Real Happiness

However beneficial it may
be for a person’s spiritual life to cope in a positive way with life’s
problems, we do not look for problems or create problems for ourselves. We can
assume that G-d will send us the problems that we need to keep our lives on
track, and when problems come our way, it is right to take measures to diminish
the pain and distress of having to deal with them.

Rav Simcha Sussel says that he learned this from Rachel and
Leah. Yaakov takes them out to the fields to tell them that they have to leave
their father’s house. He gives them a number of reasons why the time has come
to leave. They answer him saying that they no longer have any place in their
father’s home, that he sold them as someone selves property, he’d taken
everything away from them, and, besides that, they affirm that Yaakov should do
whatever G-d tells him. But if G-d wants them to leave, why do they go into that
list of reasons that make it seem like the sensible thing to do? Would it make
any difference if it weren’t the sensible thing to do? G-d said! But, of
course, it would have been much harder and more distressful for them to leave
their family and their childhood home if everything seemed fine. Reflecting, as
they did, on the difficulties they were having with their father, they put
themselves into a frame of mind which greatly diminished the pain of doing what
G-d said. When a person faces a distressing difficulty, when life demands
something from him that seems hard and painful, he should try to diminish his
distress by accommodating himself to the challenge he faces.

Problems don’t necessarily come from outside sources. Many
of the most difficult problems on life arise because our attitudes are not in
harmony with the demands of life. Indeed, we often find that problems can be
dealt with in two ways: By trying to make a change in the external circumstances
of our lives, as though the problem came from outside, or by accommodating
ourselves inwardly to the circumstances of our lives by working on ourselves: on
our midos, our attitudes, or our expectations of life. Doing that, we
change ourselves, we become different people, and when that happens we sometimes
find that the problem simply goes away: it’s not a problem for the person we
have become.

But problems are part of life, so there are many problems
which won’t go away even if we work on ourselves. How does a person minimize
the impact of the problems that won’t go away? It’s partly a matter of
educating oneself to a certain outlook on problems. A person has to work on
achieving a true understanding of what makes him happy—truly happy—in this
world. Some people think that their happiness depends on having certain very
specific things, sometimes even material things. For them, to lose those things
is a serious problem because, apart from any physical or emotional deprivation
that may result, they are convinced that to lose those things is to lose the
possibility of being happy. That’s a hard thing—perhaps an impossible thing—to
accept, which means that they’ll have a hard time dealing with their loss. It
becomes a really serious problem. Working on themselves so that they come to
realize the true source of human happiness will not restore what they lost, but
it will diminish their sense of loss, for they will realize that, whatever was
taken away, they did not lose the possibility of being happy. When a person
realizes that the only true happiness is the happiness that comes from G-d, and
he retains the hope of that happiness, he cannot fall very far. When a person
feels that his main happiness comes from learning and doing mitzvos, he can, as
it says in Pirkei Avos, live on bread and salt and water and still be
happy. The message of the mishnah is not that a person has to live such an
austere life in order to learn Torah, but that a person who lives for Torah can
live an austere life, he can go without many comforts and pleasures which we
take for granted, without feeling deprived. His happiness is undiminished by his
deprivations because he has what he really wants: the joy of Torah. If a person
feels that he needs more than Torah to be happy, then Torah is not the main
thing in his life, and his way of life is not the life of Torah. A ben Torah can
enjoy all the pleasures of life, but he can also do without them.