The Seven Principles to Inner Happiness
What are some of the key principles to consider when looking to lead a life of true inner happiness? On 28 January 2014, as part of his teaching commitments at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Sacks offered some thoughts on “The 7 Principles to Inner Happiness”. In 2014, Rabbi Sacks was serving as the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University.
Rabbi Sacks is a world-renowned scholar, philosopher, religious leader. He’s an author of 25 books, and a leading moral voice. He served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from September 1991 until September of 2013.
In 2005 Rabbi Lord Sacks was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen, and has taken his seat from October 2009 at the House of Lords. Rabbi Sacks will be in and out, because, if I understand correctly, you can only be outside of the United Kingdom for so long and remain a member of the House of Lords, so he will be coming back and forth, both to be at YU, and at NYU as well, over the coming semester and beyond.
Just one quick thought to introduce. In this week’s parsha, Terumah, we have the mitzvah of tzedakah, of giving to an institution, something I’m speaking about a lot these days, about the collecting for an institution of Torah. Terumah, though, means to raise somebody up. The mitzvah of tzedakah is unique, in the sense that it truly raises up the individual who is involved with it. One who gives tzedakah, especially one who gives tzedakah to the poor, really serves as an agent of the Ribbono Shel Olam. I’m doing some reading about this, this week, to prepare for a shiur, that a person who gives tzedakah, really serves it. The money is really going through you to the person, from Hakadosh Baruch Hu to the individual who is receiving the money. And in that sense, you sort of serve as a shaliach. You actually serve as an agent of the Ribbono Shel Olam.
It’s true with other mitzvot on some level as well. But there is a special feeling when one gives tzedakah that they’re serving somehow to do something, to help, almost to serve, to function on behalf of the Ribbono Shel Olam.
The opportunity to hear Rabbi Sacks speak is to get a little bit of that sense of someone who is coming from a different perspective, on some level a perspective of an outsider, someone from the United Kingdom coming to the American Jewish community and the Yeshiva University community to speak, but also someone who’s coming with a voice, to sort of look from above. To sort of look and help us appreciate the Yiddishkeit that we have, and the opportunities that we have to practise Yiddishkeit. To sort of take a step back and to put into perspective what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be an Orthodox Jew, what it means to be an Orthodox Jew today. It is really our great privilege to have him with us today, and for the coming months and years. I introduce to you for the first time in his current role, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
K’vod HaRav, k’vod haRabbanim, friends, I’d say it’s a huge honour to be with you. I confess that I’m very humbled by the sight of this extraordinary Beit HaMidrash. We don’t have anything quite like this, where I come from. So, thank you for the thrill of being in your company.
I was asked to speak today – am I right – on ‘The True Path to Inner Happiness’? About which, my immediate response was, ‘Halevai that I should know!’ And if any of you know, please tell me!
But, it was a challenge: The True Path to Inner Happiness. What is it? To make choices in life, so that the journey you take, takes you to inner happiness. So I thought about this very hard and very reflectively. And I want to share with you some things that helped me along the way. And I’m going to give you seven things because ever since Stephen Covey wrote his seven secrets of whatever it is, seven is a good number. Mind you, after Bereishit, Chapter One, seven is also a good number. So here you are, seven principles of finding inner happiness.
Number one, dream. First rule in life, dream. If you want to know the most practical thing you can possibly do, especially in your student years, it’s dream. Vayachalom vehinei sulam mutztav artza. [Bereishit 28:12] And you think about it: Avraham Avinu is the beginner, the pioneer, the chalutz, the first person to hear God commanding Lech lecha, me’artzecha… [Bereishit 12:1] He’s the founder. Yitzchak, the man who was willing to be moser nefesh, to be sacrificed, to stare eyeball to eyeball with malach hamavet the Angel of Death. And yet we are descended not from Avraham, not from Yitzchak, but we are zera Yaakov. [descendants of Jacob] We are Beit Yisrael. B’nai Yisrael. Why Jacob?
