Maybe I had to endure serious illness in order to help people find meaning and strength in adversity. In the words of Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I found there was within me an invincible summer.” Finding meaning requires that we overcome our self-absorption with material goods. We spend too much time dwelling on what is missing. We worry and complain and anxious over trivial pursuits. We count our money instead of our blessings and appreciating all that we have. We are continually dwelling on what we don’t have. We all think: ” I would be happy if only…”
According to Psychology Today, 50 books were published on happiness in 2000 as opposed to last year when more than 4000 books appeared. My prescription for happiness is not sugary promotions. It is not the power of positive thinking. It is not to be beautiful, wealthy and successful.
The key to living a meaningful life is the same as it always was.It is learning to do the tough work of mastering our baser impulses and nurturing our most exalted selves by refusing to indulge in fear or anger and opting instead to feed our capacity for kindness and compassion.
It is to recognize all the gifts that come your way and appreciate those gifts and those around you. My prescription is contrary to much of what pop psychologists preach. I teach that what we do in this world matters. Our words have power: Power to hurt or wound, but also the power to heal and comfort. We wish we could be perfect but we are not perfect. We hurt people we love and we lose our temper. We speak with sarcasm. We can be petty and small minded.
But if we realize what we said, and regret what we did, then words can have a tremendous power. And if we admit the things we have done wrong and change the the way we act then life is not absurd. Our words and actions, our thoughtfulness and compassion, can fill our lives with meaning.
In the Jewish tradition, when we wake up in the morning we say: “Let me be as swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of the Holy One.” We realize that every day is a struggle between our good and bad impulses, and though many things are predestined we have the innate power and freedom to make moral choices.
The Sages made sure to point out that both the bad inclination and the good inclination are essential aspects of our humanity. Whether we like it or not, these impulses are part of us – much like the hemispheres are essential parts of our brain. The point is not to deny or repress the bad inclination, but to channel and master it.
The Sages ask: Who are mighty? The ones who master their inclination.”