The Power of Happiness…with David Bashevkin


Have you ever felt lonely? Is there really a secret to finding happiness? Does FOMO cause depression? This week join Noam and David as they discuss the pursuit of joy, the elements of happiness, and what their ideal happy places look like.

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Episode Transcript


There are different points in my life I can turn to and see I was my least happy self. There are the totally unoriginal moments that we all have. Maybe it was around the time when my high school girlfriend and I realized it was probably time to split up. And then there are the less public, the lonely and painful moments, which are hard to put your finger on except to describe, like when I was in college and I remember a few Saturday nights thinking, what am I doing? What’s my plan? Who should I be spending time with? Am I lonely? Am I unhappy? 

Perhaps my lowest point was when I left my first job and was unsure what my plans would look like in the future. Eight months after this, while in the midst of insecurity, lack of certainty and a feeling of isolation, I decided to do something that seemed out of place or at least ironic. My good friend, David Suissa, the editor in chief of the Jewish Journal, asked me if I wanted to write the cover story. I thought about it for a moment, and said, “Not only would I love to, but I want to write about the meaning of joy and how it relates to the holiday of Sukkot.”

I remember researching countries like Bhutan who chose to focus less on their GDP and more on their GHI, their Gross Happiness Index. God bless Bhutan, but I don’t live there or have too much to do with the South Asian country. I remember researching Martin Seligman’s works on happiness and learning some formulas to happiness. (Stay tuned for more on this.) 

See, Sukkot, I know not the most popular holiday, contains all the secrets to living the most joyous of lives. It’s about being fully present in one space, a full body experience, with people who we can spend time with in a non-transactional way. This sort of joy, this simcha, looks markedly different than how most of us live our daily lives.

Maybe consider the following exercise. Close your eyes and ask yourself where and when are you happiest? Not where are you having the most fun (get that Miami club scene out of your head). Where are you happiest? 

When I close my eyes, I typically see myself sitting, chilling in a chair with a book on history or philosophy or something too serious (stop making fun of me) with my little kids playing and my wife by my side also reading (something probably something much more interesting than what I was reading). That’s it. How simple is that? That’s my happy place.

I recognize the privilege I have of having this family. Not everyone has this, I know that. But, from my perspective, joy, simcha, happiness ought to be so simple. I don’t need to go to the Himalayan mountains to find happiness. It is in my own house.

And yet! The pursuit of happiness haunts me like it haunts everyone else. Happiness is so tantalizing and readily available, yet its proximity taunts us. It’s right there, but it’s also so distant.

So in today’s episode, I set out on a journey to discover, with my guest, what true happiness is, and what we can all do to find it, or to create it, or to cultivate it (pick your verb). I spoke with my friend, Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin. He’s a rabbi, the director of education for NCSY, a teacher, an author, a professor, a podcaster, and the most prolific and dare I say most clever dude out there on Twitter.

Dovid has a lot of thoughts on happiness, what brings happiness, why happiness can be elusive, and at the end of the day, what worthy goals should be for us. I think you’ll hear in our back and forth that he’s maybe an unexpected choice for this conversation. And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you, Dovid Bashevkin.


Noam: Dovid, I’m so excited to have you on the Power Of. Welcome.

Dovid: Really a joy. Thank you so much for having me.

Noam: We’re going to be speaking about a topic that I think plagues many people, which is the pursuit of happiness or the cultivation of joy, however we want to phrase it. You had 10 different topics to choose from. Why’d you choose happiness?

Dovid: I don’t think there is a front door to experiencing happiness. I don’t think happiness is a building that you knock on it, and if you have the right key, the right secret password, the right secret code, you enter into this building. So I don’t like frontal discussions on happiness. And in fact, I very vocally expressed my hesitation about talking about this subject.

I have been fairly open about the fact that I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life. It is a familial struggle that goes back really three generations from my parents, my grandparents on both sides. My uncle, who is a social worker in Bennington, VT, did his master’s thesis on my great-grandfather, this goes back a long way.

I was not a happy go lucky child. I was an anxious child. The first time I think I realized that happiness was not going to maybe come as naturally to me as it did to others, I was probably in fifth grade, when I was struggling with falling asleep. I was very self reflective and I realized that sometimes self-knowledge and being hyper aware of your own thinking, am I happy now? Am I asleep yet? Which was very hard to fall asleep because I was always asking myself, “How come you haven’t fallen asleep yet? Are you almost asleep yet? Are you dreaming yet?”

Happiness, to me, is very much a rhythm. It is a cadence in your life that you can sometimes have a rhythm in your life that seems to be going in a way that animates you and that excites you.

A lot of my childhood, because I was so hyper self-aware of my own happiness, of my own anxieties, and my own feelings, it became more difficult to enter into that rhythm of happiness itself.