Because, I think, Jacob is the one of the patriarchs who has his most intense experiences alone at night. Number one, the dream of the ladder stretching from earth to heaven, number two his lonely encounter with the Angel Vaye’avek ish imo. [Bereishit 32:25] And I would say that that moment at night when your mind freewheels, dream. And that is the most fundamental thing you can do.
Now, why do I say this? Because, you are faced today, everyone is faced today, with a society that has more choices, opportunities, possibilities than anyone has ever experienced before.
The sociologist Peter Berger says, “Modernity is the movement from fate to choice.” Until the modern age, by and large, you were what you were born into – the social class, the religion, even the economic, even your occupation, you were born into, that was fate. Modernity means the move from fate to choice. And there is, as some of you may know, something called the ‘paradox of choice’. If you set up, in a supermarket, a stall, with six different jams, and you see somebody else set up a store with 106 different jams, who will sell the more jam? Anyone know? Yes. The six.
Exactly. That is the paradox of choice. There’s a whole book on this called The Paradox of Choice. Which means sometimes you can be so overwhelmed with choices that you give up. Do I know, if there are 106 different jams, what jam I want? But if there are only six, that choice I can make. So we suffer today from the paradox of choice, we can be overwhelmed by the sheer options that are available to us. And these can concern us, so that we get lost. What do I want to be? What do I want to do?
And therefore, I want to propose a principle that you may find helpful in making your life choices. It’s a sentence that I wrote in a book of mine called To Heal a Fractured World. It is the result of a lot of thinking on this subject and it says the following, “Where what you want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where Hashem wants us to be.”
There are two elements here. What you want to do, what your passion is, and where that meets what needs to be done. Is there an objective need out there in the world? So you have to be sensitive to two things, what you want to do, and what needs to be done.
And as soon as you find that conjunction between what you want to do and what needs to be done, that is Hashem whispering in your ear, “That is where I need you to be, doing My work for the sake of Am Yisrael, and for the sake of HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Do any of you watch TED talks on the internet? We have an Englishman we sent out here and he’s one of the most highly-watched. Have any of you watched Ken Robinson’s talks, on TED? You will find that Ken Robinson is the world’s expert on teaching you to follow your passion, find your element. And that is incredibly, incredibly important. Ein adam lomed… ela bemakom she’libo chafetz. [Avodah Zarah 19a] Follow your passion. That’s where, what you want to do. And you have to objectively explore the world to find out how the world needs that passion in a practical sense. And when you have those two in conjunction, you will know what you want to be. But I say that the most practical thing you can do in life right now is to dream. It’s not the least practical, it is the most practical.
Why so? Because, to my amazement, I have discovered that people can spend months planning a vacation, but not even one day planning a life. And I have to tell you that Chazal meant something very, very deep when they said, Kol makom shene’emar vayehi eino ela lashon tza’ar. [Megillah 10b] Whenever you see the word vayehi [meaning] ‘and it came to pass’, that’s bad news. That’s what Chazal said. If you just treat yourself as, “I’ll see what turns up, I’ll see what job opportunities open up”… if you’re saying “vayehi”, “let’s see what happens”, that is lashon tza’ar. That is a preliminary to bad news. Do not let life happen to you. Do not be a vayehi person. Be a yehi person. That is how God created the universe. Yehi, let there be. That is how you will create your universe.
Be proactive, but you will only be proactive if you know where you really desire to be, what you really desire to become, and for that, you need to dream. And you need to give yourself that capacity that Yaacov Avinu gave himself to dream dreams.
Jews were beshuv Hashem et shivat tziyon hayinu kecholmim. [Psalms 126] Jews were the people who lived their dreams. We were the dreamers of history. From Joseph, to Sigmund Freud, we dreamt dreams and we interpreted the dreams of others.
Rule one: If you want to know what you should be doing right now, dream. I may have sent many of you to sleep already, so many of you are doing the practical. That’s number one.
