A Different Kind of Happiness

Here is Teria Shantall’s answer to my question presented in the post “Is the Goal to Make People Happy?”

Dear Batya

I think the answer to your question is to distinguish natural happiness (as an outflow of good circumstances which in the case of the widow and orphan, have been disrupted or taken away from them) – what Rav Kook refers to – and happiness that is achieved exactly because the natural good circumstances that we all need in life have been disturbed. What then comes into play is a much higher form of happiness, or rather, the challenge to achieve it despite whatever the circumstances may be. This is where Frankl’s concept of happiness comes in. This is what he understands by the meaning of suffering. This is what we are all called upon to understand:

Happiness may have been the outflow of fortunate circumstances, something we just naturally enjoyed. In most of our lives, as early as in childhood, this state of bliss is rudely interrupted. What now? Is life unfair, have we got every right to complain: “why me? why has this happened to me? Why do I have such an unhappy past?” Here is the very human commission I wrote to you about in my last e-mail: that we are not just to experience the bliss of innocence, a paradise state of being where everything we need is nicely in place for us. We are to become holy that is, wholly informed as to what it is that makes us so happy! We are meant to come to know that as we search and study, long for and reach out to that which we feel we need but that through tragedy and suffering, in things going wrong, we wrongly believe we have lost. Fear, doubt, distrust, worry, these are all the obstacles we are meant to overcome. It is only when we are cornered by suffering that we are challenged to have what Frankl called unconditional trust in the unconditional meaningfulness of life! Innocence does not know what it has, holiness does! The knowledge of wholeness (the bigger picture of things) is the kind of knowledge we do not naturally have. This is a realization we are to achieve. And how do we achieve it? We are called to have a struggle of faith by wrestling like a Jacob did with the angel of death and disaster until we have a breakthrough into a much higher meaning dimension. This is the intention of our Taskgiver, the purpose He created us for and has meant for us, commissioned us to achieve. This is Judaism!

“I will question you and you will answer Me”, is what Hashem says to all of us as He said it to a despairing and disgruntled and unsettled Job. As we squarely face our issues, discern that we are challenged to overcome, that is, do something about what unhappily happens to us, in changing a tragedy into a triumph as Frankl formulated it, we gain a much greater understanding of the precious meaning of life to which we now actively commit ourselves. Our will to meaning has been awakened out of its slumber. We are no longer sucking happily and contentedly at the breast of life but have been challenged to become all that we were intended and meant – created to be!

What we do about our lives in the face of suffering brings us the joy of self-trancendence, a joy that lasts and is not dependent on having things go our way! Impassioned and enlivened to now serve Hashem, and Him only (in Frankl’s terminology: to realize our unique destinies by a life of great response-ability), we can also say, like a Job did: “Before I only heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eyes see You and I repent in dust and ashes (for ever doubting that You have only good in mind for me in whatever You allow to assail me and that makes me so miserably unhappy!)”

Who wants happiness if you can have a joy in living, no matter what? Happiness then, as Frankl says, is a come and go thing. It must be in its rightful place: a mere outflow of finding and fulfilling the meaning of your own life. To not care about happiness is the happiest place to be!

Our rightful place in terms of happiness is not the place where we feel we are entitled to it by being miserable if we do not have it. By our right and spiritually mature attitudes, it transforms itself from natural happiness to unnatural joy, that is, when we realize that it is not what we expect from life but what life expects from us, even in the very fires of affliction! What else, I ask you, is Kiddush Hashem?


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