How A 90-Minute Seminar On Happiness Changed My Outlook On Life

How A 90-Minute Seminar On Happiness Changed My Outlook On Life

Why happiness is so hard to find, and how to find it after all.

Happiness isn’t just the smiley face emoji. Not even Laurie Hernandez mimicking the smiley face emoji. In fact it’s far from it. While it might seem like a silly question, perhaps “What is happiness and how do we find it?” is one of the toughest ones to answer. And maybe there isn’t just one answer. But it’s definitely hard to find.

In a Jewish seminar about happiness that I went to at my college, the Rabbi shared with us a frightening statistic: while murders have decreased nationally to a 51-year low of 4.5 for every 100,000 people, depression and suicide have increased. This is even more shocking given many of the greater freedoms we have today and the quality of life many of us enjoy. The Rabbi said, “We have life, we have liberty, but America’s been in the pursuit of happiness for 250 years and we still haven’t found it”. I can’t help but question why.

Humans are an interesting species. We’re the only ones who have a concept of time and it seems almost vital to our survival that we find meaning. A Holocaust survivor and psychologist, Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning a radical yet profound truth that he realized from his time in Auschwitz: circumstance and surroundings do not determine happiness. This man, set in the worst possible circumstances with no family and friends and a brutal quality of life, surrounded by Nazis who only wanted him to give himself up to the magnetic monster called depression and crowds of people who had succumbed to the pressure, CHOSE to be happy. Similarly, though to not as drastic an extent, my friend’s 96 year-old grandmother named Janice recently passed. While it has been psychologically proven that older folks are often bitter and lose their sense of meaning of life, her grandmother, like Frankl, chose happiness despite her age. She “did her face [makeup]”, played cards, and spent time with family, passing away over lunch. It’s not that she’s the epitome of a perfect human life and that all people have to be exactly like her, but Janice is a real, human example of that kind of person that I know I want to be, someone who can remain positive and happy regardless of circumstance.

It’s hard to be that seemingly perfect, positive, pleasureful person, though. The Rabbi told us that to achieve happiness, one should follow the 3 F’s: friends, family, and faith. He suggested that each should “Acquire for yourself a friend”. Not “make”. Not “find”. Acquire. The word suggests that friendship isn’t just something of leisure, but rather a vital necessity to combat the horrible depression and suicide statistic and prevent yourself from being a part of it. Antidepressant drugs cannot tackle the root of depression; they only create addiction. But happiness, true, pure happiness from friendship can remediate it at its core. Additionally, strong family ties and faith can help generate happiness. It’s the feeling of community and support which can really save lives. In fact, after showing us charts about the correlation between faith, comfortable though not necessarily excessive wealth, countries, and other factors with happiness, the Rabbi told us that the happiest person in America is a converted observant Jewish 5’ 10” Asian-American senior citizen in Hawaii. Life goals.

Another subject we discussed in the seminar was the concept of pain and pleasure. The Rabbi asked us if it was possible to feel both pain and pleasure, to which one girl answered that a triathlon satisfies both conditions. The opposite of pain and pleasure, he asserted, is being comfortable, is watching the triathlon or football game on TV while you’re lounging on the couch. This strive for both pain and pleasure, straying from what’s comfortable and finding meaning through it, can help us in our individual pursuit of happiness, too.

In our conversation on happiness, I wondered something. Viktor Frankl chose to be happy in the darkest time and he was able to know true joy because he was able to know despair. I’m a well-to-do, white American Jewish girl from New Hampshire who hasn’t had to deal with the tough times that Frankl or “little orphan Annie” have faced. I feel as though if I had experienced greater grief, then I would know greater joy. What’s so paradoxical about this concept is that when we struggle, we hope and try to raise our kids without that same struggle. But will that then prevent them from knowing the meaning of happiness? Since I am fortunate to have so many privileges, it’s not just my goal, but my duty to use them in a way that benefits others. Though I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if the tables were turned.

This entire piece might just be nothing more than a rambling sequence of my deep and confusing thoughts, but I wanted to end with an analogy that sums up my aim with this. The Rabbi told us a story of 2 mice who fell into a bucket of milk. One mouse gave up on trying to survive and became part of the suicide statistic the plagues the world. Yet the other chose to struggle, to kick his legs, and with every passing minute, he just told himself that it would be just one more. Eventually, his legs had churned the milk to butter, and he was able to walk on it and get out alive.

We can’t always choose our surroundings and circumstances, but we CAN choose happiness and survival. I often stress about an F on a test or having too much homework, and those aren’t invalid concerns. They’re definitely of a lesser magnitude than the grief experienced in the Holocaust or the death of a loved one, but sadness is relative and it’s okay. Yet what really matters is the struggle to get over that grief, to refrain from falling into the pit of depression and be really, truly happy. To be like the little mouse that could and to overcome.
Cover Image Credit: Kayla Steinberg

Popular Right Now

If You've Ever Been Called Overly-Emotional Or Too Sensitive, This Is For You

Despite what they have told you, it's a gift.

Emotional: a word used often nowadays to insult someone for their sensitivity towards a multitude of things.

If you cry happy tears, you're emotional. If you express (even if it's in a healthy way) that something is bothering you, you're sensitive. If your hormones are in a funk and you just happen to be sad one day, you're emotional AND sensitive.

