When you google “Happiness”, what you’ll see are a series of self-help and psychology websites with practical advice and philosophies on how to be happier. The surprising fact is that while the research suggests one thing, our collective sense of how to be happy is so far from reality.
On an average day, we are bombarded with subtle messages that happiness is as simple as buying a new pair of shoes or looking more beautiful. Influential sectors of society with purely profitable intentions preach that being a happy person is easy, and because it’s so ubiquitous, we believe them! The truth is that expecting happiness to come easy is a much harder way to live. Because if we believe that fulfilment is owning a shinier toy today then we owned yesterday, we are living in a constant state of dissatisfaction: nothing will ever be enough.
From a psychological perspective, happiness is just like all other emotions: a simple feeling that comes and goes from our consciousness as easily as feeling sad or angry. Fundamentally, it would be an impossibility for us to feel only one emotion our whole lives. What is more attainable than fighting to constrain a fleeting feeling, is working to gain a long-term sense of fulfilment and content. Rabbi David Shlomo Eibshitze writes the following in his book Avrei Nachal: “If that which one desires and seeks has no fundamental limit, then the desire and the comprehension will never cease.” In other words, Rabbi Eibshitze argues that true fulfilment arises only from our pursuit of that which is immeasurable: Relationships, education, community, service to God and a higher purpose. He affirms that unlike material entities “God and his perfection are limitless” and as a result “The joy will never cease.” The word “God” here can be interpreted as anything that isn’t bound or restricted; things that have a deeper impact on our lives.
If we go through life listening solely to the advertisements that claim happiness is easy, we will constantly be searching for superficial things to make us happy; like being richer, looking prettier, having the newest iPhone, car, or even the trendiest experiences. These superficial outlets will never truly fulfil us. However, if we chose to look at fulfilment as the process and product of committing our lives to that which matters most, we will start finding fulfilment in all the right places: Our relationships, our education, our communities, and our passions.
True joy and fulfilment arise from being selective with our time on earth. It means making choices about what we truly want to do with our time, money, and talents and embracing pursuits that affect us deeper and broader than any material entity ever could.