The Power of Vulnerability:

Brene Brown is a social researcher. She has a very powerful message to share that she has found through her research.

She argues that human “connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

From her research she divided people into two basic groups; those who have a strong sense of love and belonging (and thus feel connected), and those who really struggle for it (and thus feel disconnected).

And here’s the kicker, here’s her revelation from her research:

“The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” 

She found that these people are “whole-hearted.”

That they had a sense of courage, where she uses the original definition of “tell(ing) the story of who you are with your whole heart.”, and thus having the courage to be imperfect.

They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others.

And “as a result of this authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”

And they “fully embraced vulnerability.”

They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. This means that they have “the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees …”; the willingness “to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.”

Brene argues that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

Yet, as she also discovered from her research we all have a tendency to numb our vulnerability, but the problem is “that you cannot selectively numb emotion.”

“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, …”

Instead she argues that we need to accept our feelings of vulnerability because it means we are really alive, and we need to “believe that we’re enough.”

I strongly recommend you listen to her TED talk here.

In reflecting on this I see many ways in which our upbringing can predispose us to being in one group or the other.

With an upbringing by wise and loving parents we should grow into adults who have this sense of belonging and being worthy.

Yet there are many factors that work against this, not just our natural tendency to question and second-guess ourselves, and perhaps lack the confidence to be authentic due to peer pressure, etc., but a whole media push to constantly tell us we are not good enough without buying into the latest fad or getting the latest toy or gadget, etc., or being part of some special group that ‘has it all’.

Also, I suspect for many brought up in recent decades within a Christian environment, the false ‘Original Sin’[1] doctrine has been far from helpful here as it tries to convince people that they are at their core, and from birth, sinful and depraved beings with little hope of redemption without miraculous external support.

Rather Brene’s research rings so true with foundational Biblical principles. Consider the Sh’ma (Deut 6:4 …) for example and the two greatest commandments according to Yeshua.

 Sh’ma, Yisra’el:
“Listen, O’ Israel: YHVH is our God, YHVH is one!
You must love YHVH your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.
These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up…”


And Leviticus 19:18: …love your neighbour as yourself; I am YHVH.

You cannot truly love your neighbour unless you love yourself. True love and devotion to the Almighty should also being the revelation that you are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, and you cannot hope to give your all in loving God if you find yourself unworthy.

But you can change!

You can grow in acceptance of yourself; in being more authentic; in being ‘whole-hearted’ so that you can give ‘whole-heartedly’ to God!

For more please see my article ‘You Shall be Holy’[2] and my ‘The Ten Happiness Principles’[3] on Udemy.

Note:  
The two groups of people that Brene refers to are not those who are very gregarious and love being around others, compared with those who prefer a more solitary life. This was not the distinction she was making.

I think in this respect, there is also a lot going for the ‘solitary life’ or at the very least for times of peace and quiet and times of reflection away from the ‘madding crowd’, including family, etc. But Brene was instead contrasting 1) those who believe they’re worthy of love and belonging with 2) those who don’t.

Her argument is that those who don’t feel worthy are more likely to fall for addictions; to feel dis-connected (which is not at all the same thing as enjoying solitude), to struggle to find joy and happiness. Someone who feels worthy is more easily able to be vulnerable, and in turn such people are more easily able to ‘hear’ the lessons that God gives us every day and grow from them.

A lack of a sense of worthiness in turn leads to placing barriers and walls which not only lead to disconnection but inhibit any openness to growth and learning.

[1] See this excellent article for more on this very damaging doctrine – https://goo.gl/HVrhiF

[2] https://globaltruthinternational.com/2015/03/21/you-shall-be-holy-introduction/

[3] https://www.udemy.com/the-ten-happiness-principles/

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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!

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/    

The Ten Happiness Principles: #1

Finding Happiness and Finding God: 

One of the greatest minds of this era, and one of the greatest thinkers in Judaism is, in my opinion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the very recently retired, Chief Rabbi of London). He gives what he believes are the top ten most important things we can do to find happiness. I wish to give his top ten and expand a little on each one through the next 10 short blog posts.

Some research studies have shown the Westerners, despite years of improving economic conditions, are generally no more happy than they were, and continue to seek the answers to their lack of happiness, through the masses of pop psychology offerings.

Research does appear to suggest that the wealthier people are, the happier they are (to some degree at least) and yet, research also seems to suggest that when adults have children they end up being less happy!!?

Given all the significant challenges of trying to quantify such as elusive emotion, or state of being, as happiness, perhaps we shouldn’t rely to heavily on such research!

At the same time, we all can reflect on our own personal experiences and on anecdotal evidence from the life experiences of our closest family members and friends, and how their happiness has changed through various significant life events.

For example, I saw first-hand how someone, very close to me, overcame a life-time of severe depression by taking on a job which involved taking significant responsibility for the welfare of vulnerable members of society.

I believe that these 10 Happiness Principles are 10 action steps which are foundational to a good and happy life.

Happiness Principle #1:  Give thanks:

Being appreciate for what we have is always a good approach that demonstrates a good attitude. There seems no question that those who are appreciative for whatever good, no matter how small or great, that comes their way, are generally much more content with their lives, and hence less jealous of others and consequently happier.

Part of this appreciation is the recognition that we normally have no control over the circumstances, or country, or economic state we are born and grow up in, but as adults, we do have control over how we respond to our personal circumstances.

As Rabbi Sacks states it: “For it is not what happens to us on which our happiness depends.  It depends on how we respond to what happens to us.” 

Of-course, that’s easy for him to say!  In reality, the practice of a good attitude is never easy!

To awake and start the day by being thankful that you have the day, that you are alive is a great start. Even being thankful that your normal bodily functions are working helps to engender a sense of calm and serenity.

The first waking prayer of Judaism fits this mold. It states: “I thank You, living and eternal King, who has restored my soul in mercy. Thank You, God, for giving me back my life.”

Giving thanks to the Almighty is a very common refrain in the Psalms. Just a few examples are Ps 7:17. 9:1.18:49, 30:4, 33:2, 35:18. 44:8, 45:17, 53:9, 54:6. 57:9. 75:1, 79:13 and so on.

The wording of Psalm 107:1 is often repeated: Give thanks to YHVH, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.”

This attitude or thankfulness is also quite common in the Apostle Paul’s writings. For example see 1 Thessalonians 5: 14-18

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you.

If  you take the time to read through just some of the many Psalms that speak of giving thanks you will also see what Happiness Principle #2 is.

Next: Happiness Principle #2