Let me tell you something that goes against everything people have probably ever told you. Being emotional and being sensitive are very, very good things. It's a gift. Your ability to empathize, sympathize, and sensitize yourself to your own situation and to others' situations is a true gift that many people don't possess, therefore many people do not understand.

Never let someone's negativity toward this gift of yours get you down. We are all guilty of bashing something that is unfamiliar to us: something that is different. But take pride in knowing God granted this special gift to you because He believes you will use it to make a difference someday, somehow.

This gift of yours was meant to be utilized. It would not be a part of you if you were not meant to use it. Because of this gift, you will change someone's life someday. You might be the only person that takes a little extra time to listen to someone's struggle when the rest of the world turns their backs.

In a world where a six-figure income is a significant determinant in the career someone pursues, you might be one of the few who decides to donate your time for no income at all. You might be the first friend someone thinks to call when they get good news, simply because they know you will be happy for them. You might be an incredible mother who takes too much time to nurture and raise beautiful children who will one day change the world.

To feel everything with every single part of your being is a truly wonderful thing. You love harder. You smile bigger. You feel more. What a beautiful thing! Could you imagine being the opposite of these things? Insensitive and emotionless?? Both are unhealthy, both aren't nearly as satisfying, and neither will get you anywhere worth going in life.

Imagine how much richer your life is because you love other's so hard. It might mean more heartache, but the reward is always worth the risk. Imagine how much richer your life is because you are overly appreciative of the beauty a simple sunset brings. Imagine how much richer your life is because you can be moved to tears by the lessons of someone else's story.

Embrace every part of who you are and be just that 100%. There will be people who criticize you for the size of your heart. Feel sorry for them. There are people who are dishonest. There are people who are manipulative. There are people who are downright malicious. And the one thing people say to put you down is "you feel too much." Hmm...

Sounds like more of a compliment to me. Just sayin'.

Cover Image Credit: We Heart It

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Buying New Clothes Every Month Has Been The Key To Helping Me Become Happy With My Body Again

Loving my body in new outfits has boosted my self image so much.


Being body-positive has been really hard for me to do throughout 2019, despite there being an overwhelming surge in body-positivity around me, whether through my friends and family or YouTube. I look in the mirror and what I see is someone I want to make a jean size or two smaller like in the past. That being said, I've slowly been coming around to accepting the body I have now, instead of bashing it constantly. A key way I've come to accept the body I'm in now is through buying myself something new every month, like a new T-shirt or a pair of jeans or sneakers that help me see myself in a positive light. When I'm in a new outfit, I feel invincible. I don't think about how pudgy my stomach is, or about the hair I have growing in random places, like my neck or on my nose (yes, not just in, but ON too).

My bank account tends to suffer as of recently because of this, but it's worth it when I can genuinely feel good in what I am wearing every day. I like to wake up and think about how many outfits I can put together, ready to post my #OOTD for Snapchat without caring what anyone thinks. I've let social media dictate how I feel about myself more than I care to admit. I see how perfect all the models are in everything they're wearing from brands I know and love, yet when I try the same thing on, it's a whole different ugly story.

I don't enjoy trying things on to avoid the shame I feel when things don't fit me right, or if something that I thought would flatter me actually makes me look like a sack of potatoes. Instagram has really hurt my body image a lot — enough to make me delete it for a week after one post sent me spiraling. Going through those bumps made me finally realize it's not my fault if something doesn't fit. Sizes range depending on the item, it's the clothing items fault, not mine. Now that I see that, it's easier to brush off something not fitting me as it should. I know my size very well in the stores I frequent the most, so it's easier for me to pick out things I know will look good and not have to worry about the sizing issue.

Buying yourself something new is not something you should limit to every few months or longer. You shouldn't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone price wise every once and a while either. Coupons exist, stories always offer you them when you first sign up to receive emails and even texts. You can be crafty and still get a high price item for less. If you treat yourself to cheap things, you won't feel half as good as you want to. Granted, sticking to a limit is important but there's no shame in going over the limit every once and a while.

I love shopping as much as I love country music and writing short stories — a lot. Yes, I get yelled at almost every time I get something new. I need to save my money for important things, like for my sorority or for medical issues that could suddenly arise, or for utilities at my house next year off campus.

However, my mental well-being is not something I can ignore.

I can't push the good feelings aside to save 30 or 40 bucks a month. I don't want to feel as low as I've felt about myself anymore. I'm tired of feeling sad or angry at who I am, and I want to learn how to accept myself as I am. Buying myself something new, like clothes, is what offers a positive light to view myself under.

Whether you treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or to face masks, or to a new movie when it comes out — don't be afraid to do it. Put yourself first and you'll realize your worth and how much you've been ignoring it in the face of poor confidence.

My confidence isn't back up to where it used to be, but it's getting there.

It may not be the most cash efficient method of self-love, but my body positivity is better than it was a few months ago. Aerie and American Eagle have really helped me become happier with my body, and I can't thank them enough for being more inclusive for people like me who are learning to love themselves again in a new body.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us hoping to promote our own body positivity, and it could all start with a simple purchase from your favorite store after you read this.

Related Content

Facebook Comments