Why don't we feel happy? Why are so many people in society unhappy?
This comprehensive guide by Gavriel and Shlomo Mandel will explain how you can teach the secret of happiness to teens.
If you choose to use this "red dot in the blue circle" image (see right), the first thing you do is hand it to them and ask them to hold onto it and wait until the end. When you give it to them at the beginning of the class, it piques their curiosity.
First ask each student to tell you their general level of happiness using a scale of 1-10. Make sure you start with yourself so they don’t feel uncomfortable saying they are at a level 5-6.
Most of the time, the average you will get is a 6!
Even more wild: There is a general statistic that shows that 53.9% of society is happy!!.
Ask the students to tell you the underlying factor that drives their decision-making process - why they will choose X over Y. The answer of course is that they choose whichever option makes them more happy!
So happiness is the emotion that is so integral to our state of being that it is the main factor in all of our decisions in life.
If that’s so, then happiness is the single most basic and integral emotion that the human being must have in order to make it through life!
The question is... the same way we would go crazy if we lacked 40% of our oxygen every day, or if we were always malnourished and without food, then how can it be that we are constantly malnourished in our emotional life?! If anyone is not a 10 in the happiness scale then we are literally missing our emotional oxygen, as it is the most basic emotion we need to feel! If we aren’t a 10 in our happiness then we are basically fasting - we are a missing a basic component of what we need and who we are! It's like walking around the street missing you hand!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH US!!!?? How can we be walking around every day as an individual and society lacking something so basic!??? How can almost half of society be lacking the oxygen of emotion??!!!
So What's the Secret of Happiness?
It's a secret because we all know it, we just forget it and don't integrate it!
This is the question we are answering-
SUICIDE STORY: You walk into work and see there is a commotion on the 85th floor- your colleague, Jim, is standing on the ledge ready to jump! Jim sees you and says: "Before you try to convince me not to jump, let me explain why I am jumping…" He tells you that he just got fired... his wife left him his kids hate him... the mob is after him... his house just got foreclosed... he just got diagnosed with cancer... etc.
Now ask the teens what you would tell Jim to try to convince him not to jump. They will give the usual answers: “It will pass”; ”I can help you through this”; etc.
You then say: This is what my rabbi told me he would tell Jim: “Jim, imagine that in addition to all of these problems, you're also BLIND! But as you're about to jump, imagine you get your eyesight back!!" (At this point, the teens usually are hooked, as they all have an automatic self-realization that Jim wouldn’t jump anymore.)
Then ask the kids if they agree that after you would tell Jim this, he wouldn’t jump, or at the very least - he would stick around to appreciate his eyesight for a week!
LESSON: Nothing changed! All of Jim's problems were still there! The only thing that changed was his perspective. When you focus on what you have (in this case, you got Jim to focus on his eyesight) and you don’t focus on what you don’t have, then all of your problems and lacks fade away into the background!!!!!!
Appreciation is the Secret!
Read Pirkei Avos 4:1 – “Eizehu Ashir? HaSameach B'Chelko!" (Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot!)
The business man from Zurich: They are starting to do eye transplants in Zurich, and in the new,s there has been a story circulating about a billionaire businessman who is blind. He wants to do the transplant, but the caveat is that they need real eyes from another person. This man is offering $250 million for two eyes!
Ask the teens if they would take the money. Of course they all say no… you then ask: What about a billion? They still say no. In the end, you show them that no amount of money in the world can buy their eyes!
What the teens are saying is that they have something that money can’t buy! Their eyes are priceless!!
Now ask the following: You're walking down the street and thinking about the fact that your eyes are priceless and you have what money can't buy. Then you see a nice car that is really nice - and you happen to really like cars... do you think you would ever say to yourself the classic statement we all say, “If only I had that car, I would be so much happier”? Or, if only I had that, I would be more happy”?
You see, if we actually had what we hold and believe to be true on the forefront of our minds 24/7 that we are priceless, we would never say those things! And yet we all do it!!! We all think "if only…." even though we know intellectually we have something that money can't buy!! We all admitted it already when we said we wouldn’t sell our eyes for all the money in the world!!!
What's the Problem? What are we missing?
