Happiness A-Z

by Excerpt by Haim Shapira, intro by Natalie Jacobs August 1, 2016


HappinessAndOtherSmallThings_minijacket (1)Happiness is one of those words that’s used all the time but it’s easy to wonder what it really means. Can it be measured in smiles? Compliments? Laughter? For its World Happiness Report, the United Nations uses surveys to explore how people feel about their quality of life. The most recent report came out this year and ranks 157 countries. To the extent that the United Nations can define happiness, Israel ranks number 11. For some context, the United States is listed at 13, and Israel’s neighbors all fall well into the bottom half of the rankings: Egypt, 120; Lebanon, 93; Jordan, 80; and Syria, 156.

For his part, Israeli academic and best-selling author Haim Shapira takes a deeper look at the subject in his latest book “Happiness and Other Small Things of Absolute Importance.” Here for the San Diego Jewish Journal is an excerpt to further define the elusive state of mind, and to possibly help you arrive at a state of happiness more often. Apparently, being happy would be so Israeli of you.


A. Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life.

B. Different people have different perceptions of happiness. Some of us must go bungee jumping to trigger our rush of joy, while others will find their bliss staying at home; some of us are happy in a concert hall listening to classical music, while the cacophony of children in a playground could be music to the ears of others; some people find elation when they solve a complicated equation, while for others a cancelled maths class is a happy childhood memory. And so on.

C. There are no universal rules for being happy – the path leading to happiness is very narrow, with room for one person alone.

D. Knowledge is a must when you try to solve a differential equation or prepare a truffle pie, but it’s quite useless when you seek happiness. All smokers know that smoking is unhealthy; and what do they do with this knowledge?

E. As strange as it may sound, we usually don’t know what will make us happy.

F. When you awake in the morning and feel no morning awake in you, the best thing to do is to get right back between the sheets, for just two more hours … or five, or ten.

G. It isn’t really hard to do nothing. Many of us can. The hard part is doing nothing without feeling guilty about it.

H. It’s really important to know when to act and when to let things just happen.

I. Anger is punishing yourself for your own stupidity.

J. It’s a scientific fact that people who are easily irritated and lose their tempers live shorter lives; so try to make a habit of getting angry only when there’s a chance that your rage will change something.

K. Anyone who has lived on this planet long enough knows that pessimism is the natural way to think. It requires no effort, like a rock rolling downhill. It’s much harder to push the rock up the hill; that is, to think positively.

L. Ordinary people who live their lives peacefully, whose days gently resemble each other, may one day just stop and wonder: why do they do the things they do, and have been doing for so many years?

M. It’s much easier to choose to be a good person than to think good thoughts.

N. The more flaws one sees in others, the more flaws one possesses.

O. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into believing that we can easily discard unwanted emotions. This idea is hubris par excellence: not everything follows our own will and desire.

P. It’s always a good idea to take a break, rest a little, do nothing for an hour or two, and munch on a little something.

Q. Modesty and humility are two different things: modesty is often a kind of pride in disguise, while true humility is the rarest and one of the most beautiful of human qualities.

R. Delusions of grandeur and an inferiority complex often cohabit in the psyche of the same person.

S. A love that’s based on ‘because’ or ‘thanks to’ won’t last long if that love doesn’t include ‘despite of’ too.

T.  First love is magical because only when you’re in love for the first time are you certain this is your last time too.

U. Time is relative of course: our happy moments tend to be fleeting, while sorrowful moments sometimes take residence inside our house and refuse to move on.

V. Many people are very upset whenever death comes up in conversation; but even if we ignore death, death won’t ignore us. All the people who walk down the street with you now, everyone who lives in your town, everyone you ever knew, will one day travel to the Kingdom of Eternal Silence.

W. Knowing that death is out there can help us live better and wiser lives, and embrace the things that really matter. We should live our lives so that, when the time comes to leave this world, we don’t feel infinite regret and sorrow for a life wasted, spent in vain.

X. So is life all vanity and suffering, or incomprehensible bliss and endless beauty? We all know that it’s both.

Y. Good and bad struggle with each other in everyone’s heart. All of us have thoughts we’re ashamed of. All of us have done some things we’re not too proud of. There really is no black and white, only shades of grey.

Z. Love a man, woman or child. Go see the Dolomites. Kiss in the rain. Write your memoirs. Read a few philosophy books or, better still, revisit some children’s books. Swim with abandon. Insist. Fight. Sing in the shower. Pause to observe the cherry blossom. Learn a foreign language. Get upset. Get angry. Forgive. Get sad. Be happy. Admire. Wonder. Pray.

It’s better to regret things we did than be sorry for things we didn’t do, given that sorrow for the latter is infinite.

Extracted from: “Happiness and Other Small Things of Absolute Importance” by Haim Shapira © published by Watkins 2016, London, Paperback, £9.99

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