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Staying Happy
Sonja Lyubomirsky is a research psychologist whose subject is happiness. According to her, when something good happens to us, even significant life changes, we tend to adapt quickly and return to the same happiness level as before.

Kennon Sheldon, a psychologist of the University of Missouri and a partner with Lyubomirsky in her research, divides the “happiness pie” into three sections: 50% is genetics, 10% circumstances and the remaining 40% is “intentional activity,” as he puts it. In other words, perhaps 60% of our happiness level is predetermined, but the remaining 40% is in our hands, by choosing our attitudes and response to things that happen to us.

Sheldon and Lyubomirsky both argue that maintaining happiness demands on a consistent daily regimen, just as our health depends on diet and exercise. They lament that modern psychological research devotes so much energy to negative psychological states and pays so little attention to how to achieve and sustain happiness. 

Lyubomirsky says that when she began her research, happiness was a vague and non-scientific concept. Today she has expanded it into a topic of serious scientific research, thanks to a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Her years of research have led her to the conclusion that most people simply do not make enough effort to be happy. “Habits like appreciation, optimism and generosity make people happier, but only if they practice them on a consistent basis.”

While science may have just begun tackling the topic of happiness, Jewish sources have long discussed the path to true happiness and fulfillment. The fundamental work of Chassidic philosophy, the Tanya, is also quite literally a “workbook,” teachings us how to master our thoughts and emotions.

The Tanya explains that we are fighting an inner battle at all times. One side is trying to draw us down and cause us to drown in self-pity and negativity. The other side wants to uplift us, to live our lives with passion, purpose and dedication. This is the battle between two wills—the evil inclination and the good inclination.

The book of Tanya lays out for us in concrete, practical steps how to avoid destructive attitudes that lead to depression, and provides a variety of spiritual strategies that lead to genuine life satisfaction. The ultimate fulfillment will be with the coming of Moshiach, when we will be freed of the bonds of the animal soul, who fights to make us fall and isolate us from our true inner self.

The letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are filled with advice to people in various circumstances, guiding them to always think positively, to transform difficulties into challenges that will lead to greater success and fulfillment.

This is a “great and powerful war,” as described in Tanya, which is necessary today not only from a personal perspective. With this approach we can continue moving forward together with all of humanity of all time, to lead us to the true and ultimate Redemption.


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