I learned a lesson yesterday that is real good to share with my friends and acquaintances. Yesterday was a good day for learning lessons. It was Yom Kippur, a 24 hour fast. No eating or drinking and mostly prayers and spirituality. It is not easy to fast for 24 hours.
We were in synagogue (shul, as we call it) before the start of prayers. Of course, we have all sorts of people there. The rabbi and the president like a lot of air conditioning. They are comfortable with a thermostat setting of about 63°. Not everybody is happy with that. Mr. T sits next to me. He often comes equipped with a sweater and a scarf. Mr. I was asking the president if he would be growing icicles from his beard during the fast. While someone pointed to Mr. S who was fanning himself in a vain attempt to keep cool. I have long pointed out that it would be fine to agree that this is something we can never agree upon. Still, Mr. P insisted that it seems that some people will never be happy.
While we have this conversation often, I was wondering about the significance of the conversation on Yom Kippur. I remembered that the sages of the old said that Yom Kippur is one of the happiest days of the year. Now isn’t that strange? Would you be happy not eating for 24 hours? How could they say that? What can that teach us?
Fasting is much more uncomfortable even than sitting in a frigid room. It can be downright painful. The sages knew that. While they had their reasons for saying it was a happy day, it is painfully obvious that the discomfort of a growling stomach and low blood sugar does not impinge on the joy they foresaw. I mentioned it to my friends and wished them a happy holy day.
And I got to thinking. Discomfort and pain are not incompatible with happiness. Constant, consistent, great pain can sap the strength to savor or enjoy. But it is then the lack of strength that pulls us into depression. I have had clients that suffer from very painful memories, but report that they have happy lives (when they ignore or put aside the memories.) The trick is to compartmentalize the pain and the joy or happiness.
After all, every happy life includes pain and sorrow. Children are the greatest joy. But they also bring a whole lot of pain. Marriage is the most fulfilling kind of relationship for most people. It also can bring a special type of conflict.
I now know that relieving pain and sorrow is very different from building joy and happiness. Two different paths and processes. You can work on one and not the other or work on both. However, if you just try to relieve the pain, you still won’t be happy. If you just work on the happiness, it might relieve the pain, if the pain is not too great. If it is overwhelming, you need to work on both. Then you can achieve a deep, lasting happiness.
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