Joy Amidst Turmoil


Dear Rabbi Jacobson,

I was very uplifted by your class, The Counterintuitive Secret to Happiness, as well as an older class The Secret of Finding Joy, which I viewed over the web (by the way, these classes are brilliant, one of the best kept secrets online; I tell everyone I know about them. You must find ways to distribute them widely). The way you explained the power of joy resonated deeply. Yet, I find it extremely difficult to implement these principles into my daily life. I was just laid off my job, my long-term savings have been depleted, to boot I grew up in a dysfunctional home, which I am always healing from, and there are many other factors in my life that are hardly a cause for happiness. Indeed, I feel as if I am perpetually sad, with a few sporadic spurts of short-lived joy bouncing up here and there. I often feel as though I have been hardwired without joy or happiness. Some people seem to be naturally cheerful. And some of us seem to be inherently despondent if not miserable.

Pray tell me that I am wrong.



Dear M.,

Thank you for your kind, yet also sad words.

Let me get straight to the point. You are wrong. Very wrong.

Have you ever seen a newborn child sad? Every child ever born is always happy and joyful. Joy is hardwired in our hardware and in our software. Sadness is a superimposed state that we acquire once we being to grow and experience disappointment and duplicity. Children learn to be sad from their parents and the “mature” world that they become exposed to.

You may argue that children are naturally happy because they are naïve and have yet to witness “reality” – the harsh and cruel world in which we live, where people hurt each other and the many hardships that life presents us.

In truth, however, it is the other way around. A child is our most natural and quintessential state. The child’s innate cheer comes from an inner peace and contentment which results from a lack of dichotomy in the child’s life.

Seamlessness is the operative word. A child’s consciousness is not split into parts. A child is not torn between its needs and its behavior. We adults are constantly torn between demands upon us and our own needs, between what we truly want and what we must do to survive, between who we essentially are and what we do. Between the needs of our bodies and the needs of or souls. Who among us can say that our daily work and activities reflect our deepest inner aspirations? Is there a person that has no conflict of interest between a personal life and a professional one, between the demands of your job and those of your home and family? Has anyone not compromised some of their idealism and values due to the pressures of the struggle for survival?

When there is a split there is tension. And where there is tension there is sadness. A measure of angst is always healthy – to keep us reaching and growing. But when the angst spills over into anxiety, despondence and depression are not far behind.

Children are the most perfect model of seamlessness: A smooth flow between the inner and the outer; where identity meets expression. Imagine that your outer expressions were always reflecting your inner needs, and your deepest aspirations always had an outlet of expression.

It is only from adults that children learn to be sad. Yes, we adult project our feelings on our children and as they develop and enter maturity that too learn the world of envy ad greed, of selfishness and instant gratification, of struggling between what we know to be true and what we indulge in for our own pleasure.

You may then say, that all this is fine and good as long as we are children. But now that we have grown into adults, our childhoods lost, we no longer can access that inner contentment and happiness that is the domain of the child.

That may sound logical and… sad , but it is unequivocally wrong. The way we were born, the way we were hardwired always remains with us. Our inherent joy becomes concealed under many layers and veils, but it is embedded in our consciousness if not unconsciousness.

The question is how do we access it, especially once “paradise” has been seemingly lost? The answer goes back to the root of joy and happiness: Seamlessness. How does one achieve the seamless state, where there is no conflict between competing forces?

We can find our answer in an unlikely place – and one that is not even so popular today: Business.

The first cardinal rule of every venture is defining its mission statement. Without a concise and clearly stated purpose, everything that follows will be scattered and confused. Goals will be hard to set, and success will be difficult if not impossible to measure. The mission aligns all the steps of the operation from start to finish – from concept to final product, from the strategies and plans, to the actions and goals. It brings together and coordinates the entire enterprise into one seamless unit.

If so, you may ask, how is it that so many very focused businesses fail? Look around today, and we witness the collapse of numerous revered institutions, that had powerful mission statements and highly capable stewards at the helm. How did that happen? Read on.

