Happiness is ______________
Every year, without explanation or warning, Simchat Torah arrives with a cloud of gloom. I cannot remember a time in my life when Simchat Torah was greeted with sunny skies and high temperatures. Accompanying this gloomy cloud comes an unbearable dread which I have come to call the “Pre-Post Yom Tov Depression.” Simchat Torah marks the final holiday in a string of seemingly endless holidays that take place during the month of Tishrie. I wait for Tishie all year. Then, I blink and it disappears by the time my eyes open. The eve of Simchat Torah tends to arose cold, frustrated emotions within my being. Did I try hard enough? Could I have embraced Tishrie with more focus, less worry? Once Simchat Torah is over, it’s almost as though the pause button has been released and life once again resumes at it’s normal, less than holy pace.
As I sat in my apartment on the threshold of the holiday, I could not help but feel gripped by fears. I had spent the past month living in a bubble of holiness, an alternate reality where things felt a bit lighter, almost easier. Although the holidays that take place during the month of Tishrie are intense and awe inspiring, they are also fun and carefree. But the happiest holiday also signifies the end of immediate inspiration and the beginning of a long climb up the mountain of change.
I was shocked at my inability to lift up my spirits on the onset of the holiday. How was it possible that I welcomed the holiness of the day with tears instead of with joy?
And even in my happiness, I was quivering from fear. And so, in a way, you could not call my happiness genuine. I spent the days dancing my heart out, stomping on my fears and worries, but on the inside, there was a gloomy, dreadful feeling building up inside. The feeling of knowing that the joy that I was feeling was only hours away from being stripped away from me. The realization of the approach of real life made me want to hide under my bed. At what age is that no longer socially acceptable, because gosh darn it, that’s where I’m headed!
I found myself questioning my very existence and purpose over this Yom Tov. Why is it that no matter how confident and set you are in your ways, when someone questions you in a lowly manner, all sense of self fulfillment and confidence disappear? I was bombarded by questions, posed by friends and strangers alike, about the current status of the novel, as well as my dating status, my decision not to return to school, about my job, and even my apartment. At first, I thought that maybe I was blowing things out of proportion. But, here were people who knew me well, or who hardly knew me at all, who were questioning who I am in ways that caused me to think “Hey, maybe I’m doing all of this wrong.” These people, with or without knowledge of their intentions, were reducing me to a pulp, and all I wanted to do was run and hide. I realize that publishing a novel means that I am stepping into the public eye and that I have to learn to feel at ease when people ask certain uncomfortable questions. But, how can I answer strangers when I myself do not have answers to these questions? Hard enough is it to ask myself these questions, but when coming from an external source, I felt like I was being interrogated. It was almost as though they were all looking down at me, telling me that because what I am currently doing with my life is not “conventional” it is therefore “wrong.”
And this is where I must stop to pose a very important, yet seemingly random question: Where does happiness come from? What determines happiness? We live in a world where the belief seems to be that happiness is an external entity that can be brought into your life by material prosperity. We are taught that other people, other things, things outside of ourselves, have the ability to cause our happiness, and in turn, our unhappiness. We are taught to believe that money, success, popularity, among a myriad of other things, have the absolute power of shaping who we are.
And I am here to say that I absolutely disagree with that.
It is not exactly easy to be who you are in the truest form without allowing the wayward words of the world seep into your head. I have spent my entire life basing WHO I AM on the words of others. My happiness has been dependent on others. I have allowed myself to buy into the notion that happiness is external; I have come to believe that the success of “Shattered Illusions” will define me, that the person that I G-D Willing marry will bring with him the end of all misery and worry in my life, and that somehow, a piece of paper will define my life.
You can have a wonderful life, a truly successful, blessed existence, but what good is it if at the end of the day, you are not truly self fulfilled? How can you call yourself successful if the happiness contained in your life is not truly yours, because it was not manifested inside of you? And more over, how can one expected themselves to lead a life truly devoted to the service of G-D without the proper tools of happiness built within them? It’s like the famous parable of the miser and his poor neighbor: The miser, dripping in gold and jewels, lives a life of unease. He is not content with anything, and spends his life combing through the world for the finest delicacies, thinking that those things will surely cure his happiness. Meanwhile, his neighboor, a poor shoe maker, lives his life in prosperity, in true wealth, because he is able to achieve a level of self fulfillment and happiness that the miser never dreamed of. Ask yourself, are you the poor miser or the wealthy beggar?
About three months ago, a dear friend of mine gave me one of the cleariest pieces of advice I have ever received. I was speaking to her about the worries regarding the launch and succes of my novel. She told me this: “If this process teaches you anything at all, it should teach you that who are not defined by your successes or your failures in this world. Your value and your strength cannot come from other people.”
I took that advice and savored it. Yet, of course, I managed to lose it somewhere along the road of my journey. Sadness is easier because it is surrender. It is easier to allow others to define you than for you to sit down and truly know yourself. It is easier to stuff yourself with external happiness because if it doesn’t work out, at least you don’t have to blame yourself entirely. Most people don’t even realize that this is a notion that is worth fighting.
It was in the midst of the endless questions, the confusions and the pain brought into me that I made a firm decision to stop the madness. For the sake of my sanity, and for the sake of the beauty of the holiday, I refused to allow anyone else to define my happiness. It was then that I was able to enjoy the holiday with true joy, an overwhelming, unexplainable happiness. A happiness so pure, so uncontaminated, because it was not dependent on constant revival from other people. Surely, it is something that must be worked on day after day, and I am sure it will be difficult to keep myself in check in certain situations, but realization is the first key in this journey.
As we completed the final reading of the Torah on Tuesday afternoon, I felt a sense of relief and tranquility that I have very rarely felt in my life. It is not to say that I was so easily cured of my worries and self doubts just by coming to a “simple” realization, but I do think that such a realization is the first step to a true life of purpose. For at the end of the day, how can I expect myself to help improve the life of my fellow if my life needs a serious remodeling?