The Last Lesson: LGHFby Rachel Eden May 28, 2018
There I sat in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, on my last day of seminary, waiting for my favorite teacher to share her farewell message to us. What wisdom would she pass along for us to carry through adulthood and beyond? What words would I hold dear for the rest of my days? Perhaps she would discuss the importance of prayer or the pillar of kindness in Judaism. Maybe she would describe how mitzvot are the structures that bring us closer to everyone around us and ourselves. The anticipation was high and as my teacher, my pious, kind, brilliant, modest teacher wrote on the board her two rules for successful religious living, I nearly fell off my chair: Look Good & Have Fun (LGHF).
This must be a joke. I was sure of it. The phrase “self-care” was not yet en vogue, but surely my teacher who prided herself on dissecting lofty intellectual and moral concepts was not summing up all of these principles to come to exactly that. Did my teacher look good? She looked presentable, but I wouldn’t say fashionable. She was not quick to try a fad diet. Certainly no one would call her a trend setter! As for her second directive to have fun? With 13 children and two jobs teaching in Jerusalem seminaries, I can’t imagine the kind of fun she could possibly have. The idea of her going out for drinks with friends or even frequenting a day spa seems incomprehensible.
Now that I’m around the age my teacher was when she spoke those words, I think a lot about what they mean to me and my life today. I have a fraction of the number of children she has, and I’m nowhere near as pious, but I can relate to aspects of her lifestyle. In our busyness to accomplish, to live life ambitiously, to honor our commitments, looking good and having fun may not always emerge as an important goal or a goal at all. The problem is that an unbalanced life is generally not a happy or successful one. There must be some classic psychological source to support this. Perhaps somewhere between the needs of aesthetic and transcendence in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy lies LGHF. Certainly the Jewish tradition acknowledges the importance of LGHF by balancing the edict against gluttony with instructing that good food (such as fish and meat), good spirits (wine and otherwise), and new clothes are fundamental in honoring a happy holiday.
Lately, I’ve been prioritizing my favorite class at the gym over folding laundry. I’ve begun volunteering to run errands at home and work just to savor some sweet alone time in the car. I even splurged on a pricey night out with my husband for no good reason at all. The results of these micro-decisions are startling. I feel happier, more nourished, and those good feelings, in turn, energize and nurture the relationships around me. I also have more focus when I’m working in the office or at home. Perhaps, most importantly, I feel more secure with myself. All of that actually drives me to get everything else done and to do it better.
I see the reverse is true as well. I coach women who tell me they are dropping areas of religious observance because it no longer gives them joy or vitality. Just as often, women share that they have abandoned their fitness goals or dreams of marital harmony for the same reason. There is no accomplishment we can stay motivated to work toward without some element of pleasure – even if the pleasure is in the hard work. LGHF are the prerequisites to sustaining the investment of time and energy substantial goals demand.
In hindsight, I realize now why my teacher saved these words for her last class. All of her Torah teachings were brimming with idealism, justice, and love and so they required work. They required heavy spiritual lifting. We must resist mediocrity and fuel up for full living. First, we have to remember that we represent a high standard of compassion, integrity, truth, dignity, and discipline so we should look the part. Then, we need to know that life is a marathon – not a sprint – so we must carve out a significant space for pleasure. As for me, as I toil over my own spiritual goals, I’ll be heading to my local florist to purchase a bouquet of peonies just so I can smile when I walk past my dining room, and I’ll continue to hold dear my teacher’s last lesson.