When I was a little girl, I remember the one thing that my grandmother would always tell me as we were about to part from one another. Her gentle eyes would look at me with the sorrow of a woman who saw too much in her lifetime, yet with the hope that I would be spared the horrors she endured in her younger years. "Just be happy," she softy said as she kissed me goodbye.
Compared to all of the other things adults would often say or ask of me, this seemed fairly easy. I mean, how hard was it to be happy when you were a kid? Life consisted of activity and play. People cooked for you, looked after you, protected you, provided for you....not a lot to complain about back then. I remember being able to find anything amusing. A jump rope and some chalk could entertain us for hours. Trees were climbed, 'fear' was just a word, and life didn't seem too complicated.
As I got older, happiness didn't come as readily. The less sheltered I became, the more I was exposed to harsh realities and the injustice and unfairness that often come with them. My happiness began to depend more on people than on nature and simplicity. The less connected I was with the earth, the more time I spent in my thoughts, and this disconnect, this thing that happens as we grow up is so fleeting, so intangible....that we can't put our finger on when exactly it starts to slip away.
Today, when I remember my dear late grandmother's words, "Just be happy, " I understand why it was so important to her that I seek this out in life. For her, happiness was not something that she was afforded for very long. As a Holocaust survivor whose happiness was cut short by unfathomable cruelty, her dreams, family and future were ripped apart. It is no wonder that the most important thing that she wanted to bestow upon me was to "just be happy." And yet this seemingly effortless thing--this happiness-- why was it so hard to obtain and hold on to? Why does happiness seem to be a constant pursuit?
Well, for one thing, more begets more. One of my favorite books is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. In his lovely book he tells the story of a little boy who loves to play with his beautiful tree. He is so happy playing with the tree. And then, little by little, he starts to grow up. He has needs and the tree graciously gives him all that he asks for. But after each visit he returns, only to ask for more. And each time he returns he is unhappier than when he left. Finally, there is nothing left for the tree to give him, so he sits on her stump, and finally rests.
There are so many interpretations to this story. Some see the little boy as a metaphor for humans and the tree as Mother Earth. Others see the little boy as the greed illustrated by today's youth and the lack of gratitude towards the tree is a reflection of how they treat their parents. Regardless, the story is a wonderful depiction of how we lose sight of the beauty and glory that is in front of us and seek gratification in what this beauty can 'do' for us.
Perhaps this is why my grandmother wished for me to "just be happy." Her youth was spent trying to survive war and persecution rather than learning how to process abundance. Her life experience and wisdom allowed her to see that the greatest wealth aside from health, was happiness. And that is what she wished for me, having seen the darkest side of mankind, she knew that happiness was such a blessing.
Taking the time to reflect on what really makes us happy is important for our own self preservation on this planet. Rather than seek the temporary comfort or crutch of the material, or the cursory glimpse of ownership, we should think about what makes us feel happy instead. For that answer, we ask the child within us. We remember the ease with which happiness came when we were young and explore those moments again. What do children need to feel happy? We search for freedom in activity, guidance and protection from those we trust, curiosity in each moment and love for one another.
The child within us is capable of happiness by leaps and bounds, and rather than count our belongings, we count our blessings.
Today is the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I wish you all a year of health and happiness. May it be peaceful, blissful and sweet in every way.