Sukkot and Happiness by Yaffa Palti, Comunidad Sefaradi City Leader (Mexico City, Mexico)
I recently went on a trip to Disneyland. I gotta tell you, if Disney is the happiest place on earth, then we are deeply doomed. I was terribly disillusioned. The only magic we experienced there was some external force of disenchantment compelling us to leave a day early. Disney is about creating fantasy, and they excel at it.
During that same trip to LA, while stalking celebrities on Rodeo Drive with a Starbucks coffee in hand, I began thinking about how much time and energy we spend throughout our lives pursuing happiness.
We are born with a list in our hands. The title of the list is, “How Do I achieve the Happiness I’m Entitled To” and then it proceeds to mention a few essential pointers that we need in life in order to achieve that happiness:
- You must be pretty
2. You must be skinny
3. You must be rich
- You must be successful.
And we suddenly become ultra religious as we devoutly follow this Happiness Bible.
But then…we realize we still aren’t happy. And we notice that the wealthiest people in Hollywood are not the actors, not the singers, and not the producers. The wealthiest people in Hollywood are the therapists.
We live our lives chasing these goals, developing eating disorders, and going under the knife, all to achieve what is only the illusion of happiness. The Disney fantasy.
We realize that people who have accomplished every challenge on the Happiness List are still turning to drugs, still creating unhealthy relationships and are still committing suicide.
And then we panic. If this will not what make me happy, then what will?
We tend to live our lives in waves of euphoria and unhappiness, ignorant of the fact that true happiness is not wild or intense; it is calm and tranquil. We’re often disappointed that the ecstatic feeling accompanied by euphoria only lasts a short while, and the unhappiness that follows the wave of euphoria leads to despair. That causes us to frantically create other euphoric moments, thus creating a never-ending vicious cycle.
Happiness remains the most cherished yet elusive of all human desires. So how can we possibly achieve it?
Let’s talk about it in lady lingo.
There. I woke ya’ll up.
No matter how much pleasure I get from buying a new pair of shoes, those shoes will never ever become a part of me. They will always remain external to me. And therefore, they can’t create true happiness, because the euphoria felt through them is short lived.
No external matter can truly make me happy because it is all external to me. The only thing that can cause everlasting happiness is something that connects with the eternal part of me. With my essence. With my soul.
Happiness is a proper balance between the mind and heart. It is the feeling of contentment, inner peace, and positive well-being, and it is acquired through living a life that is meaningful and worthwhile.
I want to share with you one of my favorite teachings from Viktor Frankl:
“Don’t aim at success- the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the bi-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscious commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it”.
We waste our lives running after smoke and mirrors and flashing lights that call out to us and promise us happiness. But they’re all lying. The List is a lie and the lights are a lie. Because the greatest mistake we can make in life is to depend on something external to create our happiness. There is no one, and there is nothing in this world that can be, or should be responsible for your happiness. Not your bank account, not your dress size, not your vacation plans, not your children, and certainly not your husband.
We spend years and years searching for the city of happiness, without realizing that it’s really a state of mind.
Any Hebrew speakers in da house? The word for being happy in Hebrew is ‘besimcha’. If you switch around all the letters, in Hebrew, you get the word ‘machshava’ which means, ‘thoughts.’
It is no coincidence that the process of happiness and the process of thinking are made up the same exact letters.
The only person responsible for my happiness is me. And the place to begin creating that process is in my head. It requires a change in perspective towards the positive. We cannot change most of the circumstances in our lives. But we can change the quality of our lives by focusing on the positive.
Take rain. Is rain good or bad?
Well, that depends who you ask. For a farmer, it’s the greatest blessing! But for a woman who just spent two hours in the salon getting her hair done, well, then it ain’t a blessing.
We cannot control the circumstances in our lives, but we can absolutely control how they affect us.
What does all this have to do with Sukkot, you ask?
So, we have a few special mitzvot on Sukkot that we’ve known about since Hebrew school.
We say a bracha and shake a lulav and etrog.
We build the Sukka, we decorate it, eat in it, and together with the neighborhood cats, we even sleep in it.
But there’s one more mitzvah on Sukkot that is actually its main mitzvah, yet not as much fun as the others and therefore often overlooked.
We have to be HAPPY. Twenty four hours a day, for the entire week, we need to be happy.
This doesn’t mean we have to run off to go watch our favorite comedian. Nor does it mean we have to look for a new euphoria injection. It means becoming people who are truly happy in life. It means becoming people who view their lives, the world, and the people in it, through positive eyes and minds.
The whole idea of eating in the sukkah is to teach us this lesson.
We willingly leave our stable, warm, and comfortable homes and go camp out in a cold, wobbly, squishy hut for an entire week.
What are we, a bunch of masochists?
No. We are learning an essential life lesson. We don’t need materialism to make us happy! We don’t need warmth to make us happy! We cannot depend on anything external to make us happy!
Happiness come from inside of ourselves, and we can create that inner peace, that contentment, no matter where are, and no matter what challenges life throws our way.
Wishing you all a very happy Sukkot!
By the way, don’t step on the scale till the holiday is over. Ignorance is bliss.