In the Pursuit of Happiness or of Meaning? What constitutes - the Good life
Tanya White


The Edythe Benjamin 
beloved mother of Barbara Hanus
Rosh Hodesh Elul Torah Essay

 

 

Elul 5777

In the Pursuit of Happiness or of Meaning?
What constitutes
- the ‘Good life’

 

Tanya White lectures in Philosophy and Tanakh throughout Israel and abroad.  She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Jewish Philosophy at Bar Ilan University.  She is a graduate of the Matan HaSharon Ayanot programme. Her search for an authentic and honest approach to Torah and contemporary issues through the prism of Jewish thought can be viewed on her blog-page www.contemplatingtorah.wordpress.com. Tanya is the proud mother of four inquisitive and vivacious daughters and lives with her husband and family on a Moshav in central Israel.

 

In the Pursuit of Happiness or of Meaning?
What constitutes
- the ‘Good life’

Introduction:

There is a famous adage in Hebrew - 'yeladim ze simcha'. I sometimes wonder who coined this phrase -maybe someone who doesn’t have kids!? When they're screaming, moaning, causing no end of troubles in their teenage years, is this really true? The answer of course is yes because children are often the greatest meaning we have in our lives. We invest the most in their upbringing, we sacrifice repeatedly for them giving up immediate pleasures for the benefit of a long-term gain.  Children are our happiness, but what does happiness mean? Today it has come to be equated less with meaning and more with hedonistic or narcissistic pleasure.

When we wish people a Shana Tova it is usually accompanied by 'a happy, healthy year'.  But Shana Tova doesn't mean happy it means ‘good’. What do we mean when we say good? What is the 'good life’? This is the question Socrates asked in ancient Greece and Shlomo Hamelech asked thousands of years before. Are happy and good the same thing? What do we really wish for our children when we say, 'we just want them to be happy'? What does happiness mean and should it really be the goal of man?  We live in a generation that is obsessed with happiness, the amount of self-help books with the title happiness has skyrocketed.  In a world where happiness has become the supreme value there are significantly fewer people who are actually happy. Why is this? What are we doing wrong?

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