Jan 11, 2014

What Brings Us Joy?

Is human nature such that I can only enjoy something if it is unique to me?

A recent article in Family First quoted a teacher as saying that because our hearts contain evil, we can only enjoy something from which we derive the sole benefit.  Something that is part of nature, like the sun, can be enjoyed by everyone so it doesn't make us happy.

The article goes on to illustrate this with an anecdote about buying some nice clothing on sale for her daughters.  Her 11 year old was very pleased with her selection.  By the afternoon, she was looking downcast.  Why? Because five other girls had the same sweater and seven other girls had the same skirt.

Why did this take away the pleasure she had in her new clothes?

The author goes on to say that when one of her children brings home a note that says they were excellent, she has to refrain from asking how many other children got the same note.  She wonders why she should care? Why would it take away from her nachas if other parents are proud too?

The answer seems to lie, at least in part, in whether something is personal or not.  If an entire class was sent home with the identical note, saying that the child was excellent, why not write, "Dear Parents, I am pleased to inform you that the entire class was excellent today." By sending home a note highlighting the accomplishments of the individual, the implication is that the child stood out in some way.  If it turns out that every parent received that note, the message seems not quite honest.

With clothing, although often girls and women want to fit in and will wear similar clothing to others, they usually do not want to appear identically dressed.  It is an uncomfortable feeling for someone to show up at a wedding with something they carefully picked out, only to find someone else wearing the identical thing.  Why? Because Hashem created us in such a way that each face is unique.  Women consider their clothing as part of their appearance so when encountering someone wearing the identical item, they feel duplicated.

As for nature, I think many people do feel joy over a beautiful day, over flowers that are there for all to see, over a sale which will benefit many people, with a bonus even when other employees also received one.  Many are "generous" in that way, being happy even as others are happy with the same thing.  It's being happy for others when they gain something we need and don't have that's tougher for us.  Even though their gain is not our loss, it takes straight-thinking which affects the heart to truly feel this.

1 comment:

  1. For better or worse, praise does presuppose comparison, e.g., "rabos bonos osu chayil, v'at alis al kulana." Likewise, Chazal say "kinas sofrim tirbe chochmah."