On Happiness: Wisdom from a Current Parent

josh levineThis past week, a Hillel parent and actively involved Hillel Board member, Josh Levine, won the Detroit Jewish Federation Frank A. Wetsman Award for his outstanding leadership, service and commitment to the Jewish community both here and beyond. At his young age, Josh has already made a significant impact on our community.

Not surprisingly, Josh’s remarks were moving and inspirational.  Please read this excerpt from his acceptance speech:

“I was recently at a conference in Chicago for Advisors in Philanthropy.   There were a number of interesting things that I learned over the week.  There was talk of the tax advantages of charitable giving, more efficient ways to be philanthropic, and silly acronyms like CLATs, CRATs, and CRUTS.  All of it was great and informative, but at the end of the day all of these special techniques are irrelevant unless your primary motivation is to be charitable. 

One of the presentations focused on how you live your life.  Do you live your life to be happy or do you live your life to be meaningful?  This resonated with me because I was always convinced that the ultimate purpose of life is to be happy.  Happiness for me has meant a lot of things – watching my 4-year old score her first goal, finishing a grueling workout, landing a great job. It has also meant donating my time and resources for the benefit of others.  When you are happy you are in a great mood.  So, why shouldn’t our ultimate goal in life be to always be happy?  Why isn’t that enough?

I realize there’s more to it. Happiness is not enough because its pursuit focuses on the self.  There’s little meaning in that.  When I think about it, most people I know do not limit their focus to themselves.   So the question gets back to what is the compelling reason to give our time and resources to our community and organizations that operate solely for the benefit of others?  The answer is that we all strive to live a meaningful life.  As Jews our purpose is amplified since we are commanded to live righteously. But the truth is, deep down it’s what we want to do.  When we donate time and/or money, we thank the organizations to whom we’re giving because of the opportunity they afforded us! Every time we give, we, in turn, are given the gift of meaning in our lives.”

Josh may not be a researcher, but the fact is that research on happiness has been conducted by economists and psychologists that validates what Josh wrote and said. Research on happiness shows that people who are meaningfully involved in their communities, give tzedakah (charity) and regularly participate in their religious institutions are happier.  (People often confuse temporary enjoyment with happiness.)

My prayer for us, as a community, is that we all increase our pursuits of this type of internal and fulfilling happiness – you benefit and so does our community!

Go Josh!


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