It’s really very simple. We all want the same thing. We just want to be happy. In fact, even our limited understanding of the next world is associated with happiness and pleasure.
But why is it that so many of us aren’t happy if it’s the one thing we all want? And even those of us who are often happy, why can’t we sustain that feeling, at least more often?
Because our power of imagination deceives us all the time. Maybe we’ll see a juicy hamburger and fantasize about how good it would taste, even though we ate dinner already (twice)! Or sometimes a teenager might try drinking when he sees how much fun his friends are having, despite his parents’ specific instructions to abstain and his near certain chances of being disciplined harshly. The power of illusion is so strong and it tricks us to pursue instant gratification as we forfeit our ability to reason.
So how do we fight back?
Rebbe Nachman says in Torah 25 that we need to fight fire with fire! Just like the power of illusion fools us to think we’ll be happy if we follow our fantasies, so too we need to awaken real joy in our devotions to Hashem. We all go through the motions anyways! Whether we’re very religious or not so religious, there are certainly many mitzvos we can do with more joy. Don’t we all call our parents, dress our kids in the morning and work to support our families? If we would arouse ourselves to be more joyous when we perform these mitzvos, we would weaken the illusions that lure us to grief. (Note that the Rebbe says we need to ‘awaken’ the joy, which means the joy is there already).
How do we excite ourselves in our devotions?
By using our brains! We need to think about what we’re doing. How many of us put on Tefillin every morning but never stop to think what it’s all about? If we would take a second to remember that we’re binding ourselves to the All-Powerful Creator it could bring us joy. How about when we make (or buy) dinner for the family? We’re so used to these things that they don’t bring us joy anymore. But can you think of a greater act of loving-kindness than nourishing children who can’t take care of themselves? And they don’t appreciate it either, so we’re doing it without an ounce of gratitude. That’s truly emulating our Creator and reason to be joyous.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes dedication and time. But unfortunately we don’t try hard enough because our fantasies just seem more enticing. Here’s my problem: We’re doing these things anyways and because we don’t concentrate, we end up unhappy and unfulfilled. If we would only invest a little thinking in what we’re already doing, we would be happier. Isn’t it worth it? After all, happiness is all we want!