So the secret of seamlessness – which lies behind the secret of happiness – is thus dependent on discovering the mission of our lives. Without that mission, our activities, involvements and investments – all our times and energy – will inevitably be unfocused, hence leading to tension and discord.

The mission of our lives is stated in the Torah portion called Terumah. In perhaps the shortest and most concise mission statement ever made, the verse states: V’osu li mikdash v’shochanti b’socham, Build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.

Five words – V’osu li mikdash v’shochanti b’socham – define the purpose of existence and the mission and goal of each and every life: Take all the elements of your life, all your physical materials and material activities, direct all your faculties, gifts and opportunities toward one goal: Build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.

Align all your energy and activities toward this one seamless goal, and you will find seamless happiness. It may be difficult to tackle every aspect of our lives, but we can always begin with aligning some areas toward the stated mission. You will find that joy is directly proportionate to the amount of focus of one’s life toward fulfilling the higher mission.

Just as staying true to your mission is the bedrock of personal success in the microcosm of our personal lives, the same is true in the macrocosm of our institutions, leaders and governments — many of which seem increasingly rudderless and often corrupt. Many failing entities have clearly strayed from their own missions and sound strategies. They take unsound risks, due to greed and other selfish incentives, or due to misplaced loyalties, obstinate positions and distorted politics (take today’s American President’s fear and hesitation in identifying Muslim militants), ultimately betraying the trust in them. Even if one were to argue that some remain true to their missions – which is not necessarily the case – many definitely did not live up to the larger mission of our entire system: Integrity. The only way that democracy and capitalism, which is driven by personal gain, can survive is through a fundamental trust (which incidentally is stated in many financial company’s mission statements: Investments you can trust, “securities,” take Prudential’s “rock”).

Similarly with the current threat of global terrorism: The only way to successfully wage war against Muslim aggression and their assault on our core values is by crystallizing our higher calling and recommitting to our global vision and mission founded on the unshakable sanctity of human dignity and individual freedoms.

It surprises me that with all of our best minds at work during the past few years trying to find a solution to our global and domestic challenges, no one has suggested revisiting the initial “mission statement” of the United States of America – the driving ethos that gave birth in the first place to this mighty nation and created the climate for its thriving growth. This would be especially welcome now, as we are in the midst of a new Presidential campaign, nominating the candidate who will be our next President.

In the Declaration of Independence – which one can say is the USA’s “mission statement” – the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom (and apparent study of the past failed systems and governments), understood that the key to this country’s success lies only if it stands on a solid bedrock, an unwavering foundation: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

They did not make economic prosperity or complacency the mission or goal of this country. Free commerce and financial success is a symptom, not a cause of freedom. They clearly knew that the driving mission of this country must be based on the absolute Divine equality endowed on all human beings. Governments are instituted to secure and protect the Divine unalienable rights of man, not the other way around. This is the only basis of trust, freedom and all the components necessary to allow for healthy relationships, personal motivation and successful businesses. Without faith, without accepting higher authority that gave us all the gift of life and liberty, what is there to protect one greedy man from another? What is there to protect innocent citizens from a zealot?

Socialism’s argument against capitalism was always that we cannot trust people driven by personal gain and greed. Thus the need for deprivatization, eliminating all private property and ownership. The problem with this approach is that by the same argument we also cannot trust the socialists and the ones taking charge of the socialist revolution (as history has proven only too well). In days of old, a few monarchs controlled capital, with the same argument, that left on their own people’s self-interests will destroy them. But could we trust the monarchs? One could argue perhaps, that less damage is possible if we isolate the abuse to a few people than to many. But a contrary argument can also be made.

Regardless, all these arguments make it absolutely clear and necessary that the only hope for our institutions to succeed is fundamental integrity and trust. You can create all the regulating you like – as if the SEC was doing its job – but without a deeper sense of faith and the feeling that we have to answer to a higher authority, no system could be trusted.

