Are You Happy at Work?

Thursday, 8 January, 2015 - 12:42 pm

The Declaration of Independence of the USA refers to our inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed happiness is an integral ingredient for a healthy, functioning and productive life. The question is, where is this “happiness” to be pursued? Do we need to be happy or find fulfillment in every area of life? Can there be areas of life that simply serve as a means to fulfillment in other, more important things? Would it be considered ok if my happiness in those areas of life stemmed from the fact that they enable me to pursue other passions that give me happiness?

I recently had a conversation with a young man who is a successful professional. He works hard and earns well. He wistfully expressed that he would love to be more “happy” with what he is doing. His mother just retired from a job after many happy years where she was able to help people. This got him thinking about the kind of meaningful fulfillment he sought from his work.

I shared with him my opinion that one need not necessarily find fulfillment or happiness in one’s occupation. A job can be viewed as a way to fund and support one true passions in life where fulfillment can be sought and achieved. I suggested that he find another way to achieve fulfillment. Maybe involvement in a communal organization or personal volunteering in the work of chesed. In that model his job enables him with the means to find happiness elsewhere.

The Torah uses the expression that a job is the “work of the hands” as opposed to the head. What about a person whose job involves the mind and all the hands do is type at a computer? Obviously the Torah is not advocating that we engage solely in manual labor and eschew work that involves the mind. What the Torah is telling us is that “the hands being involved in work” means that work is a secondary aspect of life. It is a means to an end. For a Jew that end is serving Hashem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvot. That is where the “head” should be invested. A Chassidic Rebbe once approached a merchant who was lost in thought over the state of his rubber boots company. He said to him, “I have heard of keeping feet in galoshes, but I never heard of a head being kept in galoshes.”

Certainly we must do our jobs with integrity giving our all to ensure that we do the best job we can. But life is not about our jobs. It is about serving Hashem. When we are asked “What are you?” Instead of stating our professions (doctor, lawyer, accountant), the answer should be about where our passions lie. For a Jew, hopefully, that passion is Torah, Mitzvot and passing those values on to our children and others.

Getting back to happiness. Interestingly there is no Torah stated obligation be happy in every area of life. Rather the Torah teaches, “Serve Hashem with joy” (Psalms 100:2). So we need to be happy and fulfilled in our Jewishness. If, in turn, our relationship with Hashem is what defines our lives, then indeed we have achieved the “pursuit of happiness.”

Mazal Tov to Moshe and Ilanit Shargian upon the birth of their daughter, Alamah Rivkah.

Our condolences to Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall and the Black family upon the passing of Hannah’s grandmother, Bernice Black.

Mazal Tov to Gittel Nemes and her family upon the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah.

The new JLI course, The Art of Parenting is being offered in Metairie starting later this month. For more information or to register,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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