Number two: If you want to know what needs to be done, as opposed to what you dream of doing, go and find out. I urge you, throughout your student years, and for as long as you possibly can thereafter, for a lifetime, read books, discuss ideas, travel. Make sure you know what the world actually looks like before you make your decision.
There’s a story, forgive me if you’ve heard it, because I’ve told it more than once. But when I was 20 years old, how old are you guys? Around that? Roughly around that. In 1968, long time ago, otherwise known as the Jurassic Age, in those days, many years ago, I wanted to know. I was studying at university… We don’t have a Yeshiva University in Anglo-Jewry, I was studying at a university called Cambridge, and I wanted to know, what is the Jewish world like? And so, there was a charter flight to the States that summer. In those days you could get a ticket on a Greyhound bus for $100, unlimited travel, do they still do this on Greyhound buses? That’s all I had, so that’s all we did. I bought a $100 ticket at a Greyhound bus, and I set off to meet all the Rabbis in America.
In 1966, there was a lot of theological controversy. There was, if you’ll forgive the words, a debate, it was called, “The Death of God.” There were a lot of Christian Bishops saying, et cetera, et cetera, they were Nietzscheans. And there was a whole big debate about this in Britain, Bishop of Woodridge, and so on. And I was at debate in America, and there was a magazine in America called Commentary (I think it’s still there, isn’t it? Commentary magazine) in 1966 [published an article] called, “The Condition of Jewish belief.” They asked 50 leading Rabbis in America what their views were. So I bought a Greyhound bus ticket and I set out to meet those 50 Rabbis who had answered the questions in Commentary magazine.
Wherever I went, I went right around the States and Canada, I went to Toronto and Montreal etc, I would meet Rabbis, we’d discuss these things. I would phone up or knock on the door and say, “I’ve just come 3000 miles to meet you, could you spare me half an hour?” Now, it’s quite difficult to say ‘no’ to that kind of chutzpah, even if they haven’t got a clue who you are or why you should be talking… And when I was in Los Angeles, I was able to say, “I’ve come 5,000 miles.” So it was really good stuff.
Wherever I went, I discovered that people would say to me, “You know, if you’re going around meeting Rabbis, there’s a Rabbi you ought to meet.” And they always mentioned one of two names, whether they were Orthodox Rabbis, non-Orthodox Rabbis, they would all mention to me Rabbi Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
So I decided I had to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Soloveitchik. And so, Baruch Hashem, in the summer of ’68, I had my first yechidus [private audience] with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And I sat here, I don’t know, it wasn’t this building, was it? Was this the original… was this around in ’68? I think it may even have been this building, where the Rav used to give his shiurim? Anyway, one way or another, it’s a very long story and I’m not going to bore you with it, but he sat with me in the corridor while these guys were preparing the shiur, I don’t know if it was for an hour or two hours, we sat together. And can you imagine, a 20-year-old kid from England, from nowhere, having a long conversation with the Rav zt”l, and having a long conversation with the Lubavitcher Rebbe? And those things were life-changing.
Now, believe you me. I was nobody. Baruch Hashem, I still am nobody, but in those days, I was really nobody. And yet, if you have enough chutzpah, you can go out and meet the Lubavitcher… Well, not now, but you know what I mean… Et cetera, et cetera.
What I’m saying is, number two, once you have a rough sense of where your passion lies, really take the trouble, not only to decide on your destination, but get to know the map and the territory. Go out there, read the books. I spend a lot of time, to this day, reading books on almost any subject, because I’m looking for interesting minds with interesting things to say, and you have to open yourself up to that kind of thing, and search.
A Jewish life is always a journey. It always begins with the words, “Lech lecha.” HaKadosh Baruch Hu says to Avraham: If you are going to be the founder of a new faith, if you are going to be creative, if you are willing to be the kind of person about whom they say, kol ha’olam kulo me’ever echad vehu me’ever hasheni. [hasheni corrected: echad]. If you’re willing to be different, then Lech lecha, go leave your comfort zone. Leave the place where everyone knows you and just travel to lands, whether physical or of the mind, that you haven’t been to before. So my second element in finding a life of happiness is to see the map and the territory. Otherwise just knowing the destination will not be good enough.
