Acceptance and Happiness
ד,א בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם–הלמד מכל אדם, שנאמר “מכל מלמדיי, השכלתי” (תהילים קיט,צט). איזה הוא גיבור–הכובש את יצרו, שנאמר “טוב ארך אפיים, מגיבור” (משלי טז,לב). איזה הוא עשיר–השמח בחלקו, שנאמר “יגיע כפיך, כי תאכל; אשריך, וטוב לך” (תהילים קכח,ב): “אשריך”, בעולם הזה; “וטוב לך”, לעולם הבא. איזה הוא מכובד–המכבד את הברייות, שנאמר “כי מכבדיי אכבד ובוזיי ייקלו” (שמואל א ב,ל).
I had a fascinating group with the patients in both of my Positive Aging Groups this week. This is what happened in my first group.
The group began with patients discussing celebrities in the news. In particular, they talked briefly about a celebrity who changed from being a man into a women.
One patient reported that he read in the newspaper that the woman now regrets her decision.
Patients observed that even when people seem to have everything anyone could want, they are still unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives.
In response, I shared with the group an antidotal story about Michelle.
Michelle is a MHA that I worked with in the past. She was born male and changed from Michael to become Michelle. Now in her late 50’s Michelle also regrets her decision to change from a man into a woman.
During our shift together, Michelle shared that she was very unhappy as a man and she was so certain that she would be happier if only she was a woman.
Now, 20 years later, Michelle has a different perspective on the source of her mental anguish and pain.
During our conversation, Michelle shared, “I made a mistake. My problem had nothing to do with being a man or a woman or my external apparatus. The real problem was between my ears. I was the problem.”
Our discussion and the pain that Michelle shared with me that night has stayed with me since then.
Michelle had to come to the realization the hard way that true happiness comes from self-acceptance.
So, I introduced the topic of the group as: how is it possible to feel good about yourself and accept yourself as you are? And, if you could have everything you ever wanted, would that make you happy?
Patients observed that there is nothing outside that can make someone feel good inside. Patients also shared that it is impossible to ever satisfy another person’s needs or all of one’s wants.
As a group, the patients reached the conclusion that happiness is a state of mind that comes from comes from being happy with what you have, not from what you acquire. The goal is to recognize how much you do have and appreciate it and share it with others without over-extending yourself.
The next day I had a similar discussion with my colleagues.
The 3 of us are all in the process of moving or relocating. We shared tips on affordable communities that also have good school districts.
Then, Mabel, a fourth nurse that we work with joined us.
I find Mabel to be a challenging person to work with. Although she is very capable and competent, Mabel loves to be the center of attention and sees herself as the hardest working and the most burdened nurse at our work site.
I find the role that she has assigned herself to be odd. Mostly, because it is not true. In my opinion, we all work hard.
Generally, I alternate between ignoring her snide comments, or soothing her by validating her with a “there-there” or “Oh yes, you are so hard working…..”
Another difficulty that I have with Mabel, is that I find her snidely anti-Semitic. She will frequently make comments that imply that I am so much richer than her, or alternatively I am too cheap. Now, neither in my opinion happen to be true. I make less money than her, and therefore, I spend less money than her.
Our styles are very different too. I am not a flashy dresser. Our patients frequently have altered moods and thought disturbances. They can be unpredictable. Therefore, I prefer to blend into the woodwork.
Mabel, however, is cut from a different bolt of cloth. She is always dressed extremely fashionably and well put together. Mabel is the kind of person who likes to be the beautiful one. I am happy to let her play that role.
So, once Mabel joined our discussion she began making her usual snide remarks about the state of my financial affairs, “Carol is so rich. She can afford a very fancy house.”
To me, the implication was “Carol is a rich Jew, and I am a poor Haitian.” I wanted to challenge her directly, but, I did not.
Instead, I thought about the group from the day before and the section from Perkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with what he has.”
This time, rather than get defensive, I agreed with Mabel, “You are so right! I am very rich! I am rich because I am happy with what I have. Being wealthy or poor is a state of mind. There is never enough external stuff than will give anyone inner contentment.”
Anyway, that ended the conversation, and she concurred with the wisdom of seeking inner wealth rather than outer wealth.
Emotional attachment to possessions or approval distract us from our true purpose in this world. Our true purpose in this world is to transform the physical into the spiritual. We are spiritual being having a physical experience, not physical beings having a spiritual experience.
If we are happy with what we have, we can live contentedly within our means and according to our deepest priorities. Therefore, we have to feel wealthy on the inside and accept ourselves on the outside if we want to have peace of mind.