We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Identify a deficit in your Ahavas Yisrael and plan one doable way to address it.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
איזהו עשיר, השמח בחלקו
Aizehu A'shir, HaSamayach B'Chelko
Perek Daled, Mishna Aleph Part 3
Story: (based on a true story)
To many people around me I look rich. I have six bright and energetic children, b'li ayin hora, who have two sets of involved grandparents, and a husband who brings home enough income for us to live nicely on. The thing is that I’m a glass half-empty person, which can rob you of everything.
My only daughter has many friends and lots of academic potential but doesn’t seem to be able to plan anything, including studying or an outing, and so often I can't see through the flaws to find her strengths because the flaws are so hard to deal with. Why can’t she be like every other teenage girl I know who manages to keep things together? My middle son has top grades but really deficient social skills, so it’s hard for him to keep a chavrusa. It doesn’t feel like I should have to deal with that. My husband often takes care of a lot of things around the house, but there are times when he just doesn’t and I was counting on him to help me out. Sure he had to work, but so do I, right?
When I took psychology back in college, I was taught about gratitude journals. Every day you use one page to write down five things you are grateful for that day. It helps you to focus on what you have instead of on what you don’t. I loved the idea, and when I got engaged the next year, I decided to do a combined gratitude and strengths journal for my husband and eventually for each of my kids. Every day I would write down three things I was grateful for about each one, either from that day or as a general trait.
I kept that journal on and off for the first two and a half years of my marriage and found it helpful and fairly easy to do. I had a great husband and a cute baby. Sure, she kept me up at night, but that’s what babies do, right? But when she hit her terrible twos six months early just after her baby brother was born and during my accountant husband’s tax season, I stopped writing.
I still don’t know if I stopped writing because I was too tired and had no time and that slid me into ingratitude and pessimism, or if I started becoming more pessimistic and lost patience for the journal. What I do know is that I ended up complaining to my husband at the end of the day instead of spreading nachas, and I found myself increasingly annoyed at my toddler.
She grew out of her twos, but I kept my attitude. Interspersed by short bursts of optimism, I became increasingly pessimistic, or, what I called pragmatic. Every phone call might be my daughter’s teacher asking if we should get her a new tutor or a coach so she could actually get her homework in, or my husband telling me he had to work late again. Every time my son walked in the door I expected kvetching about how nobody let him play at recess. And, while I was expecting these things, I was still annoyed about them when they happened. My internal monologue became, “What now? Why me?”
About a year ago, we cleaned out the basement so we could put in a room for my daughter down there and split up the three boys upstairs. In a box in the corner of the closet I found a stack of my old notebooks, so I started flipping through, amazed at all the things I used to know. Four notebooks down, I found my gratitude journals.
There were three, and tucked into the end of the oldest one was a letter I had written to my husband at the end of shana rishona listing for him all the great qualities he had. I remembered writing it after I’d been annoyed at him for a day or two for some slight or misstep he often made, in order to smooth things over both between us and remind myself about what I had. It had worked brilliantly, and I reread the response my husband had written at the end, thanking me for seeing him in such a positive light.
How often did I tell him the strengths I saw in him now? And my kids, how about them? And how often did I stop to think about their strengths, other than when I was trying to get them into schools? What happened to the person who had written these journals?
I flipped to the end of the most recent one. I was tired, very tired. I was stuck in my house and missed my shiurim, my job, my friends and my volunteering. When I had gotten back into all those things and regained a semi-reasonable sleep schedule, the attitude stuck.
So what could I do now? I went out and bought myself a journal with a pretty hard-cover that made it feel important. It was also small enough to carry in my purse. Then I made myself a reasonable goal. Once a week I would write two positive things about each member of my family that I appreciate and for which I am grateful. Sometime during the following week, I would compliment or otherwise acknowledge that person for one of those things, and then check it off. In return for doing this each week, I treated myself to sushi for lunch.
It’s amazing how a journal can change your life. Even if I am not in a positive mood, in order to complete this task I must be on the lookout for positivity. So I search for the good in my kids and husband before looking for the bad. And, I find it. Seeing them positively helps me to deal more rationally with their shortcomings, which I still find annoying but not as much as before. I can concentrate on helping them to be the best version of themselves instead of trying to make them into someone else. It lets me love what I've got and feel like my life is full of good things.
My kids have noticed the change in me, and I have seen a positive change in them. They are happier with who they are when I am happier with who they are. And it’s so much easier to both love and like them now.
Of course there are more difficult times and incidences. Usually when it happens I can find the source not in what has happened around me but in me. Often I simply need more sleep, so I either find a way to get it or repeatedly tell the little ball of negativity trying to expand that the lack of sleep is the problem, because HaShem has given me the right life and I feel strong enough to take it on. If my emuna is slipping, I find a way to get myself to a shiur or to learn on the phone, and if I need a little time to myself I either make it work or remind myself that while I may not have chosen every family member I have, HaShem did.
Stabilizing my inner world seems to make all the difference in how I see the world around me. It’s an ongoing struggle, but it’s worth it, because I and my whole family are happier and richer for it.
"בן זומא אומר: ...איזהו עשיר, השמח בחלקו..."
"Ben Zoma omer: ...Aizehu a'shir, hasamayach b'chelko... ."
"Ben Zoma says: ...Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion..." (Perek Daled, Mishna Alef).
"One who is happy with his portion." This is a good description of a happy, satisfied person; is it accurate to say he is wealthy? The answer is yes, for wealth is measured not by how much one possesses but by how little one lacks.
Our sages teach us that “no one leaves this world having fulfilled even half of his desires” (Koheles Rabba 1). The more a person has, the more he wants. A person in dire poverty longs for a loaf of bread. A person who is financially well established yearns for a more elegant home. A wealthy person feels that he lacks millions of dollars. If attaining money causes a person to feel ever more what he lacks, then, paradoxically, the more money he has, the poorer he is.
How can a person grow truly happy with his portion? The Chafetz Chaim explains that the answer is implied in the mishna’s language, “One who is happy with his portion.” Every individual has his own task, role and destiny.
True wealth is attained by the individual who recognizes that HaShem has allocated him his proper portion--no more and no less. Such a wholesome attitude is based on the unshakable belief that HaShem compensates every individual equitably for his efforts.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are some common reasons we aren’t happy or satisfied with the people in our lives?
What impact can a person who is not satisfied with someone else have on that person?
Besides a gratitude journal, what can we do to improve our positivity about others and our circumstances?
Stretch of the Week:
Write down two things about someone in your life for which you are grateful. If possible, tell that person at least one of the things for which you are grateful.