Number three. You have to experiment. You have to take risks. You have to grow. Chazal were divided, as you probably know, over their interpretation of the phrase when it comes to Noach – Noach was an ish tzaddik tamim haya b’dorotav et haElokim hithalech Noach. [Bereishit 6:9]. That phrase, tamim haya b’dorotav, is that in praise or is it in criticism?
Some say it is praise. If he was that great in a wicked generation, in the generation of tzaddikim like Avraham how much greater would he have been? And number two, the other view, which is critical is, that in his generation where there were no tzaddikim he stood out. But in a generation of other tzaddikim he would have been a nobody. What is at stake between these two views of Chazal? There is a book I urge you to read, by a psychologist at Stanford University called Carol Dweck. Have you come across the name? She wrote a little book called Mindset. I think you ought to read this book.
This book (although I don’t know if Carol Dweck is Jewish, it sounds Jewish to me, sounds Sephardi to me) is precisely on that machloket Chazal about Noach. Although she doesn’t mention Chazal or Noach or anything Jewish at all, she was very interested in this question: why is it, when you look at kids, young children, some children seem to grow, some children seem to flourish in school and in life, and others who may be more gifted somehow don’t reach their full potential? And she was absolutely fascinated by this. And she made one major discovery. It’s a very simple book because it simply puts forward one proposition. And she holds as follows, that you can divide children, and adults for that matter, into two types. Those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.
Those with a fixed mindset see their gifts, their capacities as something given at birth, something they have, which is determined. It’s not going to change very much. And there are other people who see life as a matter of learning and of development. And they don’t think of themselves as having a fixed potential, they simply try, and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. That’s a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset, she says, are risk-averse. They will work within their comfort zone. They will take on challenges they know they can handle, but they will be intimidated, nervous, and reluctant to engage in challenges that they can’t handle. Because if they fail, they will take that as a blow to their self-esteem.
Whereas people with a growth mindset don’t even think in terms of failure. They don’t define failure as failure. They see failure as a learning experience.
Those who have a growth mindset go on to flourish. And those who have a fixed mindset do not. And it seems to me though that is precisely what Chazal were debating about Noach. Did he have a fixed mindset? Did he have a growth mindset? If he had a fixed mindset, then in an age of Abraham, he wouldn’t have been any bigger. But if he had a growth mindset, then he would have been inspired by Abraham’s example to reach even higher. That is precisely the machloket of Chazal. We have a lady writer in Britain, I’m sure her books never got to America, but she wrote a children’s book and she sent it to 12 publishers, all of whom turned it down. Anyone know the name of this writer?
J.K. Rowling, indeed. Anyone written a book in this room? You know what it’s like when you get your first rejection? It’s a blow. It really is, believe you me. To get 12 rejections, that’s a serious blow. But if you’re a J.K. Rowling, you don’t let that stop you, because you don’t think in terms of failure. Okay, that’s a growth experience, I keep going.
There was a writer who wrote a book about children that got rejected by 21 publishers. He was on the brink of despair, but no, he keeps going. His name was William Golding, his book was called Lord of the Flies, and in 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
When I was Chief Rabbi for 22 years we lived in St. John’s Wood and between us and the shul was a road that, I don’t know whether any of you have heard about this, again goes back to the Jurassic era, called Abbey Road. Anyone heard of Abbey Road?
So I used to pass by the studio, the famous zebra crossing. That was on our direct path to shul. So I used to pass every day the place where the Beatles made all their recordings. In 1962, January, they had their first audition, at Decca Records. The Decca Records heard the Beatles and they passed the following judgement: The Beatles have no future in show business.
