The novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote, “Vocations that we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence.” If we do not pursue our particular call, then the ghost of that call will pursue us, like a haunting that stains our days.
For when you respond to cues that are not yours, when you’re a police officer instead of a painter, ultimately you can’t be happy. Happiness comes from being yourself in the most profound way possible. The ancient Greeks referred to happiness as eudaimonia. “Daimon” is the word for calling. You are happy only when you are responding to your daimon. Your daimon calls you to realize your Unique Self. Your happiness lies in your hands, if you would but take it.
To be happy, then, is to be responsive to the call of your deepest self. To be happy is to wake up in the morning and feel that you have a mission in the world that no one else can perform. To be happy is to know that among the billions of people on this planet, you are irreplaceable. This is true for every human being on the face of the globe, for what we share in common is our uniqueness.
The Western notion of the sacredness of every human life bursts from the bedrock of the biblical-myth ideas that bring forth the idea of the Unique Self. The prospect of happiness exists for us only because the call of Unique Self animates the Uni-verse.
A Paradigm Shift in Understanding Joy
Joy, teach the Kabbalists, is both a source and a conduit of energy. The word
most often associated in Kabbalah with joy is “chiyut,” roughly translated as “life energy,” somewhat like the Chinese notion of chi. To be happy is to be plugged into the chiyut of the Universe. The portal to that energy is the self, the vital Unique Self. At the same time, once you are plugged in, the joy itself is not only an energy source, but also serves as a medium to channel ever-more divine energy.
The idea of joy as divine energy is expressed by the Kabbalists in many different codes. Let me share one of them with you. A favorite epigram of the Kabbalists is simcha poretz geder: “Joy breaks through all fences.” Joy is more than an attitude; it is a potent and powerful source of energy. One Kabbalist, the master Simcha Bunim (whose first name actually means “happiness”), used this epigram to give a novel explanation of a famous mystical passage, “All the gates are locked, the gates of tears are never locked.” Traditionally, this verse has been taken to extol the power of a broken heart to break through all barriers when all other avenues have proven ineffective. When nothing else works, tears can still open all the gates.
In a subtle twist, Simcha Bunim turns the passage on its head: If you are sad, he says, then you can enter only if the gate is unlocked, already wide open. Thus, God has no choice but to leave the gates of tears unlocked. If you are joyous, however, then you can get through even the gates that are locked. After all, simcha poretz geder, “Joy breaks through all fences.”
The Kabbalists instruct us that happiness is a decision. In the original mystical language, this idea is expressed in the maxim, “The source of joy is binah [understanding].” The simple interpretation of that sentence tells us that happiness is accessed through contemplation. One reflects on life and death, sickness, and illness; what is permanent and real; and what is fleeting and illusory. An entire biblical-myth book—Ecclesiastes, or in Hebrew, Kohelet—is devoted to this meditation. “Illusion of Illusion, All is Illusion,” says the king named Kohelet, as he begins his Buddha-like quest for meaning. In the end, he reaches understanding/enlightenment as he finds the inner lining of reality to be made of joy.
The deeper interpretation, however, points to the nature of joy as a decision. “The source of joy is understanding.” If joy is a product of understanding, then it is no longer an option or an event or a feeling we await. Joy is a decision. It is a conscious choice. But it is even more than that. Joy is an obligation.
Your Unique Self
234-35 (In Press)
Dr. Marc Gafni