All our experts must do – all that the President must do – is look at the money in their own pockets. Engraved on every coin, etched on every bill, are the words “In God we trust.”

The only antidote for human greed –and for religious radicalism — is the acceptance, respect and obligation to a higher calling, which in turn allows for trust of each other.

Our leaders today ought to simply echo and reiterate this nation’s original mission statement – declaring the core base of our union is the Divine gift of life that we were all given equally, that “In God we trust” and with that trust “E Pluribus Unum,” from the many, one, and we can thus trust each other, and become one despite our diversity. That without this common bond our system – our government, economy, politics and all our institutions – cannot endure. Without answering to a higher calling and authority, we will end up in the same place as so many mighty empires before us: History.

Our leaders must declare that integrity is good for business. Greed may work short-term, but can never endure.

Of course, this alone will not solve our problems. We need to rebuild (or create new models for) our institutions and structures. But without this essential trust – without the foundation – the structure cannot stand.

Any economic turmoil and turbulence surrounding us presents a unique opportunity to revisit our “point of departure:” Our initial missions. Which in turn allows us to realign our lives accordingly.

My suggestion to you, M., is to begin asking yourself: “What is my mission? Why was my soul sent down to Earth?” Though this may not be a short-term solution, I assure you that if you are persistent in your search, in time you will find your calling, and as you do you will become a happier person. Remember, you have joy inside of your soul. As a newborn child it was active. Then it may have retreated as you faced various challenges. But the happiness it is still in there somewhere. Perhaps locked, perhaps trapped – but waiting for you to release it.

Connect your active life to a deeper mission, reintroduce seamlessness into your existence, and you will begin releasing the joy within you.

What better time to begin than in this joyous month of Adar? Celebrate, sing and dance with others, celebrate with people who are connecting to something higher than themselves. Celebrate the joy of Adar, joy which transcends and “pierces all boundaries,” to the point of Purim’s joy, which is called “ad d’lo yoda” – unbridled joy to the point beyond consciousness; the joy deeply embedded in the subconscious soul.


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9 years ago

I appreciated the simple (but not easy) power of the response to the questioner. Yet I feel a fair amount of my lack of happiness stems from a flawed pursuit of the mission thats supposed to bring me joy. The very nature of free choice (which a child does not have) brings with it struggle to do the right thing, and feelings of inadequacy and self-condemnation when I fall short of fulfilling that mission. In some sense, happiness then becomes dependent on my perceived mission success rate. If I find time to learn, volunteer, focus on prayer (all parts of the mission), then I can feel happy. But to the extent I fail at these mission components, I often feel happiness to be elusive. And in any case, the struggle to exercise a free will that is constantly tested can leave me too spiritually and emotionally exhausted to truly be happy. I know enough to realize this isnt how its supposed to be, but curious how others deal with this issue on a practical level. Thanks…

Sylvia Hope Berman
9 years ago


8 years ago

I am going to take a teddy bear away. No, I am not sorry. Someone has to do a reality check .
Here are the facts :

1. Yes, not every new born baby is happy. Some children are born with health issues and deep pain . From a first moment , they must fight for their life. So, joy and happiness must wait.

2. It was a study done, or even several of them on DNA and if happiness is genetically controlled. The findings are suggesting to us, that genetically some of us are predisposed to feeling ” happy ” or not so much . The same way as some of us has a ” fat ” gen.

3. And ” no” , children do not learn how to be sad from adults. That is not correct. Children are not robots . Not only babies when they are hungry , they are feeling pain. That is why they cry. But many of children of different ages are still divine sensitive that they can be sad, only because they feel pain of a dying fish in their room, or a bee drowning in the water. What children may learn from an adult is how to suppress emotions, how to lie to oneself and the cost, the price of truth. Among other things. Also children are born with an idividual personality . Therefore with full spectrum of emotions and feelings. Astrology , be that Kabalistic, Western, Chinese and etc , is offering many inside on this subject.

