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