The Ten Happiness Principles #10

We are now up to Happiness Principle #10.

Before we go into any details on this 10th Principle, let us recap a little.

We have been working through Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s Ten Happiness Principles and for each one I have been adding some personal reflections. It should be obvious already that Rabbi Sack’s Principles are not just sweet sentiments, sugary illusions or even the power of positive thinking. There do not declare that we simply need to become beautiful, wealthy and successful. Rather, his principles are all based around a life of values, meaning and significance. These are eternal principles.

Psychologists who study happiness inform us that there are essentially three main types:

1)   Happiness from pleasurable pursuits that gratify the senses such as good food and wine, and of-course sexual gratification;

2)   Happiness that comes form being fully engaged in an enjoyable activity so that you lose sense of time. For some this may be fishing, or playing a sport or even just listening to your favourite music;

3)   Happiness that comes from giving, from altruistic behaviour. Being involved in altruistic actions has also been shown to change our brain chemistry. It actually changes who we are.

While the first two type are somewhat culturally dependent, the third is very much the same in its impact and effectiveness across all cultures, genders and ages.

The third type of happiness is also most often promoted by religious philosophies and groups. Thus religions generally add meaningful happiness (though clearly there are exceptions to this). Meaningful happiness appears to extend life as well.

So now we come to Happiness Principle #10: Transform suffering.

Quoting Rabbi Sacks:

“Perhaps the oldest question in religion is: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But there are two ways of asking this question. The first is, “Why has God done this to me?”

Never ask this question, because we may never know the answer. God cares for us, but He also cares for everyone and everything. We think of now; God thinks of eternity. We could never see the universe from God’s point of view. So we will probably never find the answer to the question: “Why me?”

But there is another way of asking the question.

“Given that this has happened, what does God want me to learn from it?
How is He challenging me to grow? How is He calling on me to respond?”

Asking it this way involves looking forward, not back. “Why did God do this?” is the wrong question.

The right one is: “How shall I live my life differently because this has happened?”

This is a huge change of emphasis and perspective. It is so great, it is almost a reformation!

It involves first an acceptance of life unhelpful or unwanted life events, and an acceptance that God is still God. Just because some event happened to me that I didn’t want, doesn’t mean that I should question the Creator or His role in my life. The practical and forward looking response is to accept that this unwanted event has occurred and how can I best move forward in light of this truth. It’s an approach that is living in the here and now while still eagerly awaiting the better age to come.

So from this attitude, we should recognize that an attitude of praise is the natural consequence of such an approach.”

Which of course brings us full circle back to Happiness Principle #1.

In my ‘Amazing Grace’ article I talk a little about ‘Tikkun HaOlam’ (repairing the world). This is clearly just another way of stating the principle of ‘Transforming Suffering’.

To quote Rabbi Sacks again:

“Abraham sees a palace. That means that he sees the world has order. Therefore, it has a Creator. But the palace is in flames! – which means the world is full of disorder. It is full of evil, violence, injustice. Now nobody builds a building and then goes away and deserts it. Therefore, if there is a fire there must be somebody in charge to put it out. The building must have an owner. Where is he? And that is Abraham’s question. Where is God in this world?

That is the question that gives Abraham no peace. Here, if I am right, that is the starting point of Jewish faith.

In Judaism, faith does not begin with an answer. It begins with a question. It doesn’t begin in harmony. It begins in dissonance.

Here it is: if God created the world then God created man. Why then does God allow man to destroy the world? How can we reconcile the order of the world with the disorder of human society? Can God have made the world only to desert it?

That is Abraham’s question. Can it be the world has no-one in charge, no owner? That is his question. …”

Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain that there are only two logical possibilities here and what they are and imply, but that Abraham rejects both of them!

“ … Either God exists, in which case there is no evil.

Or evil exists, in which case there is no God.

But supposing both exist? Supposing there are both God and evil? Supposing there are both the palace and the flames?

Now if that is so, if my interpretation is right, then Judaism begins not in the conventional place where faith is thought to begin, namely in wonder that the world is. Judaism begins in the opposite, in the protest against a world that is not as it ought to be.

At the very heart of reality, by which I mean reality as we see it, from our point of view, there is a contradiction between order and chaos: the order of creation and the chaos we make.

Now the question is: how we do we resolve that contradiction?

And the answer is that that contradiction between the palace and the flames, between the world that is and the world that ought to be, cannot be resolved at the level of thought.

It doesn’t exist! You cannot resolve it! Logically, philosophically, in terms of theology or theodicy, you cannot do it!

The only way you can resolve that tension is by action; by making the world better than it is.

