Blog Post


Parshat Sukkot: The Secret to Happiness – It’s No Secret

I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” he said “Grab your things
I’ve come to take you home”
-Peter Gabriel

Sukkot is the holiday of Happiness. The serious Days of Awe of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur have passed and now we are ready to kick back and relax in the Sukka with a nice cold Mike’s Hard Etrogade

Happiness is something everyone would like to achieve but too often remains elusive. So what is the secret, how does one get happiness, and is it such a secret? 

Not really. 

Nature is certainly a factor. Anyone who has more than one child will tell you that different children have different temperaments from the moment they emerge from the womb. Some are naturally more positive, upbeat and happier while others may be more serious, brooding and moody. 

But just because you may not have been born “happy” doesn’t mean that it’s out of reach. Just as physical strength can be attained through a regimen of working out with weights and exercise even though one was not born naturally strong, so too the happiness muscle can be developed.

The biggest challenge to Happiness goes all the way back to the first human and is quite symbolic of a flaw in our nature. Jewish tradition teaches that from the get-go, Man were plagued with being a kafui tov – one who denies good. Simply put – an ingrate.

This flaw first surfaced when God confronted Adam about eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam responded that “the woman that you gave me, she gave me from the tree and I ate it.” Adam was in essence saying that God was the real source of his sin. Had God not given him the woman as his helpmate, none of this would have happened. So rather than thank God and appreciate the gift of relationship, meaning and joy that a wife could bring, Adam turned it on its head and instead used it to point a finger at God as the source of his downfall and hence his Happiness in Paradise. 

The simple truth is that it’s impossible to be Happy and to be an Ingrate at the same time. It’s never good enough for those who complain, kvetch and take for granted the blessings and gifts that God has already provided. This miserable failing of Adam has been around ever since. 

So what do we do? If Happiness is a challenge to our nature and has been since Day 1, is there anything we can do about it? Yes. The key would be to try to undo and reverse the attitude of Adam and start by appreciating the gifts in our lives.  Jewish tradition trains us in this exercise through morning prayers and blessings by spending our initial waking moments every day to being grateful for what we have. The first words we say when we arise are basically, “Thank God I am alive!” We then acknowledge things that we too often take for granted and believe have coming to us. We do this by making blessing and thanking God for many of the gifts we enjoy but do not stop to appreciate.    

Nothing falls below the radar screen when it comes to gratitude, so we thank God that our ducts and tubes work properly after we use the bathroom. We all have experienced the pain and difficulty when they aren’t functioning right or are in overdrive. We thank God for our eyesight, for our clothes and for being able to walk upright. Ever have lower back pain? Yeah we thank God we can walk without being bent over.  Whenever we eat anything we make a blessing both before and after – basically saying, Please and Thank You for the delicious and refreshing different foods and drinks we consume and that keep us healthy and alive.  

Years ago I was checking out at Publix and the cashier was asking the bagging lady if she was going to buy a lottery ticket for the $100 million prize that the lotto had rolled over numerous times to become. (This was in the days before Powerball billion-dollar winnings vs. the paltry sum of $100 million.) I interjected and asked that if she would win the prize, would that make her happy? She of course said yes. Then I asked, “If you lost your eyesight and then someone came along and made you an offer: You can either have your eyesight back or $100 million, which of these would you choose?” “My eyesight!” she responded without hesitating. “So you see” I told her, “you just admitted that you already have an asset worth $100 million. I guess you should be happy now!” (Btw, the Jewish answer to that question is to get eyesight back in one eye and $50 million.)

We are all walking around with assets far more valuable than $100 million, but we forget that we have them. It’s all a question of revisiting this truth on a regular basis. Just like we take an inventory of our bank accounts and stocks on a regular basis, so too we need to take an inventory of our many other natural assets every day, and more than once a day.

So it’s really no secret after all. Happiness comes down to practice and focus on what we have.   

To help us reach this Happiness Nirvana is the holiday of Sukkot. On Sukkot we are asked to leave behind the normal trappings of the comfort of our homes and to reassess what we think we really need to be happy. We spend time in a much simpler setting, making sure that the roof over our head, the Schach, is not permanent and thereby appreciate that our security ultimately rests on the will of God as does our lives. 

In the Sukka we move from our homes filled with flat screen TVs, nice comfy couches and carpets, leave behind the iphones or ipads (I hope) and enjoy good food, drink and share meaningful conversation with family and friends. We look up at the stars and feel the protection of the Divine Presence overhead, reminding us that the simplest gifts in our lives are the most valuable. In the Sukka we step away from our house so we can finally come back home. Home to those things that our soul truly longs for. The warmth and love of family, community and God. 

Today I don’t need a replacement
I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
“Hey” I said “You can keep my things,
They’ve come to take me home”

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