Happiness Despite Challenges

Dear Rabanit Cohen,
I recently attended your incredible and eye-opening shiur on modesty and David Ha’melech. As you spoke about his life, I could not help but feel that David had a sad life filled with so many obstacles. I know that as Jews we are supposed to always be happy, but when I look at myself and my life I see no good reason to be happy. On the contrary, I have plenty of reasons to be very sad. Am I supposed to be able to just switch on happiness from one moment to the next – because that is virtually impossible.


Dear Reader,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write and for attending the shiurim. I am sorry this is the way you feel about your life and I will try my best to provide you with a satisfactory answer to your question.

While it is true that many of us face heavy challenges in life, feelings of despair are understandable. But we can turn our situation around. Happiness is never beyond our reach. This is because happiness is the natural human state. Notice a young child. Children do not need to learn strategies for positive living, nor do they require a reason to be happy. They need a reason to be sad. If a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” If he laughs and plays, we do not ask, “Why are you happy?” A child is happy by default.

Somewhere along the line however, things change. We grow older and become more demanding, harder to please, and we lose this childish contentment. We become jaded by life’s disappointments thereby feeling that we need a reason to be happy. In this generation, if you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you wonder, “What’s wrong with him? What is he smiling about?”

The difference is that a child is not self-conscious. They are free to be happy because they are not yet aware of themselves. It is only when we mature and become more self-conscious that we also become more self-absorbed. We have worries and concerns, unfulfilled desires and unrealized dreams. None of us can honestly say we have it all, and we can always find reason to be upset. But a child is not bothered by what he is “missing,” so he does have it all. The child’s lack of self-consciousness leaves him free to enjoy life and be happy.

The more we are concerned with our own happiness, the farther we are away from achieving it. As soon as we forget about what we need and instead focus on what we are needed for – the good we can do for others rather than the good we can get for ourselves, we will feel real joy flowing back into our lives.

I always said that to be truly happy, you have to possess a high level of emunah. Why do we use the term Emunah Shleimah – complete faith? Complete faith means that we have faith that our picture, the way our life appears at this very moment, is complete, it is shalem. And when something is added to this picture of life, it is once again a renewal of that completeness; for there is nothing missing in Hashem’s picture of our life. It is all good; and it is complete when we have emunah and it shalem.

The problem begins when we play G-d with our lives and decide what the perfect picture of happiness and completeness means. Only Hashem has that right. But when we take over as masters of our own lives, and deem our life as sad or unfulfilling, we can never reach an exalted level of happiness or emunah. Happiness comes from faith and from the learning that everything you have is indeed perfect for you right now. And as things change in your life, they continue to be perfect.

If you will ask, “If this is the case, then why try harder? Why daven at all?” The answer is because part of emunah IS hishtadlut in areas of life that we know could help us achieve our purpose to the highest degree possible. You are allowed to ask Hashem for a shiduch because you want to bring children into the world so that they will serve Him in the most dignified manner. This does not take away from you complete faith in your current picture. You are only asking Hashem that if it is HIS will that you should be the vessel by which to bring a child into the world, that you would appreciate that. Hashem has to hear the words, “If it is YOUR will, then it is MY will.” When you do this, it melts the heart of Hashem and in His great mercy He bestows you with your wish.

When you do the will of Hashem and show complete faith in HIS will, you are displaying a great deal of loyalty and devotion. You want a husband, children, financial security – this is YOUR will, but Hashem’s will is different. When you show Hashem that HIS will overrides YOUR will (a necessary item in faith) – He will override HIS will for YOU.

Happiness can come when you simply let go of YOUR wants and start to live a life of completeness and B’ezrat Hashem when Hashem sees how you are surrendering yourself to HIS ratzon, and that you have done so happily despite the pain and sadness you feel – He will provide you with YOUR ratzon.

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