So, one way or another, do not ever get derailed by failure. The Torah asks us to have a growth mindset. One of the great teachings of the Rav zt”l was Ish Hahalachah, halachic man is creative, and his greatest creation is himself. The whole concept of teshuvah is growth. The whole reason that Yehudah becomes ancestor of Israel’s Kings, becomes greater even than Yosef, is that Yehudah was somebody who was capable of growth. The person who was capable of selling his brother into slavery became the person who ultimately was willing to remain himself a slave for life, so that his brother could go free.
Moshe Rabbeinu, the man who said lo ish devarim anochi, gam mitmol gam mishilshom gam may’az dabercha el-avdecha ki chevad-peh uchvad lashon anochi. [Shemot 4:10] The man who couldn’t speak. Who said lo ish devarim anochi, I’m not a man of Devarim [words], became the author of the finest speeches ever given in history called Sefer Devarim. The Torah presents to us models of personal growth. So dream, travel, literally and metaphysically, and grow.
Number four, work. Sorry to say this, because you know this already from all your teachers, but you have to work hard. No achievement without work. Any of you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers? What’s the basic figure there?
10,000 hours. That’s how long it takes. That’s how long it took Mozart. That’s how long it took Beethoven, and that’s how long it took Monet, that’s how long it took Michelangelo. There is no achievement without hard work.
There is a very powerful sentence in Parshat Bo that we all know which goes as follows, vehaya ki-yomru aleichem b’neichem, “ma ha’avodah hazot lachem?” [Shemot 12:26]” When your children say to you, “What does this service mean to you?”
And Chazal came along and identified this as the question of the Rasha. The question is, what word in that sentence led Chazal to conclude that this sentence is talking about a Rasha? Number one, we have the explanation of the Haggadah itself. For the Haggadah, the key word is what?
Lachem velo lo. That is the word that indicates lefi shehotzi et atzmo min haklal. That is the one word that indicates we’re dealing with a Rasha, that he says … “What does it mean to you?”, not “What does it mean to me?”
According to the Meshech Chochma the key word is Yomru. Vehaya ki-yomru aleichem b’neichem. Not Vehaya ki-yishalcha bincha. Normally, you ask a question, here the child is defined not as asking a question, but as saying a question. Therefore, when you ask a question you want the answer, but here it’s yomru, not yishalu. Therefore, he is asking not in order to seek the answer, but in order to criticise.
However, according to the Yerushalmi, the keyword is avodah. Ma hatircha hazot she’atem matrichim et atzmechem. What is all this hard work? And the Yerushalmi is really very charif [strongly worded], because if you look at the first chapter of Shemot, what is the key word? Avodah! Kol ha’avoda asher maavidim otam mitzrayim avdu befarech.
What were they suffering from in Egypt? From slavery, from avodah? What was liberation? Ta’avdum et ha’elokim al hahar hazeh [Shemot 3:12] serving God. So the Rasha says, there we were avadim, here we are avadim. And then all that’s happened is a change of masters. There we were avadim to Pharaoh, and now we’re avadim to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we haven’t gained at all. There it was avodah, here it is avodah.
What the Rasha doesn’t understand is that any achievement takes avodah, takes hard work. And in Judaism, serving God is hard work. You cannot achieve anything without hard work. And the greatness of Judaism is it applies this to matters of the spirit as well as matters of the body.
Judaism, by asking great things of us, made us great.
A teacher will set the hardest challenges to the brightest students. God sent us tough challenges, and that is what made us great, because it is hard work.
So, Rule Four in life, once you have found your derech, once you’ve dreamt your dreams, seen the territory, been prepared to travel, you will have to work hard.
Number Five: the person I really wanted to psychoanalyse when I was young was Kohelet. Here is the man who had everything. Not just an apartment, an apartment block! Trump Tower! Whatever it is, on Fifth Avenue. Second home in Juan les Pins. His au pair drives a Lamborghini. He had everything, you name it. And yet, havel havalim… hakol havel [Kohelet 1:2] Nothing in all that he owns and possesses, the palaces, the gardens, the servants, the maidservants, all the books, even the wisdom that he accumulated, nonetheless, he does not find inner happiness.
