Tag Archives: Happiness

Book Review: Happiness and Other Small Things of Absolute Importance by Haim Shapira, PhD

The Book

This book has quickly become one of my favorite books. In it, the author, Haim Shapira, renowned philosopher and game theorist, challenges a number of concepts that we generally take for granted and gives us a whole new perspective on them, while providing us with a fresh canvas to reconstruct our take on it.  Shapira, explains that life can take us on one of two divergent paths, the natural path and what he calls the path of grace. The natural path may be easier but is far less fulfilling. In this book he gives us some tips to revisualize what we may take for granted when on the natural path of life. 

The author quotes liberally yet within context from a range of humans spanning from Shakespeare to Spinoza and King Solomon to Julia Roberts as well as non-humans including Pooh and The Little Prince 


Some of the key takeaways I learned from the book include:

  • On Happiness: Happiness does not sustain itself indefinitely, there is no such thing as someone who is always in a state of happiness, unless they are crazy. Happiness can be a moment, a day, a week or even just a memory.

  • There are countless guides printed promoting a solution to achieve happiness. Shapira explains that the secret is that there isn’t  one way that will make everyone happy, everyone has their own unique thing that makes them happy. Moreover, many people in fact do not even know what makes them happy.

  • On doing nothing: Have you ever tried doing nothing? Thinking  about nothing? Have you tried doing nothing and not feeling guilty about it? You are not alone, but this may be the key to happiness. Shapira explains that Pooh was most happy and all he did was essentially nothing. The idea is not to do absolutely nothing, but to balance your busy life, with moments of self, just for you.  – I think if practiced correctly this can be incredibly powerful.

  • Anger: Quoting from Spinoza, Shapira explains that if you would get angry at someone and then forgive them 30 minutes later or 30 years later, it was wasted anger and you should’ve just forgiven to begin with. Anger is punishing yourself for the stupidity of others, just forgive them. 
  • Love: Love cannot have strings attached. It cannot be based on “because of” and “thanks to” but must include “in despite of” as well. 

Quotes I Appreciated

  • “If we had no faults of our own, we would not take so much pleasure in noticing those of others” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld
  • “When we talk to God, we’re praying. When God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic”
    Jane Wagner 
  • “Pessimism is usually an expression of intellectual laziness” – Colin Wilson

Overall Thoughts

As a final note, I feel this book would have been great just as a chapter on happiness. I felt strongly like the subsequent chapters, became a commentary of sorts on The Little Prince. Regardless, the lessons learned in this book, if taken seriously, will help you turn the page to look at life and our world completely differently.

Happiness and Other Small Things of Absolute Importance can be purchased at Amazon.com

Focused Laughter

Berachos 31

מר בריה דרבינא עבד הילולא לבריה, חזנהו לרבנן דהוו קבדחי טובא. אייתי כסא דמוקרא בת ארבע מאה זוזי, ותבר קמיהו, ואעציבו. רב אשי עבד הילולא לבריה, חזנהו לרבנן דהוו קא בדחי טובא. אייתי כסא דזוגיתא חיורתא, ותבר קמיהו, ואעציבו.

The Gemara relates: Mar, son of Ravina, made a wedding feast for his son and he saw the Sages, who were excessively joyous. He brought a valuable cup worth four hundred zuz and broke it before them and they became sad. The Gemara also relates: Rav Ashi made a wedding feast for his son and he saw the Sages, who were excessively joyous. He brought a cup of extremely valuable white glass and broke it before them, and they became sad.

A bit further the Gemara tells us: 

תנו רבנן: אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך עצבות, ולא מתוך עצלות, ולא מתוך שחוק, ולא מתוך שיחה, ולא מתוך קלות ראש, ולא מתוך דברים בטלים, אלא מתוך שמחה של מצוה.

On the topic of proper preparation for prayer, the Sages taught: One may neither stand to pray from an atmosphere of sorrow nor from an atmosphere of laziness, nor from an atmosphere of laughter, nor from an atmosphere of conversation, nor from an atmosphere of frivolity, nor from an atmosphere of purposeless matters. Rather, one should approach prayer from an atmosphere imbued with the joy of a mitzva.

