Happiness Doesn’t Always Feel Happy by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Happiness Doesn’t Always Feel Happy by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

This article is a Chana Jenny favorite from 9 years ago. It comes from one of my favorite books: Happy Women by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner (Hebrew)

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 have not brought 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.

[People in the world today are like] 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 closer 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 change and improve.

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.

[And here’s Chana Jenny’s 2 Cents: JewishMOM, you work hard taking care of your kids and family and home. It’s not always fun. In fact, lots of times a mother’s life is extremely hard and draining! But the knowledge that you are living a life that is a good life–brimming over with mitzvot and acts of motherly kindness–not only brings comfort. With the correct perspective, it can bring every hardworking mother true and profound joy.]

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


  1. Roberta Carasso

    Dear Jenny and Jewish Moms,

    Today is July 4th, the Birthday of America and the 3 Weeks. Because the 3 weeks is a time of caution, to be aware and reduce evil from coming into our collective lives, I have decided to see how many Mitzvot I can do today and during the 21 days.

    I discovered that, besides several American people I know have birthdays on July 4th, others have wedding anniversaries. I decided to call everyone who has a special event on July 4th. You cannot imagine the very happy and surprised responses I received. But the very best part of the gesture is how happy I feel.

    A Mitzvah not only brings joy to someone else, but to the one who does the Mitzvah. And more importantly, this easy and almost effortless gesture, can contribute to the happiness of our world in ways we cannot imagine.

    Thank you for your Jewish Mom Blog. It is among my important reading.

    Chaya Rivka Carasso

    • JewishMom

      thank you chaya rivka, this story about your July 4th mitzvah made me smile!

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