We know the secret to happiness (appreciating and focusing on what you have) and yet we don’t activate that secret?!! We walk down the street and forget the secret!
INFLATION: What we do is we take a concept that only applies to material objects, and we apply it to an emotion: Inflation, as we all know, is when there is too much money in circulation, then the value of the dollar drops. The more there is of something, the less valuable it is… the less there is of something, the more valuable it is. For example, diamonds are more valuable because they are more rare.
But inflation is a concept that can only exist in the material physical world. If I told you that your love for your parents or spouse can't be so valuable because there is so much love in the world, you would think I'm crazy and say that’s ludicrous!!! Why? What’s the difference between that and money, where we say the more there is of it, the less value the dollar has? It's because we all naturally intuit that inflation isn’t a concept that we can apply to our emotions!! You can't put a value on an emotion! Yet when it comes to being happy, we apply inflation!!
Whats our problem? It's simple. Ask the teens to imagine they're at a business conference and the first day they are eating lunch with 20 people that can see, and then the second day they eat with 20 people, 15 of which are blind…. which day are they going to be very conscious an hyperaware and appreciative of their eyesight?... Obviously the second!
What changed? Inflation! The first day, you didn’t appreciate your eyesight because you saw that everyone else has eyes, so you thought that since everyone else has them, therefore mine cant be so valuable. We literally practice the concept of inflation. The second day, there wasn’t an option to inflate because you were one of a few. It's insanity at its best: We think that my eyes can't be so valuable - or the things that make me happy in my life cant be so valuable – because other people have them as well!
We have to reassess and understand that we are applying a double standard: The same way we wouldn’t devalue our love just because others have it and are in love, we shouldn’t be devaluing the things that make us happy because others have it and it makes them happy.
The Advertising Industry
Happiness means focusing on what you have, and not thinking about what others have!
The Societal Effect: Society trains us to think that happiness is a "happening." Think about marketing: If you buy this, happiness will happen to you. SUPERBOWL – DORITOS – OVER $300 MILLION SPENT to try and convince you that this bag of doritos will make you happy! The irony is that the next year, they come out with a different advertisement that almost seems to say: Yeah, that flavor and style of chip that we marketed last year, sorry but we realized that that won't bring you happiness- rather - this new flavor of Doritos will be the one to make you happy!
We are bombarded every day by commercials, billboards, and ads telling us what we lack! The advertising industry has capitalized on our inability to appreciate what we have!
Not a "Happening"
At the core of what it means to be a Jew is to be happy and thankful. The first thing we do in the morning it say Modeh Ani and the Morning Blessings (Birchos HaShachar) that express gratitude. The halacha states that even a blind man can bless - that's how far gratitude goes!
The reality is that happiness is not a happening, it's an obligation - something we work on, and develop within ourselves.
Question: If you appreciate what you have, then you will never want anything, and you won’t strive to attain more?
Answer: We confuse happiness for complacency. Depression leads to complacency. Happiness leads to energy, which leads to productivity.
DEPRESSION > COMPLACENCY
HAPPINESS > ENERGY > PRODUCTIVITY
When you appreciate the pleasure that everything gives you, you understand its value and you pursue it (ex. a delicious meal). The more you appreciate people, the more time you want to spend with them (ex. girlfriend).
Gratitude is at our essence - Yehudi comes from "todah" (thanks) - as Jews, we understand that we have to be grateful, appreciate life, people, and everything we have.
Now you ask them to turn over the red dot in the blue circle image, and ask them to stare at the red dot in the middle for 30 seconds... they'll notice that the blue circle fades away after 10 seconds, and eventually it totally disappears!
When Chazal say that being happy means to focus on what you have, it isn't a nice mushy gushy statement. Rather, they are saying that it's a science: When you look at what you have in your life (= when you look at that red dot) then all the bad and nastiness in your life doesn't just go to the back of your head, rather (just like the blue circled borer) it evaporates and ceases to exist!
You can leave them off with a practical exercise where you tell them to pick 3 things that they are grateful for, write them down, and look at them every morning. They will learn to appreciate these things much more than ever before.
For example: Nail-clippers, key ring, stapler.