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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Blogging Your Way to Happiness

Tuesday is blogging day so here goes. The New York Times Magazine had an interesting article on Sunday, titled The Futile Pursuit of Happiness. The article cites the research of Daniel Gilbert of Harvard, Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia, George Loewenstein of Carnegie-Mellon and Daniel Kahneman of Princeton on what makes us happy and how poorly we can predict what will make us happy. Some excerpts:

According to this small corps of academics, almost all actions -- the decision to buy jewelry, have kids, buy the big house or work exhaustively for a fatter paycheck -- are based on our predictions of the emotional consequences of these events.
The problem, as Gilbert and company have come to discover, is that we falter when it comes to imagining how we will feel about something in the future.
"Happiness is a signal that our brains use to motivate us to do certain things. And in the same way that our eye adapts to different levels of illumination, we're designed to kind of go back to the happiness set point. Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us."

I have been studying happiness from some classic Jewish sources and there are a number of different attitudes on happiness. One statement from the commentaries on Ecclesiastes says
"One who has 100 dollars wants 200, one who has 200 wants 400."
This statement attests to the fact that material things rarely lead to lasting happiness.

Another statement from the Ethics of our Fathers says:
"Who is rich? The person who is happy with what he has?"
This points to an internal happiness, one not dependent on external things or events.

But we also have the statement of the Talmud:
There is no happiness (on the holidays), except with Meat and Wine.
This points to a happiness rooted in physical pleasures.

Judaism recognizes two types of happiness. The first is based on external things and events such as a good meal, a nice house, nice clothes, a wedding or a piece of good news. These are important sources of happiness, but because they are external they can never become an integral part of you.

The higher level of happiness is the "happiness of being". This is the inner contentment that comes from constantly striving to become a better person. When that is your focus and you are not driven by desire, honor or envy, then you can be consistently happy. Integral to this highest level of happiness is being happy with your lot in life, and the recognition that every life event is an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out that even when you know that "being happy with what you have" is the key, it still takes a lot of work to continually internalize this belief.

What does this have to do with blogging? If you want to use your blog to help make you happy, eliminate your dependence on hits and blogroll links and blog the things that will help improve yourself and your community.

See you next week.