Tracht Gut Vet Zein Gut: How We Define Our Own Destinies

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One of the greatest questions in life is whether tragedy and loss forever controls and defines our lives? 

We are aware of the deep impact suffering has on us — it affects every aspect of our being. We also know that tragedy and loss are impossible to explain. The most brilliant mind cannot — and should not — speak to a bleeding heart. Humble silence is often the best “response” to pain. 

So the question looms: Despite unfathomable suffering, does your spirit have the capacity and resilience to transcend; not to just cope, but to thrive?

The answer is found in a powerful story. 

A man once came to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, imploring him to pray on behalf of his child who was seriously ill. The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “Tracht gut vet zein gut,” think good and it will be good. 

What does this mean? If the objective reality is a negative one, how can that be changed by positive thinking? Can our thoughts actually alter the situation for the better?!

The answer is: Absolutely yes! 

Why? Because each one of us is blessed with a pure, Divine neshama – soul – which always remains beautiful and pristine — like freshly fallen snow — regardless of what may come one’s way. Your true identity is defined by your G-dly soul, not by your experiences. You may have suffered, but you are not a sufferer.  You may have endured pain, but you are not pain. 

As such, we are told “think good and it will be good:” Even when things seem to be dire, do not allow yourself to be distracted and defined by the ostensible. Access the essential goodness in your soul — and that will define your reality. 

You and I do not control circumstances and events that happen to us, but we do have complete control of our attitudes and how we respond to these events. We cannot control the “what” — what happened; but we can totally control the “how” — how we react. When we “think good” we cause that “it will be good.”

This explains an apparent dilemma. It is a mitzvah, a commandment, to be b’simcha — each of us is obligated to be joyous and happy. But how can feelings be commanded, regulated? If we’re not in a happy mood, and for good reason, how can happiness be demanded of us? The question is compounded when we consider the possibility that some of us may, in fact, be wired with a happier disposition than others, and begs the questions: Does our wiring define our attitudes and personalities or do our attitudes define our wiring? 

Can our thoughts change our realities? Do our feelings shape our destinies? 

The holy Tzemach Tzedek teaches us: Yes! Our positive thoughts reveal the innate goodness of our very beings which in turn shape and define our reality and destiny. 

Once upon a time this could have been taken as a religious statement, primarily driven by emunah, by faith. Today, even scientific research points to the fact that our thoughts define our realities, as stated in numerous studies: neurons get wired by the way they are fired. Repeatedly thinking about something in a particular way, actually (re)wires our minds to follow that thought pattern. 

For instance, if you think negatively about yourself, your neurons get hardwired with a negative self-perception, and if you engage in this thought process long enough, that negative self-image projects and becomes a self-fulfilling reality. At this point you may not be able to distinguish between the initial thought and the reality it has created; the unfortunate habitual thinking has made it increasingly difficult to unwire the now distorted neurons…

Yet, just as we have become wired, we can become unwired. Through persistent effort we can refire our neurons and rewire them with new, positive, and upbeat attitudes. 

Quantum physics takes this to an even further extreme: We have the power not only to impact our neurons and self-perceptions, but the reality of existence around us as well! Indeed, many scientists argue that there is really no distinction between our thoughts and the reality around us. For example, if a certain event has never entered the realm of possibility in your consciousness, you will not be able to see it even if it is actually in your line of vision! 

The entire concept of reality is actually turned inside out: We tend to think there is an objective reality “out there”, we attempt to experience it, and then to comprehend it. The truth is that it is not reality that shapes our perception; it is our perception that shapes our reality. 

So, are we wired to be happy or to be sad? And do we control our wiring? 

Some people may indeed be predisposed to despondency (happily, others to joy) and if hurt and deprivation are added into the equation, it may seem that overcoming the dysfunctionality wired into our psyches is an exercise in futility. 

If we are bound by our wiring, like a computer dependent on its circuitry, perhaps that would be the case. However, we are much more than mere machines! Each one of us has a Divine soul, a beautiful neshama, by whose virtue we have the power to rewire ourselves, and to reshape even a very daunting reality. Besides the fact that many of our demons are our own self-destructive illusions, even the ones that have some objective reality are also in our control. 

Tracht gut vet zein gut

As one great master once said: Some people think “Why am I so sad? Because things aren’t working in my life.” The truth is that things aren’t working because you are so sad. People often believe that they are not happy because they have no joy in their lives. The truth is just the opposite! Through being joyous one becomes happy. 

And this comes to explain the ultimate question: Will this world ever change and actually realize the purpose of its being – a world filled with virtue and love, with no more injustice and pain? 

It almost seems like an impossible dream. When we witness the selfishness around and within us – with some researchers arguing that “the average human being is about 95 percent selfish in the narrow sense of the term” – you have to wonder how human inclinations will ever change? Of course, Divine intervention can achieve anything. However, we are told to not depend on miracles. How will things change naturally? 

Each and every one of us is affected by the attitudes and expectations of those who influence us, and ultimately by the expectations we have of ourselves. If one has been inundated with constant negativity since childhood, it is almost inevitable that she will follow her “script”.

I once asked an acquaintance what he looks forward to in life. I will never forget my shock when he shared his response, “I would be happy if life just didn’t hurt me. When a day passes and I remain intact, I breathe a sigh of relief and feel accomplished.” This individual was hurt so many times, that his threshold for “normal” and his expectation for happiness was simply: No damage. 

Dear friends, the good news is that within the disease itself lies the cure: Our attitudes and beliefs have the power to rewire ourselves and the universe—to actually raise the standards that we expect of ourselves. 

We are not doomed and we are not static. Each of us has a vibrant spirit, and with will power, persistence and good support, we can unplug, refire and successfully rewire our systems. 

Yes, we have the power to rewire ourselves—to rewire the very consciousness of existence. 

The world will change when we change our attitudes. Expect more of yourself and you will become more. Expect more of others and they too will become more. 

All it takes are a few individuals who will be truly “independent” and lift the expectations that we have of each other to their deserved place, and that is that we live up to the Divine image within ourselves. 

All it takes is you and I and a few other individuals. If ten of us can do it, ten thousand can. If ten thousand can, ten million can…

May we find it in our hearts and souls to think so good that we merit to usher in the most wonderful year filled with all the goodness, kindness, and blessings befitting a perfect world. 

May G-d bless each and every one of you with a happy, healthy, sweet new year.

Tracht gut vet zein gut. I promise. It will.

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