Noam: When I think back at my childhood, I think of many different moments and try to determine when I was feeling that happiness or putting on the facade and feeling happy. But there are many moments I want to try to figure out if those moments are the types of moments that you could hold onto. So I think of moments, whether it’s that time that I was in a basketball game and I performed well. The joy that I felt at that moment, it doesn’t last for a very long time necessarily, but it’s there and it’s a feeling that, I could bottle up. So I look back at high school and I could say this was a moment of joy. I have a moment in my head right now that I’m thinking about where I had this basketball player. He was in 12th grade. I was in 11th grade. His name is Craig Lustman.

Dovid: I know Craig.

Noam: You know Craig?

Dovid: Sure.

Noam: So Craig picked me up after a game, and I have this image in my head of Craig picking me up and that being like a joyful moment. There was just joy. Nothing else was happening in the world. And while I understand what you’re saying, that speaking about happiness doesn’t yield more happiness, but is it also possible that if we can think of those moments in our lives where there was joy and we could then replicate that and try to live that sort of way, whatever those things are.

Like I, personally, I’m speaking of basketball now. I, for 15 to 16 years, I did not play competitive basketball. I just started playing competitive basketball again and I’m wondering what was I-

Dovid: Who are you competing against exactly at this point in your life? Did you enroll, are you competing against 9th and 10th graders? Does that bring you joy and happiness?

Noam: No. I’m actually competing against 45-year-old men who are overweight and out of shape. So it brings me tons of joy. But seriously, playing basketball is something that I wasn’t doing for a long time, but it brings me joy to play basketball. It doesn’t have to be five and five competitive, whatever it is, but why would I not do the thing that I love doing? And for 15 years I would say I didn’t really do it.

Dovid: I don’t think happiness is a permanently sustainable state. I think it’s deliberately designed that way. There is an oft-cited saying, especially in the Hasidic teachings, that perpetual satisfaction is not satisfying. If something is perpetual, if it’s your stasis, we begin to become adjusted to it. And it no longer gives us that spike of a general and or emotionalism and the satisfaction that ultimately provided previously.

I don’t like the idea of thinking about times of happiness to make you happy. I don’t think happiness is the avoidance of difficult, uncomfortable, strenuous, frustrating, disappointment, or painful situations in your life. I think people who in the middle of the work day and they’re having a miserable day and their boss is yelling at them and they just kind of close their eyes and like, “Let me think about that vacation and escape this moment.”

That to me does not strike me as a healthy vehicle to process and really grasp moments of happiness. I do think that somebody who’s having a bad day and midday, they have a practice where I’m going to always walk around the block in the middle of the afternoon. I always call a certain person at this time of the day. I make a phone call on Sunday where I call a parent. I think practices and rituals are really what preserve moments and what preserve memory.

They preserve happy moments and they preserve sad moments. I think this is very much the edifice on which Jewish ritual known as Halakhah is built upon where we have rituals that preserve emotional memory. I do think, and I want to mention this, there are practices that can preserve thought. I think that’s essentially what mindfulness is coming to do.

One of the most foundational books that helped me really crystallize this is a book called The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön. I don’t know that I’m pronouncing her name correctly. A lot of what her book is about is becoming friends with your thoughts and developing practices that allow you to confront your thoughts, both the happy ones and the painful ones where you learn to react in a way that is much healthier and to almost be less reactive. I think the chasing of a specific emotion to the exclusion of other emotions is the least healthy way to, in the long run, preserve a healthy life.

We don’t preserve happiness by chasing happiness, by pursuing happiness. We preserve happiness by living an organic life and becoming friends with our thoughts and having rituals and practices that allow us to preserve the sanctity of the entire spectrum of our emotional lives.

Noam: One thing that you didn’t mention in your description of this pursuit of joy, which you’re describing as requiring ritual. One thing that you yet didn’t mention was gratitude. I was going to ask you how you felt about that. There’s a line in the Mishnah, very famous to those who know it as my father likes to remind me, eizehu ashir, hasameach bchelko, Who is rich? He who is happy with his or her lot.

Basically, the way I view that in a modern context is someone who is able to live a life without having FOMO, right? Without having the fear of missing out on whatever that thing is, that event, that party, that thing, that job, whatever it is. And every time I hear that line, I’m like, “Okay, great prescription. But okay, how? How do I be happy with my lot? What do I do?” So you’re saying ritual. Is there a room for gratitude?

Dovid: There’s always room for gratitude. I deliberately left out gratitude because I think it is oftentimes misapplied and it becomes a bandage to a wound that requires much deeper surgery. At least in my own life. I do practice gratitude, I don’t do it quite as literally, as I think it’s been popularized particularly by some really phenomenal psychologists, particularly Tal Ben-Shahar of Harvard does talk about the role and the importance of gratitude starting every day with gratitude. I’m not criticizing those people who it has worked for.

But as somebody who has dealt with the trauma of everyday life, with the pain of living every day, and it can be painful and there are so many things that disappoint us greatly, sometimes for me, just that over… Let me just make a list of things to be happy about. It feels too literal. It feels too superficial. Instead, what I have done is, I pray every morning, and prayer for me is both a time to become friends with my thoughts, because anybody who’s ever tried praying knows that most of the time praying is spent spacing out and thinking about other things. I don’t kick myself when I space out. Spacing out to me as a part of the process of becoming friends with your thoughts and integrating gratitude with disappointment. It’s not just a list that stands on its own.