That is the only way you can lessen the tension between the palace and the flames. When things are as they ought to be, when there is only a palace and no flames – then we have resolved the tension. Then we have reached our destination. But that is not yet.

It was not yet for Abraham and it is not yet for us. And from this initial contradiction, from this cognitive dissonance, are born the following … fundamental features (of Judaism):

Firstly, the primary thing (in Judaism) is ‘doing’, is action, is deed, is mitzvah. Because only the mitzvah makes the world a little less dissonant between what it is and what it ought to be.

Secondly: the whole programme of Judaism, the project of the Torah, is ‘tikkun olam’ in the precise sense ‘mending a fragmented, fractured, world’. …”

This is ‘transforming suffering’; this is the vital 10th Principle that ultimately and most powerfully impacts all the others.

This is the principle, if heeded and acted upon by a significant number, that will change the world and not just make it a happier place for the individual seeking happiness, but for all around them and ultimately, or at least potentially, for all the world.

Begin here. Begin with ‘transforming suffering’; begin by finding someone ‘near’ you in pain and work to ease or alleviate their pain.

This will not only help them; this will not only mean that you are truly ‘loving your neighbour’ (the 2nd Tablet of the Ten Commandments), but also this will improve your world and your happiness and help you to implement all the other 9 principles. When you do these, through them all, but perhaps most powerfully, through the ‘silence of your soul’, you will encounter the Almighty in a more powerful way and come to love Him so that you are ready to heed the call to  ‘love God’ (and so obey the 1st Tablet or the first five of the Ten Commandments, the Moral Code of the Universe!).

You will now find that you are indeed experiencing and obeying the two greatest commandments:

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the Torah-teachers came up and heard them engaged in this discussion. Seeing that Yeshua answered them well, he asked him, “Which is the most important commandment of them all?” 29 Yeshua answered, “The most important is, ‘Sh’ma Yisra’el, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, O Isra’el, the Lord our God, the Lord is one],
30 and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your understanding and with all your strength.’

31 The second is this: ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandments greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31

So to recap, here are the Ten Happiness Principles as suggested by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that I have discussed and elaborated on, over the last few blog posts:

They are:

1. Give thanks;
2. Praise;
3. Spend time with your family;
4. Discover meaning;
5. Live your values;
6. Forgive;
7. Keep growing;
8. Learn to listen;
9. Create moments of silence in the soul; and,
10. Transform suffering.

Shalom!

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The Ten Happiness Principles #’s 7, 8 and 9

#7  Keep Growing.

Don’t stand still. Change the world by first beginning to change yourself!

We can never know enough. The world is so full of so much information, knowledge and wisdom in so many spheres. Seek wisdom in areas that can help you grow as a person; that can improve your relationships with your spouse; your family; your community and in your workplace.

Also find a passion; find a hobby or sport that you can also continue to improve and grow in. But pass it on. Use your improved knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of others.

All this will continue to move your life forward and also uplift and encourage you and in turn, you will be happier!

Both in your relationships and even your hobbies, as you grow and improve this will have a knock on effect on those around you, that you are in turn helping, as your relationship with them develops and improves.

#8  Learn to listen

Listening is a real art – it does not come easily to many of us.

Some of you may even be like me – I am often in a another world in my mind, and only half-aware of my immediate surroundings. Sometimes it takes a very serious effort to bring my whole focus to bear on those next to me who are speaking to me.

When I do this, it is normally most helpful, even if only in avoiding the ills of poor communication, especially when that someone is my wife!

When I don’t, I lose. I lose the connection with another human being and the growth and wisdom that can come through that connection.

When we pay close attention to what someone is sharing with us, and when the conversation is an important one and we are able to accurately reflect back to them what they have said, we give them a gift.

When we listen we give a gift of our time and attention, but also we give the gift of our respect for the person we are listening to, in that we display a good appreciation of where they are at.

To listen is to do more than just be there and hear. It means to pay attention; to heed to the point of taking action of what we have heard.

The foundation text of Judaism is the Sh’ma which starts with ‘Hear O’Israel’ or ‘Listen to Me, My people Israel!’

The Almighty is calling and pleading with His chosen people to heed His instructions, His Torah.

When you truly listen, you more fully hear so that your world is clearer and your future actions are likely to be better focussed and appropriate to the circumstances. Thus, as you are now in less conflict with your environment; your world, you are much more likely to be at ease and in turn happier!

So open and active listening leads to greater happiness!

#9  Create moments of silence in the soul:

We are so enveloped by a very fast moving world today, a world of technology and people everywhere. A strange world in which sometimes we spend more time connecting with people on the other side of the world (through Facebook or Twitter and other social media apps), than we do with our neighbours, or horror of horrors, perhaps more than we do with our family!

