In our previous article, we began exploring the Torah’s powerful approach to happiness. To review, growth is the underlying root of deep existential happiness. This is because the deepest human desire is to express our unique purpose in this world. We therefore experience incredible happiness when we are growing and maximizing our potential, fulfilling our purpose. However, while an important layer of happiness results from the expansion of self as we actualize our potential, there are a few keys that are necessary to fully experience the happiness we generate when fulfilling our mission.
One of those keys is mindset. The same letters that make up the word b’simchah (with happiness) form the word machashavah (thought). This is because your thoughts, mindset, and attitude have a tremendous impact on your internal state of being. No matter how much you are growing and achieving, without the right attitude and mindset, you will not be happy. As simple as it sounds, making the decision to be happy is one of the greatest strategies for achieving happiness. We all know people who wait around for something great to “happen” to them, claiming that only when “such and such” happens will they be happy. Proactively deciding to be happy can fundamentally change the way you perceive happiness. Don’t wait for an external reason, just decide – independently – to be happy.
Beyond making the decision to live in a state of happiness, there are more concrete steps we can take to ensure that our mindset is conducive to a happy life. Living with an outlook of gratitude (hakaras ha’tov) – proactively looking for, recognizing, and appreciating the multitude of gifts in our lives – fundamentally changes our perspective on life. In truth, we don’t deserve to be alive in the first place. We never earned the right to exist. There was no guarantee that we would wake up today, and there is no guarantee that we will wake up tomorrow. There are many people who were here yesterday and yet are not here today. Our life is a gift, a constant gift from Hashem.
While we may know intellectually that our life is a gift from Hashem, it can be hard to fully internalize this idea. One way to do so is to think about our reaction when someone donates a kidney to someone else. We look at a kidney donor as a hero, and are we so moved, so touched by his or her heroic deed. This is because we are able to imagine what the recipient felt like. He didn’t have a kidney; he was lost, hopeless, and destined to die. Only because a generous, loving person decided to donate his kidney is he still alive. We poignantly feel the beauty of this gift, the gift of life, the fact that this boy now has the rest of his life in front of him. We thank this man for giving this recipient hope, a reason to believe, and another chance at life.
However, what if each and every one of us could have this feeling of complete and absolute love toward someone who gave us a life-saving organ? What if each and every one of us was in dire need of an organ transplant? What if we thought that we were on death’s door and then miraculously received a donation from a loving hero? Wouldn’t we live differently and experience life in a whole new way?
Well, what if I told you that we do. We each think of our lives as our own, our bodies our own, our existence our own. But they’re not; we have no right to live, to exist. We never earned it; it is a constant gift from Hashem! Each day, each moment, each second in this world is a gift. Every morning, we are in dire need of an organ transplant. Which organ? All of them! And every single morning, Hashem gives each one of us a complete life donation, which includes all your organs, your emotional health, a working mind, a sense of identity, and the ability to choose greatness and grow. Each and every morning, when we say Modeh Ani, we should feel as if we are meeting our hero – the One who saved our life. If we could genuinely feel the joy, gratitude, and bliss that come from this realization, our lives would never be the same.
Giving: Becoming Part of Something Greater Than Yourself
The last key to happiness is recognizing that the goal of life is not only self-perfection but becoming part of something bigger than yourself, contributing your greatness to klal Yisrael. When you are able to move outside of your own limited self and focus on becoming part of the klal, part of the collective community, you automatically feel an inner sense of happiness. (Focusing on self-awareness and personal growth is essential. The problem is only when this becomes one’s sole focus in life, becoming completely self-focused.) This is because the act of giving allows us to expand our sense of self. (This is also why the Hebrew word for love is “ahavah.” The root of this word is “hav,” which means to give. Only when you give can you experience true love and true oneness.)
This is why the Torah connects “happiness” to the chagim (holidays) in which the Jewish People were oleh la’regel – when they joined together as a collective whole in Yerushalayim. When we expand beyond our own personal struggles and problems and devote ourselves to others, our worries fade away and a rich sense of inner peace is left in its place. When we devote our lives to klal Yisrael, our sense of self expands exponentially, and we feel an existential sense of happiness. Similarly, when we devote our lives to Hashem, we expand our sense of self infinitely, and our sense of happiness knows no bounds.
Serving Hashem with Happiness
We now understand what it means to serve Hashem with happiness. This is accomplished when we realize that being a true eved Hashem – devoting our life to Hashem – is our purpose in life and should be the focus of all our self-development. We can only be miserable while serving Hashem if we view it as a burden – when we do it robotically, out of habit, just going through the motions. When this happens, Hashem sends us challenges through the form of the curses, as a wake-up call. It is only when we realize that the sole way to fulfill our purpose and actualize our potential is by completely devoting ourselves to Hashem – to our Root, to our Source – that we can truly be happy. Happiness is neither a means nor an end; it is what manifests when you are becoming the person you are destined to become. In essence, happiness is a revelation that you are on the right track.
We don’t get to control our circumstances; we choose only how to respond. Happiness is not the goal of life; living a life of truth is. But happiness is still important; it is the gift Hashem gives you when you are heading on the right path toward your higher goals in life. It is there to help you continue down the right path. Happiness comes from growth, from enjoying the process, from the right mindset, and from devoting our life toward something greater than ourselves. May we be inspired to serve Hashem with genuine happiness and enjoy the process of becoming the very best that we can be.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: ShmuelReichman.com.
 - As the Maharal explains, fulfilling a mitzvah isn’t simply obeying a command, as a soldier obeys the will of his commander. Rather, it is a way for us to connect, spiritually and existentially, to Hashem, our source of existence.