Jewish World Review July 16, 2002 / 7 Menachem-Av 5762

The Believer's Guide
to 'Buying' Happiness

By Dr. Abraham Twerski, M.D. | Spirituality connotes that a person has a sense of purpose in life. Consider the story of the man who was sentenced to twenty five years hard labor, whose work assignment consisted of being shackled to the handle of an immense wheel that was fixed in a wall, and all day he was to turn the massive wheel. He kept himself sane by imagining what he was achieving with this never ending exertion. Perhaps he was grinding wheat into flour, or perhaps he was generating energy.

After completing his sentence, the man was freed, his shackles removed. Exhausted and aching with pain he went to the other side of the wall, only to find that the wheel was not connected to anything. All these years he exerted all that energy-for no purpose at all!

Neither man nor beast benefited from his hard labor. The awareness that all his work had been for naught, was worse than all the years of suffering.

Now that we are half way through the year, and ten months on since September 11th, let us take a moment to reflect on what we have done with our lives, over the past number of months. How much wasted time has there been? Have we grown in character and values? Have we improved and deepened our relationships? Can we reflect, in the middle of the year, rather than only on New Year's Eve as to whether we have lived meaningfully? The spiritual person will ask him or herself, at every opportunity: "Am I living purposefully so that I can experience inner joy?"

Growth in spirituality should be life affirming. A child begins to walk and gains a new outlook on life. One can see the child's probing curiosity and the thrill that accompanies each new discovery. This is how we can feel when we grow spiritually. Each level of character development raises us to a new level of self. Preceding the climb to each new level there may be frustration and challenge-but that struggle-is in and of itself that which gives birth to the new level of self development.

A noted theologian was approached by a student who said: "There have been times when I have felt myself just within the reach of G-d, then I abruptly feel myself more distant than ever."

"Precisely", said the master." "When a child begins to walk, the father beckons the child to come closer, and just when the child is inches away, the father steps further away. Having safely taken the first step and seeing the father so close at hand, the child is willing to risk another step."

The goal of the child is to reach the father. The goal of the father is to teach the child to walk on his own. So it is with G-d. If He reached down and picked us up when we reached our goal, our growth would end. G-d wants us to increase our spiritual capacities and so He distances himself when we get ever so close. This may be frustrating --- but frustration is an indication of spiritual growth.

Pain and suffering in life generate anger, resentment and depression, which often linger long after the incident precipitating the distress has passed. These feelings may cast a gloom over our lives such that we are unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The spiritual person who has developed a trust in Divine Guidance may not be able to rejoice at the moment he experiences distress, but when the distress has passed, his trust in G-d frees him from bitterness. His belief that what has transpired was for his ultimate good allows him to let go of his resentment and allows him to enjoy the good things that life has to offer.

Physical pleasures don't accumulate. You can't enjoy yesterday's gourmet meal, today. However, the knowledge that you have helped someone and that that person may be living a better life because of your help that was given twenty years ago, continues to provide a pleasant feeling. In this way spiritual behavior adds to enduring happiness.

Some of us can think that we achieve happiness when we enjoy the banter of a professional comedian. Real happiness comes from within.

A forty two year old widow was referred to me because of her anxiety and insomnia. Her husband had left a sizeable estate but she was anxious that no new money was being generated. She attended sessions bedecked with diamonds but couldn't sleep at night because she feared that her fortune would be ravaged by inflation. She was distraught at the possibility that she wouldn't have enough money to pay for a nursing home for herself, if she eventually needed one.

She complained that her mansion was too difficult to maintain. When I suggested she move to a smaller house she said the thought of moving all her belongings was overwhelming. This woman could have lived two lifetimes without depleting her assets, yet she could not find any peace and suffered the torments of pointless worry. She was unable to appreciate what she had and to live and experience the present.

In rehabilitation therapy from alcohol and substance abuse we focus on living one day at a time and by tackling problems that are within our control. We try to let go of fears that we can't control, like anxiety over spending our old age in an inadequate nursing home. Plan yes. Debilitating worry, no. Being bound by worry prevents us from being grateful to G-d for whatever we do have, and will inhibit our joy and pleasure in life.


Preventing future attacks
American Spirituality
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A very real condition
Helping our kids deal with trauma
The Creator helps those who help themselves
Knowing what to expect
Psychological fallout in the shadow of terrorism
Self-esteem in the face of world terrorism

Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit. He has recently launched a new 12 step program for self esteem development Send your comments by clicking here.

© 2002, Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.