Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

We create the world in which we live and we have the ability to control our attitudes toward any given situation. 

Our thoughts control our emotions, and we have the ability to control our thoughts to a great degree. We ourselves can choose to think those thoughts which promote our happiness or those that make us miserable. What you tell yourself about a given situation is the way that situation will affect you.

When you ask people what would make them happy, you often get responses such as: A million dollars; a cruise around the world; a Porsche; a mansion, a private jet and similar luxuries.

You’ve got to admit, this is some basket of goodies. But would these things make you truly happy? And more important, should they? You see, stuff like this means people are focusing on what they don’t have. If most of your attention is directed toward what you don’t have, are you going to be happy? Of course not. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t strive for all those things. But you also should take pleasure in what’s in your own backyard.

For example, when you ask people what the greatest blessings in their lives are, the responses are most often: Hands, feet, eyes, ears, children, a home, health, etc.

Now think about this: Would anyone trade something from this second list for something on the first? Would anyone trade their eyes for a million dollars? Their hands for a Porsche? Without exception, the list of what you have is much greater than the list of what you think you need in order to be happy.

Happiness is an attitude of noticing the good constantly coming our way. There’s so much good coming every minute; there’s no need to hang onto the past. We don’t need to grasp onto a rope to prevent ourselves from drowning when we are standing on dry land. The trick is to get into the habit of looking for good things instead of griping all day about what’s going wrong.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Beroka, who stood with Elijah the Prophet in the market and asked, “Is there anyone here who belongs in the World to Come?”

Elijah pointed out two brothers. So Rabbi Beroka ran after them and asked what their business was. They replied: “We are jesters. We make sad people laugh. And when we see two people in a quarrel, we use some humor to make peace between them.”

Rabbi Beroka gained a whole new perspective on how to judge (or not to judge) people and the importance of being happy.

Make every effort to maintain a happy, positive outlook at all times. It is a natural human tendency to become discouraged and depressed because of the hardships of life. Everyone has a full share of suffering. That is why you must force yourself to be happy at all times. Use every possible way to bring yourself to joy, even by joking or acting a little crazy!

Here are some Jewish quotes on the importance of being happy:

  1.  “As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” – Jewish Proverb
  2.  “A merry heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit dries bones.” –Proverbs 17:22
  3. “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” –Albert Einstein
  4. “The Divine Presence only dwells in the joy associated with mitzvah performance.” – Talmud Shabbat 30b
  5. ”Serve God with joy, come before Him in gladness.” – Psalms 100:2
  6. “If you want to be sad, no one in the world can make you happy. But if you make up your mind to be happy, no one and nothing on earth can take that happiness from you.”  – Unknown


It’s not too hard to be optimistic. Add up all the little joyful things that happen to you during the day. For example, if there was no traffic on the road, if you had a great breakfast, if your friend said something funny that made you laugh – all these things add up!



Feel deeply grateful for what you have. This is a very effective way to be happy. If you feel grateful for all you have, you not only become happier, but it also helps you to bring more meaning into your life. Always view the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. For example, if your girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with you, think about the chance you have now to meet someone else! If you lost your job you can focus on the opportunity to find a better one! Adjust your mentality so that there is always some good in everything that happens to you.

Researchers have found that exercise, healthy diets and regular sleep are key factors in being happy and staying that way. People who are physically active are known to be more enthusiastic, excited and, of course, energetic. Scientists say that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals called endorphins, which elevate our mood.

Eat right! Eating healthy foods — such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins, whole grains, nuts and seeds — gives your body and brain the energy needed to be healthy. Studies have linked unhealthy diets, especially those rich in processed carbohydrates, sugars and industrial vegetable fats, to brain shrinkage and certain brain diseases such as depression and dementia.

Get enough sleep! It is confirmed: the more sleep you get, the happier you tend to be.

Be compassionate. Compassion is all about doing something kind for someone in need or someone less privileged than yourself. Give a person in need food, clothing or shelter. Tutor, volunteer, or get involved in a religious group. Countless children are looking for someone to teach them and act as a role model. Increase the happiness of those around you by giving gifts — even compliments! This will increase your happiness as well. In fact, the one giving the gift usually feels a larger pulse of dopamine than the person receiving it!

Finally, smile! When you smile, your mood is elevated, whether you’re happy or not. So smile all the time if you can!