Happiness Doesn't Feel Happy by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

In a few mommy peptalks I have quoted one my favorite books Happy Women by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. And moms always write to ask if this book exists in English, and I have to tell them the sad news- NO there is not English translation- but there SHOULD BE! Thank G-d, Rabbi Aviner just gave me permission to post translations of a few of my favorite chapters on the site. YAY! Enjoy!

Happiness Doesn’t Feel Happy by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Reprinted with permission from the book Happy Women)

Lest you should say, “It’s true that there is a commandment to perform mitzvot with joy, but what can I do if I simply don’t feel any joy?” This is an important question, and the answer is just as important: you can be happy without feeling happy, and you can feel happy without being happy. Of course, I have nothing against feeling happy, but this is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is not the same thing as enjoyment; happiness is a feeling of internal satisfaction from doing good things, and from fulfilling our obligations. It is similar to a feeling of joy (אושר). Pleasure, from eating delicious food for example, is fleeting. Enjoyment is felt for a moment and after that it disappears, and sometimes the pursuit of pleasure even turns into a disease.

Western society is a society of pleasures, brimming with delicacies, but its citizens are miserable, and this situation is not new. For several hundred years the great Western writers have been describing miserable and suffering human beings, to whom the pleasures of the world do not bring happiness. People are in despair, broken, disgusted by life, nauseated by life, vomiting life. The French philosopher Sartre wrote a book called The Nausea. This is the constant emotional state of the Western human being- nausea from life. Another existentialist philosopher from Germany named Heidegger, described how a person has a feeling of Geworfeheit- having been thrown into the world. In other words, people feel thrown into a world devoid of meaning, and all of the pleasures of the world cannot fill the void within them with happiness.

Our Sages compare the verse “And also the spirit will not be filled” (Ecclesiastes 6:7) with a princess who marries a townsperson who presents her with many luxuries, but her heart yearns for the palace of the king (Kohelet Raba). The soul is the princess, and food and drink cannot fill her: the soul has different aspirations altogether.

The happiness of performing a mitzvah is close to the concept of joy (אושר). Joy is a constant experience that comes from the knowledge and from the internal consciousness of human beings that they are honest and good- and that if sometimes they fail, they can repent.

We all know the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We won’t respond to that question at the moment. We will only present what our Sages teach us, that in a certain sense there is no such thing as bad things happening to good people. Righteous people, tsaddikim, are joyful. They might be sick and impoverished, exiled from their homeland and beaten, but this does not cause them unhappiness. Also the reality of “good things happening to bad people?” does not exist. A person can have treasures and palaces, but if he is a bad person nothing will bring him happiness.

The happiness of the mitzvah is the internal consciousness, the internal awareness of people that they are good and honest, and that they therefore lack nothing. They do not require any reward for this. “The reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah” (Avot 4:2) They are happy that they have performed a mitzvah, and they yearn to perform yet another.

Click here to read another great selection from Happy Women By Rabbi Aviner Shlit”a

Reprinted with permission from Nashim Smechot by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Sifriyat Chava, 2001). Translated by CJ Weisberg

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