Why Aren’t Americans Happy?

Words to live By Rabbi Manis Friedman


By Rabbi Manis Friedman

What is happiness? where has all the happiness gone? We seem to be a very unhappy generation. Even when people say “This makes me happy” or “I would be happy if you would do this,” do we really mean happiness? Do we even know what happiness feels like?

Speaking about happiness actually means that we’re not so happy. If we were really happy, we would just be it and wouldn’t be talking about it.

So what’s draining us of our happiness? Here are some important points to consider.

1. Do I Deserve?

The first thing that is draining our happiness is the feeling of entitlement, of saying “I deserve.” We know that G-d is good and generous, and that He has given us everything we have for free. So it’s not that we shouldn’t expect good things, we shouldn’t have that feeling of entitlement, a feeling that we deserve, because that feeling is too self-aware and too judgmental. We are taught, told and reminded that we are deserving, and this is not a natural fact of life. The fact is that we are given one hundred years of life for free. We are certainly not born deserving, and yet we are given life, so we are already indebted just by being born. However, it is a virtue to think of others as deserving, for you to wish better for them, Instead of thinking we deserve, we must think we have a mission, that we have a job, and that we have a right to ask G-d to give us the conditions to do our job, but the feeling of deservedness has got to go; it is an unnatural and unhealthy concept.

We don’t deserve. We get because G-d is good.

2. Don’t be too attached to the physical.

One of the first tests that G-d put us through as a people was to ask us to come out of Egypt and follow Him into the desert without preparing food. The virtue that was tested was our ability to do without, to take the physical existence a little less serious. The lesson is that having physical comforts or not having them, should be accepted all the same, that we should feel indifference in order to rise above all of the pity needs of the physical.
Especially in America, we are overly exquisite. Things for us have to be just perfect; the food has to be just so, the temperature just so, we have to have that second cup of coffee or we can’t function. Being so finicky is making us unhappy; we are too attached to our needs, and we shouldn’t be. We need to transcend beyond that attachment to be happy.
We need to focus on what we’re here for, and not what we’re here after.

3. Our Purpose.

Another culprit that is destroying our happiness is doubt. When we’re uncertain, we can’t proceed confidently and that takes away our joy. We don’t know where we, as humans, fit in this world, if we’re just polluters, or if we actually contribute something to the beauty of nature. Who are we? What are we doing here? This is particularly painful to Jews, because even if we find the purpose of the existence of humans, we still don’t know what the Jews are doing here, because Jews don’t seem to be a nation among nations.

We must have a purpose that justifies our presence on earth, because doubting the reason for our existence drains our enthusiasm and joy.
4. Shame, Regret, Guilt.

These are three things that drain us: shame, regret, and guilt. Regret lies in the mind: “I’m wiser now and had I known then what I know now, I would have done better, so I regret the decisions and the actions that I took when I took them.”

Shame is more of a gut feeling. It stems from within: “I’m embarrassed. I’m uncomfortable with myself because of my failings and my weaknesses.”

And finally, there’s guilt. Guilt means: “I have damaged myself in the eyes of others; I’ve made myself less acceptable or less desirable to somebody, somebody in the future, somebody from the past, somebody in the present.”

We need to find solutions for each one of them to remove them from our lives so we can be happy again.

If I’m given a role in His Divine plan, I have much for which to be grateful. If things don’t go the way I think they should go, or I want them to, it’s understandable and right, because it’s not my plan.

5. Humbly Joyful.

Among the things that consume our joy that we mentioned in the preceding section, a major one was shame. So what is the solution to shame?

It is none other than to allow ourselves to be humbled instead of being humiliated. Shame can either humiliate us or humble us depending on how we focus its lesson-teaching force. Shame can mean: “I feel deeply embarrassed, humiliated.” However, if we use the power of shame wisely, it can mean: “Let this be a lesson to remind me of my own weakness, my own vulnerability. I have been humbled.”

Everything that causes us shame simply reminds us that we are human, fallible, vulnerable meat, but that is the normal condition of earthen souls, of the human being. So to be reminded that we are vulnerable is not a humiliation, instead, it’s humility, it humbles us to remember that we are merely human, that we are capable of being hurt and hurting others, that we are fallible, not infallible. If we switch the feeling of humiliation for the feeling of humility, not only do we get rid of the negative aspect of shame, but in the process we feel humbly joyful.

6. G-d’s Vast Eternal Plan.

We must cure the unhappiness created by our own inflexible ego, that same ego that produces expressions such as “I need it to be my way”, “why can’t I get what I want?”, “why aren’t things going the way I think they should?”, “why am I not getting what I deserve?” This notion that I deserve and that things should be my way, is a misconception, it’s a wrong approach and attitude towards reality.

This train of thought has been induced to us by many things around us, including television. Those TV commercials that tell you: “You deserve to have a good day!”, “You deserve to have good hair!” “You deserve to have more!” are giving terribly misleading messages that are spoiling the minds of viewers.

The alternative is to look at the world as it was from the beginning. In the beginning there was nothing and G-d created the world out of it, which means, this is His entire plan, we are guests in His plan, we have a role to play in His vast and eternal plan.

So if I’m welcome, if I’m included and if I’m given a role in this Divine plan, I have much for which to be grateful. If things don’t go the way I think they should go, or I want them to, it’s understandable and right, because it’s not my plan. Why should it go my way? Why should it be the way I want it to be if it’s not even my plan? The lesson is that as long as we have a role to play and as long as we’re needed in G-ds vast and eternal plan, we must be thankful. Happiness comes from gratitude. Happiness comes from being unburdened. Happiness comes from not taking yourself too seriously.