In such a world, we need to occasionally take a breather – to escape into nature or at least into a ‘prayer cupboard’!

At the very least, we need to find time to go for a walk or a run (perhaps without the music), or to do some star-gazing out on the porch, or find someway where we can still our soul and let it me surrounded by silence.

Perhaps when we do, when we are silent and stilled, we will be fully open to listening and to then hearing beneath and beyond the noise of the busy world, to the deep speech of the Universe and the song that she sings to her Creator.

The heavens declare the glory of G-d,
The skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Day pours forth speech to day,
Night communicates knowledge to night.
There is no speech or language
Where their voice is not heard.  (Ps 19:1-3)

Finding silence for our souls can lead to reconnecting with the Source of our souls. It can bring refreshing and rejuvenation and a deep sense of peace. It all this it leads to greater happiness.

But it can offer even more.

When we are silent enough to hear the voice of the Almighty, perhaps we are also silent enough to hear the silent cry of the innocent unborn being sucked into oblivion, or the distressed cries of the poor and needy, the neglected and marginalized.

Our silence may help us tune in to God’s mercy, and see this very important attribute of the Creator and us, His creation made in His image.

For more on the silent scream of the unborn see Where is the outcry – why is the church silent?

For more on God’s mercy see ‘Les Miserables: Reconciling God’s attribute of Justice with Mercy’

For more on God’s Grace see ‘Amazing Grace’

Next: Happiness Principle #10 – Transforming Suffering

The Ten Happiness Principles #6

This is one of the most underrated and I suspect misunderstood of these vital principles to a ‘happy’ and fulfilled life.

Lack of forgiveness is an illness. It eats away at a person. The real problem is not whether or not someone else has sought your forgiveness for something they did wrong towards you, but whether or not you have forgiven all those who have hurt you, whether knowingly, intentionally or unintentionally.

It is forgiving others that matters.

I have written a little on this in this blog site previously – please check out ‘Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness’

Because forgiving others frees us up inside to be more loving and more giving, it also frees us up inside to be more embracing of the joy and laughter and beauty that surrounds us. It can’t help but make us happier!

Of course the greatest examples and demonstrations of forgiveness are those where the Almighty forgives us!

Consider the great prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 “Here, the days are coming,” says ADONAI, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra’el and with the house of Y’hudah.
32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them,” says ADONAI.
33 “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,” says ADONAI: “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI’; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more.”
(CJB)
The Coming Age of great peace, joy and happiness will occur ultimately thanks to the great forgiveness of YHVH!

The Ten Happiness Principles #5

Live your values

This is so very important and yet so easily dismissed and ignored. I imagine that most people have high ideals, both of how they wish to treat others and more consciously, how they wish to be treated by others.

But it seems to me, most people don’t exercise their high ideals on an hourly and daily basis. To live our values implies putting our beliefs, our morality into action, and doing this as a matter of course in our daily tasks and especially in our interactions with others.

Like all habits, good ‘value’ habits need to be rehearsed on a daily basis. Perhaps we should all take a moment at some stage on some days to reflect on the significant interactions we have had with others over the last 24 hours and consider if we did indeed display the values we wish to live by.

One huge problem with values though is that without some absolute standard to measure them against, much conflict occurs between the values of different people. Even when we accept an absolute standard of values and morality, we still can have much divergence in the practical outworking of these values and morals in general society, and even within families.

It does seem self-evident that others respect and admire people who live consistently by their values and moral compass, even when the practical outworking may seem somewhat different.

In turn, when someone is aware that they are respected for their values and character, this normally translates to a deeper sense of worth and a consequential sense of peace and happiness.

As I discuss elsewhere, research has shown that those who are begin to partake in some altruistic acts, in helping others, end up doing even more altruistic acts, because altruistic behaviour changes a person’s ‘biology’. It rewires the brain somehow so  that they actually desire to be more giving towards others, even if they started out in acts of giving for other than purely altruistic  reasons.

This also has been shown to develop a greater degree of resilience and stability in their happiness, so that when something  happens that momentarily disturbs their sense of peace and happiness (such as someone damaging their car), they recover quicker and regain their overall sense of happiness.

What is perhaps even more intriguing is that some research is now indicating that when people give in secret (that is, when such giving is not widely known), the ‘giver’ gains a greater sense of joy and happiness from such giving.

What did Yeshua say?

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:3-4

For some interesting research and commentary on Happiness see Stephen G Post – http://stephengpost.com/