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The Secret to True Happiness is the Present

on Friday, February 24 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Last week, while in NY on the BRS Men’s Club trip, I was very taken by something in the subway. On this particular subway car, there were three ads in a row that all revolved around the same thing – happiness. While marketing different things, all three ads tried to leverage people’s general unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life. Each one used the same tactic, ‘Are you searching for happiness? Buy our product.”

Most of the planet is consumed with the pursuit of happiness, but unfortunately many spend their lives in pursuit without actually ever catching that elusive feeling. We have just begun the month of increased happiness, mi’shenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha, when Adar enters, we seek to promote the feeling of happiness.

There are many aspects to achieving happiness and it would be a gross oversimplification to reduce it to one thing. That said, I want to share one insight.

Harvard Professors, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert published a study in the journal, Science, in which they found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing.

Happiness is a direct correlation to our peace of mind. Living a distracted, fragmented life filled with mind-wandering and lack of focus is the source of people’s unhappiness, they argue. The more present we are in that which we are doing, the more focused our lives, the less tension we feel and the result is greater happiness.

There are many important and critical applications one can extrapolate from their study, but in this limited space I want to share just one. I have received significant feedback lately about people’s dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the 9:00 am Shabbos minyan. And so, I tweeted and facebook-ed the following question “How would u shorten shabbos morning davening within halachik boundaries in an effort to make it more enjoyable and meaningful?” Surprisingly, I received more responses and comments from this post than I have for any other I have written.

A meeting of the Gabbaim and Rabbis was held in which many great conclusions were reached and later approved by the Board of Directors as to how we can improve the quantity and quality of the Minyan. I look forward to sharing them with you and implementing them soon.

However, it occurs to me that the greatest factor determining the quality and meaning of our davening experience cannot be provided by the Chazan, Gabbai, Rabbi or anyone else. Yes, those individuals contribute to the davening experience, but ultimately whether or not we find meaning in prayer is a result of our ability to focus, shut out distraction and concentrate.

Happiness and satisfaction in davening is the same as in life. It requires us to be present, focus and engaged. We all have to work much harder to decrease and eliminate the conversations during davening and supervise our children so that they are not ‘trick or treating’ throughout Shabbos morning.

I received an impassioned email from a beloved Congregant this week asking me to help improve the decorum in Shul. He can’t understand how those around him take prayer so flippantly and casually. He ends his email by saying the following (shared with his permission):

“I wanted to ask those around me: Do all of you have perfect health? Do all of the members of your family have great health? Do you and your families all have jobs and parnasa? Do you all have food on your table? Is your house safe and not in foreclosure? Is our Israel perfectly safe in this mad world? Is our own country safe by what is going on around us? Are the Jewish people safe where ever they are?”

“I cannot speak for others,” he writes, “but our family has been through some of the worst situations we could have ever imagined over the past few years. If it was not for prayer I personally would be in the other world as the stress level was at an all time high.”

Let’s fill the month of Adar with simcha, by being present in all that we do, and let’s work especially hard in focusing in our davening, rather than those sitting around us.

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