Prayer as a Path to Happiness

What if every religious ritual were intended to increase our personal happiness? Would you be more apt to do it?

Yesterday I joined my kids for their monthly learning with our synagogue rabbi (Rabbi Aaron Bergman, same main character from yesterday’s blog), and he had prepared a packet about how he views the purpose of Judaism as to increase personal happiness.

Ok, I was listening. I never saw it that way. In fact, I had seen many of the required Jewish observances as, frankly, a burden over the years.

I listened intently, waiting for his argument to change my mind. And it did.

The first blessing of the day, modeh ani, recited upon waking in the morning, is an attempt to set the tone for the day with an “attitude of gratitude,” he said. The words thank God for restoring our soul to our body overnight, and giving us a new idea.

Fair enough. That’s an amazing way to begin a day.

There is a prayer for after we go to the bathroom which, he posits, shows just how amazing the human body is. Amazing being a key word – every little detail of every little day is amazing.

And the best part of it is that all we are required to do is be ourselves. All day long, in every moment, authentically and real. Just be who you are – not the person next to you, not a thinner version of yourself. Just you.

If you can do that, you’ve succeeded. And if you can focus on that, you’ll be happy.

Well, it sounds really easy … because it is. And the thing of it is that I can see these many prayers in a new way. Elevating moments. Recognizing the meaning in the mundane.

I used to say that I write about how people find meaning in the mundane – and yet, I don’t think I was quite living it. I was watching other people do so. I was writing about the remarkable little moments in other people’s lives.

Without noticing them in my own.

So here are some:

Yesterday the sunshine warmed the winter. Stepping outside, I could hear the freshness, smell the crispness. I loved the entire day, and I stepped into the elements several times.

Every night, my little guy quietly walks into my room and slides beneath the blanket next to me. The other day, he walked up behind me during the day and threw his arms around me in a spontaneous hug. Such unbridled love, what a gift.

Saturday night, the four kids accompanied me to the mall. On the way home, we were just talking, nothing important, nothing huge, and it ended up in laughter. The sound of my children letting loose into flowing laughter…sublime.

I could go on. A simple meal made with fresh food that we enjoy together at the kitchen table. Teachers at my children’s school who care so deeply about educating our kids. A bike ride on a summer evening, when all you are doing is traversing city streets but somehow it transforms you, calms you, energizes you, all at once.

There are miracles all day long, frankly. And we don’t really spend time noticing.

Instead, we run from point A to point B, complaining, whining, stressing over all the little to-dos. I explained to my big boy last night that while I think I know what today holds, it may change and I have to change with it.

That’s how life flows. It just happens and if you walk through it with gratitude all day long, you are happier.

If you notice the moments, the little things, the gifts in every breath, you’re even happier.

So I bought into the rabbi’s notion hook, line and sinker, and I am grateful for it. No longer a burden, my tradition is now a gift of noticing, an easy path to total happiness.

If you want it to be.

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