The Pursuit of Happiness
Rabbi Noah Weinberger of Aish haTorah, in the summary of his 48 Ways to Wisdom (an elaboration of the 48 steps to acquiring Torah listed in Avos, beraisa 6:6) on aish.com, writes:
Did you ever begin a stimulating physical activity and then discover you somehow can’t extricate yourself? You pick up a bag of potato chips, and start eating two, three, four, five. Before you know it you’re at the bottom of the bag. You didn’t really want any more, but you couldn’t stop. You passed the point of diminishing returns and now you feel sick.
While physical pleasure is an essential part of enjoying life, at the same time, we have to know how to control it and harness it. Way #18 is b’miut ta’anug – “minimize physical pleasure.” You cannot just eat chocolate bars the whole day long. That is not living.
Human beings are pleasure-seekers. The more pleasure, the more power. Figure out how to transform raw physical sensation into the deeper pleasures of love, meaning, creativity. Don’t worry – you won’t lose the physical pleasure. You’ll actually enhance and appreciate it more.
Human beings are pleasure-seekers. Most people seek pleasure in careers, vacations, cars and homes. In our generation, many people grumble about obligations as unpleasant aggravations. Perhaps that’s why many today wait so long to get married. Imagine being tied down with responsibilities and children to support!
This is a shallow view. It may be difficult to fulfill obligations, but there’s tremendous pleasure in getting done what has to get done. You’re actualizing your potential. That’s real meaning, real pleasure. It’s energizing.
Way #33 is Ohev et ha’tzedakot — literally “love righteousness.” Once you realize the pleasure of fulfilling obligations, it’s much easier to carry them out. And if you have to do them anyway, you might as well take pleasure!
I find I can not agree with the concept that “human beings are pleasure-seekers”. Not so much that it’s wrong as that I think that if we think about what gives us pleasure and makes us happy, the statement loses content.
This ties directly into my previous post “Who is wealthy?” One’s lot in life is a process, not a particular static state. The wealthy person is one who accepts their process, their curriculum, their mission in Hashem’s plan for the universe — to give three very different sounding descriptions of the same thing.
Similarly, happiness is in the process. As creative beings, we want to constantly be heading toward something new. Valuing pleasure is fleeting, the goal is aquired and life goes on. “He who has a maneh [a coin worth 100 zuz] wants 200 [zuz].” The amount necessary to acheive ta’anug, contentment, moves ever upward because we need the pursuit in order to be happy.
It’s not that people seek pleasure, it’s that pleasure is the emotion associated with searching. We are depressed when things didn’t go as we wished. We are worried when we reason to believe they may not. We assign pleasure with the goal of pursuit, and happiness is the feeling that our pursuit is succeeding.
Bitachon is trust that our life’s process and the events and changes in it are part of Hashem’s plan. And thus the key to happiness is aligning our pursuit with that process as He guides it to play out. For someone with bitachon, happiness is inevitable.