We see from these statements that at times one should avoid excessive happiness, yet one should daven from a place of happiness and joy.

The Chumash in Devarim tells us that we would get Klalos because we did not serve Hashem with Simcha. 

תחת אשר לא־עבדת את־יהוה אלהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל

Because you would not serve the LORD your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything.

The Gemara in Shabbos 30b tells us:

אין שכינה שורה לא מתוך עצבות ולא מתוך עצלות ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך דברים בטלים אלא מתוך דבר שמחה של מצוה

The Divine Presence rests upon an individual neither from an atmosphere of sadness, nor from an atmosphere of laziness, nor from an atmosphere of laughter, nor from an atmosphere of frivolity, nor from an atmosphere of idle conversation, nor from an atmosphere of idle chatter, but rather from an atmosphere imbued with the joy of a mitzvah.

We see that there is prime importance in Simcha and acting in ways of Simcha. 

Why where they breaking glasses at weddings? Why did the Tannaim want to limit the Simcha at their own weddings? When are we meant to be happy and when are we meant to be sad?

We find in Melachim that the Jewish people had a well-deserved Simcha during the time of Dovid Hamelech.

ביום השמיני שלח את־העם ויברכו את־המלך וילכו לאהליהם שמחים וטובי לב על כל־הטובה אשר עשה יהוה לדוד עבדו ולישראל עמו

On the eighth day he let the people go. They bade the king good-bye and went to their homes, joyful and glad of heart over all the goodness that the LORD had shown to His servant David and His people Israel. – Rashi tells us that a Bas Kol came out and said everyone is gonna go to Olam Haba. 

They had a very good reason to be happy. 

However  one can be happy for not such lofty and spiritual reasons, as Rambam writes: Shevisas Yom Tov 6

כשאדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל לא ימשך ביין ובשחוק וקלות ראש ויאמר שכל מי שיוסיף בזה ירבה במצות שמחה. שהשכרות והשחוק הרבה וקלות הראש אינה שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות ולא נצטוינו על ההוללות והסכלות אלא על השמחה שיש בה עבודת יוצר הכל שנאמר (דברים כח מז) “תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה’ אלהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל”. הא למדת שהעבודה בשמחה. ואי אפשר לעבד את השם לא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך שכרות:

When one eats and drinks on a festival, he should not be drawn after wine,joking or light-headedness, and say that the more one can increase this, the more it enhances the commandment of joy. For drunkenness, much joking and ligh-headedness are not joy, but rather wildness and foolishness. And we were not commanded about wildness and foolishness, but rather about joy that has service to the Maker of everything. As it is stated (Deuteronomy 28:47), “because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and with a good heart, from abundance of all.” Thus you have learned that the service is to be with joy. But it is impossible to serve God, neither from joking,  lightheadedness nor drunkenness.

We see a clear discernment between the two types of Simcha. A simcha of Avodas Hashem and a Simcha of Holelus, frivolity. When one is happy from serving Hashem with joy, it is encouraged. The moment, the Simcha becomes excessive and is no longer L’sheim Shamayim, we are afraid it would lead to frivolousness and inappropriate behavior. At this point, the Chachamim felt they had to do something radical  to get everyone to their senses. The Gemara does not mean that they became sad, but rather they toned down their happiness from an over-elation towards a proper balance of Ruchnius and Gashmius.

The Gemara teaches us that there will come a day when we will be able to have unlimited Simcha.

אמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יוחאי: אסור לאדם שימלא שחוק פיו בעולם הזה, שנאמר: ״אז ימלא שחוק פינו ולשוננו רנה״. אימתי, בזמן ש״יאמרו בגוים הגדיל ה׳ לעשות עם אלה״. אמרו עליו על ריש לקיש שמימיו לא מלא שחוק פיו בעולם הזה, מכי שמעה מרבי יוחנן רביה.

May we merit that day very soon.