Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | October 2, 2014

Gratitude Challenge – The Secret of Happiness

Many folks I know are taking the Gratitude Challenge, a plan designed to take stock and appreciate what we truly have.

Saying thank you leads to happiness.

Saying thank you leads to happiness.

I’m sharing this blog for the benefit of those who are doing it, thinking about doing it, or simply watching others do it.  It’s not necessarily as altruistic as the ice bucket challenge.  As you will see below, gratitude can be a selfishly-gratifying experience as well…

It’s a excerpt from my book, The Observant Jew, available from Feldheim (with special thanks to R’ Dovid Winiarz of Survival Through Education) and was originally published in The Front Page Magazine in 2010.

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The Secret of Happiness

I have often thought I would like to write a book in which I would tell people how to solve all their problems and make millions of dollars in royalties, while riding on a sea of praise and appreciation from the people whose lives I’ve bettered.  Of course, it is often at those same times that I believe I can fly with the purple hippopotamuses hippopotami hippothalamus elephants who are selling cotton candy to the Jolly Green Giant.  And then I wake up.

Truly, I would like to help people better their lives, deal with disappointment, control anger, and basically make this world a better place to live — but I can’t.  You see, there is some pervasive notion that books have to have enough pages to be made of a sufficient number trees to kill a small ecosystem (or at least a relatively well-wooded backyard) in order to be worth buying.  Nobody will pay $12.95 for a book that is two pages long with the first page being the one intentionally left blank.

You see, I don’t have a lot of advice to give.  Despite what the modern world claims we need to be happy, such memorable mottoes as, “Indulge yourself,” “Giving is its own reward,” and “Coke, the Real Thing,” I believe the true secret to happiness is much simpler than that.  If I had to sum up the secret of happiness, I could do it in two words: “Thank You.”

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Of course it’s important to say Thank You, but how can that be the secret to happiness?”  The difference is that I’m not just referring to saying “Thank You,” I mean you should live Thank You.

This isn’t new, this has been the Torah’s viewpoint for all time, and it is the hallmark of the Jewish People.  The word Yehudi, or Jew, is from the root of acknowledgement and thanks.  OK, so you still don’t see where I’m going, but think about it like this — when we’re unhappy, there’s nearly always a feeling of something lacking or missing.

“I don’t have the house/car/job/children/hair I know I deserve; I deserve better, If only I had…” We make some basic mistakes and they cause our problems.  To start, let’s clear the air –

YOU DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING – the Master of the World put you here to test your soul, to see if you can face the challenges and choose to serve Him.  Everything you get in this world is a bonus, because you did nothing to earn the ability to live, breathe, see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, waterski or calculate the square root of Pi using a slide rule and a can of Budweiser.  So, before you say, “I don’t have enough,” think about thanking G-d for all that you DO have.  You’d be surprised how much you really have to be thankful for when you start listing it (and don’t forget about the ability to make that list!)

FATHER KNOWS BEST – HaShem knows exactly what’s best for you and that’s most often NOT what you think is best.  A fellow applied for a job managing the sporting goods department at a local Montgomery Ward department store.  Had he not been rejected, he likely would not have grown up to be the President of the United States.  At least that’s how Ronald Reagan saw it.  L’havdil, another applied for a job as a Rav, and the community didn’t hire him.  His family was disappointed, but had he gotten the job, they likely would have remained in Europe and been killed by the Nazis, and R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky z”l and his family would never have come to America.  We make choices, but HaShem is really pulling the strings to get us where we need to be.

PEOPLE LIKE BEING THANKED – Do you know Mr. Kramer*? He is a wonderful, friendly man, who lives at an assisted-living facility. I met him at the eye-doctor’s office one day, when a power-outage cut short our appointments. He didn’t have a ride back, and I offered to drive him. He was a bit hesitant about my driving skills, though anyone will tell you that I am a relatively good driver, as long as you’re not asking my wife. Anyway, I gave him a ride home, and we made pleasant conversation about my cousin in Boston, his children, and my Alma Mater, Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. I dropped him off and figured that was that. It was far from over, though.

A few days later, I received a letter from him, written in longhand.  “In the old days, when I was worked at a candy store,” he wrote, “I would thank someone who did me a favor by sending them a box of chocolate.  I can’t do that now, so I tried to think of something else to send.  Enclosed are copies of letters I received from R’ Dessler z”l when I got out of the camps after WWII.  I thought you would find them interesting as we discussed my having corresponded with him.”  WOW.

Here was a fellow who just got a ride from me, spent maybe ten or fifteen minutes in the passenger seat, and he was sending me something to thank me!  He appreciated that I had given him a ride (something many of us do without giving it much thought) and wanted to show his appreciation so badly that he looked for something that I would appreciate!  It is a tremendous lesson to me about how much I have to appreciate the things I have and receive.

Mr. Kramer didn’t feel like he was owed a ride, though surely, others might have expected a young fellow like me to give him the courtesy and respect this ‘zaken’ deserved.  He felt grateful to me, and showed it.  He apparently knows the secret of happiness, and shared it with me.  And now, I’ve shared it with you.

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