What is Kohelet missing? And I found the answer to this on that occasion that I mentioned to you a few minutes ago. When I was 20 years old and I was sitting in 770 waiting to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Chassidim told me a story, which I repeat to you as follows.
The Rebbe, before he became the Rebbe, was head of Chabad Publishing House, which meant that he knew all the typographical symbols. (I’ve published 25 books, I still haven’t learned the typographical symbols.) So whenever the Rebbe could use a typographical symbol rather than using words, he used these symbols as a kind of shorthand. And the Chassidim sitting outside the Rebbe’s study, told me the following story, back then in ‘68, I never forgot it.
Somebody wrote the Rebbe a letter on the following lines. “I need the Rebbe’s help. I am deeply depressed. I wake up every day wondering why I am here. I learn Torah, but it doesn’t do anything for me. I keep mitzvahs, but I am uninspired. I need the Rebbe’s advice.”
And the Rebbe wrote back the most brilliant reply. And it did not contain a single word. All he did was he drew a circle around the first word in every sentence. What was the first word in every sentence? “I”.
K’she’ani le’atzmi mah ani. [Avot 1:14]
The fundamental principle of happiness is: if everything is I, I, I, you will never find it. And if you look very carefully at the first two chapters of Kohelet, you will see that Kohelet in its first two chapters uses the first person singular more than any other book in the whole of Tanach. It uses a double first person singular. Kaniti li. Assiti li. Baniti li.
Everything is for me. No wonder Kohelet found havel havalim hakol havel [Kohelet 1:2] “Everything is meaningless.” Nothing makes me happy. Why? Because it’s all for me.
There was a great man called Victor Frankl who always used to quote Kierkegaard. (I wish I could quote Kierkegaard) but he quoted Kierkegaard in the following sentence: (I read through the complete works of Kierkegaard. I could not find the following sentence. So I hope my attribution is correct.
But pishpashti velo matzati [‘I searched but I couldn’t find it’]
Viktor Frankl always used to quote Kierkegaard saying, “The door to happiness opens outwards.”
If you want to be happy, focus on other people, not on yourself. The door to happiness opens outwards.
I once got into terrible trouble… You can find this whole balagan on the internet. I once did a little tease – never tell a joke in public because not everyone has a sense of humour – I said, “Our Moshe Rabbeinu in our age was the late Steve Jobs who came down the mountain holding in his hands the two tablets iPad 1, iPad 2.” And I said, “Steve Jobs defined a generation. iPod, iPad, iPhone, I, I, I.” That is our generation, a generation, the first person singulars, the iGeneration.
All the 50 million fans of the late Steve Jobs thought I was insulting his memory, so I do apologise for this. I just tried to explain to them I was telling a joke.
Happiness means caring for others, working for others, loving others. And you have to focus on the You, or on the We, and not on the I. Focus on the I and you will recapitulate the life of Kohelet and find that however much you have, you miss the most important thing, which is happiness.
So Principle Five: The door to happiness opens outwards.
Principle Six, coping with adversity. You will chas v’shalom, but it’s likely to happen, you will find there are times in your life when things do not go as you expected, when you suffer some kind of adversity. Bad things happen to good people. The question is, how do you deal with those bad things?
I want you to listen very carefully to this. The way to deal with adversity is to treat it the way Jacob treated the Angel. Lo ashalechecha ki im berachtani. “I will not let you go until you bless me.” [Bereishit 32:27]
Somehow the Jewish people learned not merely to survive catastrophe, but to grow through it. If you think about it, Churban Bayit Rishon [the Destruction of the First Temple] brought about the renewal of Torah and the lives of the Jewish people as symbolised by Ezra and Nehemiah.
Churban Bayit Sheini [the Destruction of the Second Temple] brought about the great writing down of the extraordinary literature of Torah sheba’al peh, Midrash, Mishnah, Gemara.
