hard, that G-d is not coming to make one’s life bad, but rather hard and through this one can reach his potential. Once one knows every challenge is here to help him and he has the power to overcome it, he will never be overwhelmed and be able to handle any challenge.
Another idea in Chassidus that pertains to the subject of finding happiness is the goodness of G-d. There are two common quotes in regards to goodness and G-d, “Everything G-d does is for the good.” and “Everything G-d does is good.” The first quote is an assuring statement, a statement that implies that something, good or bad, is happening for an unknown reason and there is hope that there will only be a positive outcome. And the second quote is nearly the same quote minus one word. The second quote is an affirming statement, affirming the Bitachon that no matter the situation or outcome, there is only good because all G-d does is good.
But one can state that he can’t just trust. How can one understand that it is good even when one don’t see it? First and foremost bitachon is always the best as explained above that when one takes a leap of faith he will come to see the good in it with his own eyes. Nevertheless one can learn to understand this good even if he cannot see it. To do this, one must understand the way G-d creates this world. Everything in this world gets its energy and vitality from G-d. However, since G-d is infinite he contracts and hides the light which he shines down through which the world gets its energy to exist. This way the infinite light can be enclothed within the finite, which in this case is this limited world. Since G-d is good, it must be that all the light that he shines down creates some kind of good. The good that comes from lower places within G-d don’t need as much hiding and contracting as the higher parts so that it should be able exist in the limited world. Therefore, when this light is enclothed in this world it comes out in this reality as revealed good that one can understand. This good is from a lower level of G-d. However if G-d wants to send down a higher level good it needs more hiding and contracting then the lower level of good since this higher and greater level of good comes from a higher place from within G-d. Therefore, when it finally comes down and is revealed in this reality after all the contracting and hiding of this energy it may seem that this high level of good in one’s limited mind can look like bad. while in truth it is such a high level of good one cannot even begin to understand it, and that’s why it had to be hidden so strongly.
This idea, as well as some other teachings, pertain to the unhappiness that stems from the loss of self-worth. Through Hashgacha Pratis, divine providence, one must find happiness in the idea that everything happens for a reason and G-d’s purpose is to only do good. The Alter Rebbe explains in the first chapter of ‘Shar Yichud Ve Emunah’ the idea of “Yesh Ma’Ayin”. Every individual is put on this earth by G-d’s command alone, meaning that every person has a purpose in this world even if their purpose is not completely clear to them.
Their purpose is constantly being recreated as G-d recreates the world. To further support the idea that even when one feels an extreme loss of self-worth, they must find happiness in the fact that they are on this earth for a purpose, comes from Pirkei Avos. In Pirkei Avos, Chapter Four, Verse Three, it says, “Do not be scornful of any man and do not be disdainful of anything since there is no man which does not have his time and nothing which does not have its place.”
One may say they are just a drop in the ocean of humanity. One must know that even a small action can have a major impact. As can be seen from a past experience when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. This was caused when three small O-rings failed to do their job. The purposes of the rings was to focus the gasses to lift off and launch into space, however in reality these rings are extremely small and may seem insignificant to the rest of the rocket. These rings prove that even the smallest items can make a major impact.
Lastly, in regards to unhappiness stemming from sadness with no obvious reason, multiple sources support the thought that focusing too much on oneself, instead of the world at large and how one can attribute to it, causes unhappiness. Chassidus believes that every person is brought to earth in order to do good in the world and that the soul inside every individual believes in that mission as well. One can say this sadness is a warning bell, a way for g-d to tell him that he lost focus and to get back on to track to fulfil his mission. When a person chooses to unfocus from their inner turmoil and refocus on the world, they will feel a greater sense of fulfillment and in turn happiness in attributing to the goodness of the world.
For an individual suffering from sadness that stems from the unknown, to voluntarily contribute to the world around them, a 2005 study published by The Oxford Academic showed that volunteers actually experience greater benefits than those receiving the support. It is said by, Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, that those who give back have something called, “giver’s glow”. The brain releases dopamine, serotonin, and many other happy hormones that make a person feel good inside. “Philanthropy ‘doles out several different happiness chemicals,’” Post says, “including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.
”A study published in 2013 located in the American Journal of Public Health found that giving time and assistance to others reduced the risk of death tied to stress, a known risk factor for many chronic diseases. According to the study, which looked at 846 adults in the Detroit area, stress did not predict mortality for participants who had helped others within the previous year. A larger, earlier study followed more than 2,000 residents of Marin County, California, and found that volunteerism reduced mortality rates, more than most other behaviors, tied to improved mental health and greater longevity. Subjects who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63% lower rate of mortality than people who didn’t volunteer during the study period. The findings were published in the Journal of Health Psychology.
To conclude this paper, there is now a reasonable explanation as to, “why G-d put individuals on this earth, only for them to be unhappy?” Through Chassidus and other sources it is understood that G-d created every individual for a specific purpose and has given every individual a challenge that meets a person’s potential. When a person works to complete the challenge G-d set before them, they will find that there is a way to find happiness in the dark, even when all seems lost. While at the same time making the world a better place by contributing and ultimately attaining true happiness and becoming a more fulfilled person. Through all this, we see how a person can truly be happy with some help from Chassidus.
Tanya chapters 26, 28, 30, 31,
Shar yichud ve emunah chapter 1
likkutei sichos of the lubavitcher Rebbe volumes 36 pages 2-5, and volume 3 pages 393-395, volume 8 pages 277-284
Farbrengen yud shvat תשל”ב
ספר המאמרים הרש”ב תרנ”ז וידעת היום-מסקוה דפ נב
Letters of the Rebbe Rayatz volume 2 page 73
Pirkei avos chapter 4 Mishnah 3
The Oxford Academic
The Journal of Health Psychology
American Journal of Public Health