How to Be Happy

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Lech Lecha 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]
Everyone has a deep longing to be happy. Don’t confuse the longing for pleasure, which the Ancient Greeks called “Hedonism”, with the longing for happiness, which they called “Eudemonism”. Pleasure is partial, momentary, sensory and fleeting. Happiness, by contrast, fills up the whole person with great, permanent content, and eternal worth. I won’t get into a discussion here about whether happiness is a human need or is itself a virtue.
Does an upright person deserve to be happy, or is happiness itself a good, upright thing?
Whoever peruses the Book of Tehillim will see that happiness is mentioned numerous times within the supreme ideal: “Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked” (1:1), “Happy are those that dwell in Your house” (84:5), “Happy is the people for whom such is the case” (144:15), “Happy are those that follow the path of righteousness” (119:1), etc.
If so, how does one achieve happiness? Obviously, someone who is lacking nothing in life – he has his parents, a spouse, children, status, work, health, and every other bounty – may not ask himself how to be happy. Yet there are unfortunate, suffering people, the impoverished and the ill, who find their lives unbearable and detestable, and one must certainly ask how they can find happiness.
We can ask a secondary question as well. Why is this matter never mentioned in our prayers? After all, Rambam informs us in his “Guide to the Perplexed” that all the principles of faith are hidden away in our prayers and blessings. Certainly one cannot learn all of Jewish law each day. Neither can one learn all the foundations of faith each day. If so, a person will be lacking spiritual contact with those foundations. Therefore, said Rambam, all of those laws and principles are stored away in our prayers and blessings by the Men of the Great Assembly, which included several prophets.
Regarding the question of happiness, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi enlightened us in his book, the Tanya (Chapter 33), pointing out that man’s happiness derives from “closeness to G-d”, i.e., faith in G-d; which does not mean just being intellectually convinced that G-d exists, but trusting in G-d, clinging to Him, and being connected to Him. Clinging to G-d is something that cannot be taken away from anyone. Whatever one’s circumstances, whether one is rich or poor, healthy or sick, single or married, whether one has a family or is childless, closeness to G-d cannot be taken away from a person. The Master of the Universe fills up the entire world. Not only is closeness to G-d one pathway to happiness, but all of a person’s happiness. That is because there is nothing in the world besides G-d. “In Heaven above and on earth below, there is nothing else” (Aleinu). All the rest is transient vanity. Obviously, clinging to G-d can be expressed as well through loving people and by loving all the mitzvot, through kind deeds and good character, through self-sacrifice on behalf of our people and land, our state and army.
That is what fills a person with happiness. G-d did a great kindness for His world that He didn’t abandon it, dwelling only on High, but instead established a residence on this earth. Thus we, who live on this earth, can be close to G-d.
All this is written in the siddur, and we daily mention how we fill ourselves with happiness anew each day. “How happy we are! How good is our destiny! How pleasant is our lot! How beautiful our inheritance! Happy are we who frequent the synagogues and study halls, early and late, proclaiming G-d’s oneness daily and forever, reciting twice each day, lovingly, ‘Hear Israel! Hashem is our G-d! Hashem is One!”