“As long as he is happy, I’m happy too!”
A friend shared these words with me recently, describing his cousin’s relationship with a lady he was dating. He didn’t think she was a good fit for him, but he dismissed his feelings with this lame excuse.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sentence. Many of us utter it, or different versions of it, to excuse all sorts of behaviors. We convince ourselves that as long as we are “happy,” almost any behavior is legitimized — from dating the wrong person to engaging in self-destructive habits.
But I beg to differ. When we engage in behaviors that are opposed to our inner Divine beings, values and purpose, we cannot be happy. Dating a person who stifles our self-growth and engaging in behaviors that squash our infinite potential will not bring happiness. Other feelings, such as self-gratification and fleeting pleasures, may then emerge. But genuine happiness can only come from dedicating ourselves to the actualization of our Divine being, values and purpose.
“Happiness cannot be pursued,” Viktor Frankl wrote in his “Man’s Search for Meaning.” “Happiness must happen, and you have to let it happen by not caring about it. Instead, one should dedicate himself to actualizing his highest self; only then will true happiness ensue.”
Perhaps, this is the reason this week’s portion tells us that only after we have settled our land and worked hard to fulfill our purpose of bettering our part of this world, then, and only then, will we “rejoice in all the good things G-d has given you and your household (Deuteronomy 26:11).”
As a young teen struggling to find my purpose in the vastness of our world, I recall seeking the advice of my dear mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, to confess to him that “I don’t know what I want to be ‘when I grow up.’” His poignant words have stayed with me until this very day:
“You ask a good question,” he told me. “But instead of asking what you want to be, ask what you ought to be and do. And if you ask what you ought to be and do at all times, your life will be happy, purposeful and satisfying to your inner ‘I.’”
He was right. In order to find happiness and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be and do. Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I being true to my Divine being and purpose? Am I performing mitzvahs, today more than yesterday, yet much less than tomorrow?
If we can answer an affirmative “yes” to these questions, we will then undoubtedly find happiness, and we will each be blessed with a good, sweet, and happy year. JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale.