What is Happiness?

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



There is a  saying that happiness or contentment is when a person is satisfied with what he has. We must here recite an old Jewish story about a poor orthodox man who lived in Europe with his wife and ten children in a small dwelling on his farm, which consisted of one room.  There was scarcely space to do all of the functions that were necessary to make life comfortable.  The cooking, the sleeping quarters, the davening, just about everything were done in this room.  Yankele, the dad, felt very inadequate and unhappy that he did not have more to give to his family and he did not know how to make his loved ones or himself happy and comfortable. He pondered for a long time to find a solution in order to make their lives easier.  He asked his wife what he should do to achieve that goal but she too had no answer for him.  He thought and thought and contemplated but to no avail.  Finally after much time had  passed he decided to ask his rabbi for a solution. The “Rov” was a very wise man and had helped many of his flock in the “Staettel” in which they lived. 

Yankele visited this very learned man and explained his plight to him.  After some prayers and much contemplation the Rov suggested that Yankele was to take his milk cow into the room with his family.  Yankele shrugged his shoulders and seemed very puzzled. In spite of his doubts he made the journey home and did what the good Rabbi had  requested.  A few days later he again approached the Rabbi and complained about the situation.  The Rov suggested that he should take his goat into his dwelling.  The man did as he was told.  In another few days Yankele reappeared at the Rabbi’s door complaining.  Again he was told that he must take his donkey into his home.  The Rabbi inquired whether there were any chickens on the farm.  Indeed the answer was positive.  There were not only chickens but ducks and geese.  One after another of these animals were taken into the dwelling upon the request of the good Rabbi.  Finally, in deep despair, the man returned to his advisor, lamenting that he could no longer tolerate how he had to live and he needed an immediate resolution to the state of affairs in his humble home.  The Rabbi directed Yankele to take the cow back outside, next to take out the donkey, one of five chickens at a time, the ducks made their exit next, then came one goose after another leaving the premises.  When all of the animals were gone, the room seemed so big and the family were so relieved that they were at peace with their circumstances! 

There is a lesson in this  parable:  The happy person is the one who is satisfied with that which he has!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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