The Crusades led to the Chassidei Ashkenaz. The Spanish Expulsion led to the Mystics of Tzfat. Even the Holocaust led, a mere three years later, to the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.
None of this answers the philosophical question of tzaddik ve’ra lo [why bad things happen to good people] but it does explain the way Jews responded to catastrophe. Lo ashalechecha ki im berachtani. [Bereishit 32:27]
If you hang in there, if you refuse to let go and carry on until you have turned that crisis into some new strength, new sense of purpose, new dedication, new energy, then you will find you can survive the worst catastrophes and grow stronger thereby.
Anyone who has this attribute will look back on life and see that the moments that seemed really tough at the time turned out in retrospect, to be the most important events in your life.
And finally the obvious, but nonetheless it’s worth saying, Eizehu ashir? Hasameach b’chelko [Mishnah Avot 4:1]
Ben Zoma got it right: “Who is happy? One who rejoices in what he has.” We are living in an age in which advertisers – and every time you turn on the internet, it’s advertising something. How do they do that? Every YouTube thing comes with a 30 second advertisement. If you can find ways of getting rid of them, I would deeply appreciate somebody telling me how – Every advertisement is designed to make you feel that if I only had that, drove that, wore that, life would be somehow so much happier.
The result is, we have constructed an entire economy based on making us feel that we don’t have that which would give us happiness. In other words, the contemporary consumer culture is the most sophisticated mechanism human beings have ever created for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.
Think about it: Everything is shouting at us, “Be discontented with what you have,” so that you’ll buy something else. And the truth has Ben Zoma just cuts through that whole thing and says, “Happiness isn’t in out there and what you don’t yet have. You already have all the ingredients for happiness. It’s just that you need to open your eyes and see what you are surrounded by.”
I give this to you as a segulah for arichat yamim, not that you even need to be thinking of such things. But there are famous medical studies that show, if you want to be healthy and live a long life, express gratitude. It is a segulah for arichat yamim… Simply to get up every single morning and thank HaKadosh Baruch Hu for opening your eyes, for clothing you, for giving you ground on which to stand. Saying a hundred brachot a day… That in itself is the deep infrastructure of happiness.
Friends, that in half an hour is the best thing I can do by way of telling you how to be happy. Just to repeat: Number one, dream, number two, explore, number three I’ve forgotten whatever it was. What was number three? Experiment. Number four, work hard. Number five, the door to happiness opens outwards, number six, use adversity to grow, and number seven, give thanks.
Friends, I will end by one little and very simple story. I once came across a Rebbe, a mentor that taught me how to negotiate life. This happened about 10 years ago. I don’t know – you invented them here in America, so you must know these things – 10 years ago, somebody new came into my life called a satellite navigation system. You’ve come across these things? This is a mechaya. You key in your destination, and a very polite lady tells you how to get there. She’s a morah derech. [tour guide]. It’s terrific, absolutely an angel. But what fascinated me was that whoever invented the satellite navigation system, never in their lives met a Jewish driver. Because what you do is you key in your destination and this very polite lady says, “You go straight for 300 yards, then you turn right.”
And you know what happens? You say this to a Jewish driver. He says, “Vot does she know? I lived here for 50 years. I know you go 300 yards and turn left.” And it is absolutely fascinating – for me it was an education because I always got driven places by my protection officer – to see what happens to this very polite lady when she does exactly what you asked her to do, and then you proceed to ignore her instructions. And I was thrilled. First of all, she never lost her cool. I never saw a satellite navigation system get angry with somebody who disobeyed its instructions.
Secondly, it went very quiet for a minute. And then it sent out a little sign saying “recalculating the route”, and then lo and behold, it would show you how to get from the place that you, thanks to totally ignoring her instructions managed to get yourself lost in, how to get from there, to your destination.
From this, I learned the greatest principle of hope I ever discovered in life, which is, however lost you get, if you know where you want to be, there is a route from here to there.
So I wish you every happiness, but continue to dream, continue to plot your destination, and may Hashem be your satellite navigation system.