Does it mean, that those who are not naturally ” happy ” based on their DNA are dumed? Of course not. The same way , as not everyone naturally are leaders, or have a terrific metabolism. However , this is a different conversation all together.

What I would like to suggest everyone one who reads this article is to ask a following question : what is the unltimite goal in life ? What is it ?

To find happines ? Truth? Fulfillment ? Meaning ? Etc…

Here is another fact for you : feelings and emotions are temporary in their nature. Eat a matzo ball soup, or chocolate and it will too make you happy for numbers of hours. And then what ? Same with joy, sadness and etc.

So, maybe the search for joy and happiness is not what we should be searching for. Think about it. Maybe the culture that we are living in is covering us with a vail of illusion . And we are losing ourselves in this fog of lies and games. Maybe that is why our search for joy and happiness has so much similarities with a dog who is chesing his own tale.

Same goes for a meaning. It shifs and changes. Based on the location ( culture ) and time and other variable, including the twists and turns of our life story.

Why , am I saying all these and taking my time and yours?

Because, I want you to become a sceptic. I want you to start questioning everything that was ever told to you. Look – if by now, regardless of your age, you are still ” searching ” for answers , then it means that something is not clicking within you. Not yet. Yes?

So, the first step is – to become sober. On every level of your being. We must become honest with ourselves . Go on detox – emotional, intellectual, spiritual. Unload. Be in ambiguity. And if you want to cry…To weep – go for it. Full speed. Those who do not know how to weep, will not know the joy.

Remember – that depression is a result of an unheard cry of a soul. And without given a voice to our soul and permittion to speak more likely the issues with joy and happiness will remain as a ” problem area” with any kind of DNA.

2 years ago
Reply to  Skeptic

We are always searching. To me it’s the search, not the finding, the questions, not the answers, that bring joy and vitality.

8 years ago

This article is brilliant and speaks to a lot of my concerns in the world. But I do want to respond to M’s “and some of us seem to be inherently despondent if not miserable.” I was those things and I thought that was my nature. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and my reality was a bleak, dismal word of exploitation, pain, deception, betrayal a prison relentlessly woven over time into my very tendons. I was despondent, disassociated, dejected, demoralized, decrepit and believed the disparaging adjectival litany was the truth of who I was. Basically, too much dichotomy, no inner peace or contentment as a child. I have come to realize that my depressed despondent self was a response to conditions, not who I am. It comes as a shock that I am none of those things I believed to be true about myself. I’ve had to dismantle that whole artifice and purge that toxic sludge. I could not conceive of goals, all seemed to me entropic disarray, rudderless and violent. Radical self compassion was how I built my mishkan in a tarnished vessel lined with crushed glass shards. I am still searching for my unique divine mission which I suspect has something to with sculpture, dancers, expressing embodiment and portrayal of the spirit in a body. Capturing the human form divine, as Blake would say, I have found dance to music the way I express joy and unity consciousness. It is also how I stay healthy and flexible and sweat toxins out of my body. I believe rhythmic attunement is important individually and collectively. Who knows? Maybe alkalinity is a presursor to joy. We are dynamic beings built for movement not stagnation and stultification. I think this is a brilliant article and I will have to reread it. I just wanted to take a moment to reach out to M because I understand her all too well. I have been there – lost my job, depleted my retirement savings, still struggling with a shattering within of which I have no conscious memory existing in the fragmented aftermath. I knew joy for a brief golden moment in my life before the light was extinguished and I groped long years in the darkness, determined to recapture that brief glimmer of light I saw at age 10 before I was plunged into a hellhole of despair. I asked G-d nightly to take my life because I couldn’t take the brutality anymore. Then I asked for help so I could find myself, where did that golden child go? I seemed to have some natural gifts but they disappeared. I’ve been working on this thing for over 30 years, 1/2 my life. Misery is not inherent. I always thought I was just a lethargic depressed person who moped, read lot and slept too much. I was a disconnected, depressed person with legitimate reasons for me to feel that way and once I stopped judging myself for being so lost and developed some self compassion things began to open up. All those cheerful people I saw in college, in the flush of youthful exuberance, looked to me like grotesque characters from a Fellini film. Laughing larger than life and ridiculously happy in their skin. I wanted to be like them. Then suddenly one day, last year, something cracked in me. That is what it felt like for lack of a better expression. And now there is more light, more movement, and when I am moved or inspired by beauty or music I take a moment to ask Hashem to come and dwell there with us, For me a good deal of the time that takes place on a dance floor. Me and some strangers in a room rhythmically moving together, that’s my prayer, that’s my temple. That’s where I go to build a better world. What I didn’t realize til just this exact moment is that I have been building a mishkan for 30 years. Before age 10 or so I felt Hashem as a palpable protective presence in my life. And then one day that connection was gone along with everything else that shut down. So I guess you could say my mission has been to build Him a mishkan so he could come and dwell there. I just didn’t realize there was inside me. Thank you for those five words that I now understand in a new and personal way.

