It was my oldest son’s bar mitzvah this past Saturday, and as is customary at our congregation, he prepared a d’var Torah — a brief sermon reflecting on what he learned from that day’s Torah reading. He centered his talk on two questions:
Can you command someone to be happy? Where and how do you find happiness?
I’m taking a break today from writing about supply chain and logistics to share with you his insights on finding happiness.
May we each find it, again and again.
Strike three. Three outs. Game over. We lost the championship.
Everybody who knows me knows that I am passionate about baseball. I’ve been playing it since I was five, on both Little League and travel teams. I love reading books about baseball (my favorite is Dustin Pedroia’s book), I dream about baseball, and every morning the first thing I do is check the scores and video highlights of the Major League games. I rarely leave the house without my Red Sox hat on, except of course, this morning, although I tried. But I did get to wear this cool baseball tie.
Two years ago, I was playing for the Little League Angels in the championship game. The year before, my team the Rockies had won the World Series and I wanted to win another championship. We were facing the White Sox, a team that rarely lost. It was a best of three series, and we had won the first game, and the White Sox had won the second. We had a great battle in that deciding game, but they beat us in the end.
During the award ceremony after the game, I received a trophy that read “Division Runner Up.” It was definitely the worst trophy I ever got.
Why would I want a trophy that showed we had lost?
My dad came over to where I was standing, and seeing the frustration on my face, said “Come on, cheer up, it was a good game.” But I didn’t want to cheer up. And the more he told me to cheer up, the less I wanted to. I just wanted to go home.
I remembered that game and the way I felt when I reflected on the first line of this morning’s haftorah portion: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold: I will dwell in your midst, says the Lord!”
But what if the Israelites weren’t feeling happy that day, like I was after losing the championship game?
Can you command someone to be happy, to sing and rejoice?
Can you just put on the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and just like that be smiling and having a good time?
I wish, but commanding someone to be happy doesn’t usually work, despite the good intentions of the person.
Over April vacation, my family and I visited Washington D.C , and we went to the National Archives where I saw the Declaration of Independence and read those famous words: that we are endowed by our Creator “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Who would have guessed that the Declaration of Independence would provide me with insight for my d’var, but it did.
You can’t command happiness; you have to pursue it. But where or how do you find it?
Believe it or not, psychologists and others have been studying happiness for decades, and what they found is that about half of our happiness is genetically determined — meaning out of our control — but there are also factors that we can control.
As Arthur Brooks writes in a December 2013 New York Times article titled, A Formula for Happiness: “It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness.”
Without realizing it, it turns out that I’ve been pursuing happiness all along.
This past fall, my travel baseball team raised money to combat hunger, a serious problem affecting many local families. I went door to door around my neighborhood asking for donations and I raised over $300. Together, all of the teams raised almost $25,000, which we used to buy carloads of food that we donated to four local food banks. We also worked at the food banks, packing grocery bags to deliver to families, which was a very cool experience.
Another path to happiness for me is Shabbat. On Friday afternoons, as part of my involvement with a community support group for the elderly, I’ve been meeting with Dr. Chris, a retired cardiologist, at his home and we play chess or Boggle together. We always have a great time.
Then at night, my family and I celebrate Shabbat together. We always have a good time, sharing hilarious stories about the week during dinner — if I mentioned one right now, I would probably burst out laughing. My family always keeps me entertained, from playing catch with my brother, to playing KanJam with my sisters, to all of us sitting together on the couch watching Survivor or a movie.
This coming Tuesday, the Little League playoffs will begin again. How will I react if my team doesn’t win the championship, or worse, if we don’t even make it to the championship game?
I’ll probably feel disappointed again. But what I appreciate now is that the trophy I received a couple of years ago wasn’t a trophy of disappointment or failure, but a trophy celebrating my ability to play baseball and my passion for it.
What I also know now is that happiness, like becoming a better baseball player, is something you continuously work toward, and as I step into adulthood, I’ll continue to pursue happiness through faith, family, community, and work.