The inclusion of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence has long set a standard for the lives of people who live in our country. In our work, our community involvement, our desire to maintain a stable life at home, and our struggle to make ends meet and to face challenging times with courage and ingenuity, we do try to be happy.
The website www.pursuit-of-happiness.org seeks to bring “the science of happiness to life.” It lists seven habits of happy people:
- Express your heart (cultivate relationships).
- Acts of kindness (volunteer and care for others).
- Keep moving and eat well (maintain physical and mental well-being).
- Find your flow (engage in an activity in your skill set that gives you enjoyment).
- Discover meaning (some identify faith and spirituality as finding meaning and purpose in life).
- Discover and use your strengths (identify pursuits in which you excel).
- Treasure gratitude, mindfulness, and hope.
Rabbi Evan Moffic, in his book The Happiness Prayer, engages in an in-depth discussion of a prayer that comes from morning worship in the Jewish tradition. I had always thought of the prayer as a values checklist. Rabbi Moffic’s book made me realize that it could also present a prescription for happiness.
Here is the passage: “These are things that are limitless, of which a person enjoys the fruit of the world....They are: honoring one’s father and mother, engaging in deeds of compassion/kindness, arriving early for study, morning and evening, dealing graciously with guests, visiting the sick, providing for the wedding couple, accompanying the dead for burial, being devoted in prayer, and making peace among people. But the study of Torah (learning for a higher purpose) encompasses them all.”
In his book, Rabbi Moffic offers examples of each of these practices and how they can enrich our lives. At the end of his book are questions that can help the reader determine how his or her current activities resonate with the book’s suggestions for pursuing happiness and how he or she can move further along a path of contentment.
This prayer has always intrigued me because it says so much with so few words. It teaches us that when we honor our parents, we will feel more at equilibrium and, thereby, teach our children (or other younger family members), in turn, to honor us. It places acting with kindness and caring towards others at the center of what we can and should do every day, by extending a welcome to all people and by being present when people face health challenges, when they celebrate life’s milestones, and when they are in mourning for a loved one. It recommends that, when we seek to increase our knowledge, we should do so with people whom we will come to know and trust through our study. This passage directs us to take time out of our routines to contemplate our lives and what they mean and to determine how we can improve them. It holds in high regard people who find ways to turn conflict into resolution and, eventually, friendship.
And, finally, this passage notes that discussing with others how to perform these positive actions has the potential to change the world, because we will put into practice what we learn, with a belief that what we do will make a difference.
So may we, in our own way, not only be happy, but do happy, so that we can bring greater contentment to ourselves and to our community.