Leibel not for publicstion
8 years ago

Tzadik in peltz? What if your sadness is caused ny the suffering of fellow Yidden eg Dafne Meir etc.

Very hard to have joy in the face of ongoing tragedies–notwithstanding the fact that sadness is not productive. At some point you have to screan ad matai! (Tonight an arab truck driver slammed into an Egged bus; providing klal Yisroel with more korbonos and more reasons to cry out in pain, rachmana ltzlan )

Aliza klein
5 years ago

Babies are happy as long as they get their needs physically and most important attention and love , if they don’t get that they will cry and die . As adults we looking for that needs to be fulfilled in our life and not always we are getting it , little that we know that this livelihood of love is inside us hidden waiting for us to be discovered, and all our needs are given to us by Hashem, air, water , food , but we are not aware of it , we are disappointed from betrayal from hatred from people , and than give up and become sad because we don’t have the unconditional love we use to have as babies, and not always we reach awareness of what is our mission in life.
we have to deal with the יצר הרע inside us, so being happy is a mission by itself. But if we realized the secret that; what we want to receive we must first give, we can reach happiness if we want unconditional love we should give unconditional love if we want money we should give צדקה etc. Shabbat Shalom

2 years ago

Pardon me, but I do not think it’s appropriate to tell someone who feels always sad and undeserving that he or she is “wrong” even if this person begs you to tell him so. You can say you have an alternate explanation or line of thinking.

Also I dispute your entering into what seems to me to be politics and your dislike of this current American President. That’s all I will say in this regard.

I believe strongly – and from my own experience – that dysfunctional homes and upbringings teach us to always live in fear and to be cautious about catering to our own needs. When our M can acknowledge his/her own beauty and needs, without guilt, M will experience joy and gratitude no matter the (Hebrew) month.


David Harold Chester
5 months ago

You are right to claim that children begin their lives with natural happiness and along with this they have great curiosity about their toys and other handabile objects, too. They explore them with their tongues and later, by using the better control of their hands. This is a very pleasing thing for most parents, but the next stage of childhood is not so pleasant due to the amount of attention they naturally receive. This is when they become very self-centered and even when there is a twin or sibling of similar family status, the situation then turns into selfishness, rivalry and jealousy. These natural changes are not anybody’s fault, it is how we all begin to grow up and accept the society in which we live and share.

I think that trying to use that early joyfulness to show our true nature is too simple an attitude. As we grow other less pleasant aspects should be included in the understanding of an older and more mature personality. People who seem to be happy all their lives (my brother being one), seem to me to be hiding some part of themselves. This has very pleasant sides to it, but it must also bring some unwelcome feelings too.

5 months ago

We should first decide whether this kind of discussion is about child psychology or the more adult kind. It seems to me that by taking a balanced viewpoint and sharing both aspects can be begin to better understand what REALLY makes us tick.
Change brings pain, pain brings suffering, suffering brings tolerance, tolerance brings thinking, thinking brings knowledge, knowledge brings understanding, understanding brings wisdom, and wisdom makes life bearable.

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