The other thing that I do and I’m grateful to do this, and the reason why I didn’t begin with this is because not everybody has this and it can be very painful is, thank God, I am married, quite happily and I have children. Every night before I go to sleep, I give my children a kiss and I tell them, “I love you and I am so proud of you.” Most of the times when I tell them that, they’re already asleep. I am not telling them that for them in so much as I am telling it for myself, to remind myself to appreciate a moment that I have somebody and a relationship in my life to be proud of.

To me, gratitude is best expressed openly and directly to the people in your life who you have gratitude for. And by showing that appreciation, giving a kiss to a child, thanking a mentor, a boss, that to me is the ultimate way of reflecting, not just showing appreciation for that person, but allows you to reflect on all the gifts you have in your own life in an outward fashion and making it real.

Noam: So then to a degree then, Dovid, gratitude does factor in here.

Dovid: Yeah. I’m not anti-gratitude. Let’s be clear.

Noam: Not anti-gratitude.

Dovid: It shouldn’t be the headline of this. I just think gratitude, it shouldn’t be too easy. Because it doesn’t work. If I’m miserable and I’m like, “Well, at least I’m not sick. At least I’m not…” It doesn’t help. There’s always somebody who has it worse on you. And playing into that, “Well, at least I don’t have it like that guy,” is playing into the same methodology that made you miserable in the first place.

Noam: Exactly. I was about to ask you, there are three different ideas. One you already alluded to about what could get in the way of happiness. You quoted a Hasidic thought, but it’s also a psychological idea called hedonic adaptation. This is the idea that Daniel Kahneman writes about that he calls it the ‘satisfaction treadmill,’ right? Where we shift our standards. Once we reach them, we keep running in order to feel satisfied. That’s all it is. It’s a satisfaction treadmill.

Dovid: There is an extraordinarily painful footnote to the very existence of the hedonic treadmill, which was created by a psychologist named Philip Brickman. Philip Brickman was one of the early psychologists to study happiness. And just bringing up this topic, I want to mention to listeners, if this topic makes you uncomfortable or can trigger anything in your own life, this is the time to fast forward or whatever it is. But Philip Brickman took his own life.

There was an article many years ago called… I believe it was called Happiness Won’t Save You. And it was about the story of Philip Brickman. I think there’s something quite profound about that, that the very psychologist who came up with this notion of the hedonic treadmill, the idea that you become used to the moments of happiness and it forms a new stasis in your life and your identity that you need this greater joy. It becomes almost this addictive quality that the level of high and thrill always becomes higher and higher.

He transitioned that theory later on in his life, at the very end, he spoke a great deal about commitment, about how commitments essentially are a vehicle for happiness. I think very often, we don’t appreciate how long-term commitment to an ideal, to a relationship, to a practice is the ultimate vehicle of happiness. In the story of Philip Brickman, what ultimately led to his very painful demise was the commitments in his life apparently began to unravel.

And, I believe that, and I’m going to recommend my second book that I think is absolutely fundamental to understanding happiness is Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling Upon Happiness. And in Gilbert’s book, what he talks about is, we often fool ourselves into thinking that something will make us happy based on our own memory. We thought we were happy then, and now we’re almost a new person – That was a year ago. That was a month ago. That was a week ago – is what brought us to happiness then going to bring us to happiness now.

Instead of falling into this funhouse mirror of applying what brought you happiness in that former self and applying it to your present self, what ultimately brings the long-term happiness is staying very focused, not on those momentary thrills, but building an experiential routine that over the long run brings you happiness.

And the way to do that, the vehicle for that, is commitment. As we have more choice, our ability to commit has become more difficult and commitment is the vehicle through which we form our very sense of self. And our inability to commit to people, ideas, practices ultimately leaves us bereft and rootless. And that’s when people feel the most existential pain of who am I? What am I for? And I think it’s our ability to commit to ideas and practices and people that are the ultimate vehicle to step off the hedonic treadmill of those moments and build a long-term relationship with happiness and a healthy relationship with sadness and the full variety of emotions.

Noam: Wow. I just learned a lot from you there. I want to pivot-

Dovid: I love a good pivot.

Noam: Pivot. I want to think of two different ways to not have joy or not have happiness.

Dovid: Only two?

Noam: Yeah. Two different ways, I think people tend to think this could be a recipe for joy and then it ends up being a recipe for the opposite of joy. One is what you were alluding to earlier, which is social comparison. I’ve used social comparison as the ultimate way to kill joy and the ultimate way to… You want it to make you feel better. You want it to make you feel good, but at the end of the day, it’s going to actually be corrosive.

The other way to not have joy is this word, schadenfreude. And maybe they’re related, schadenfreude and social comparison. So schadenfreude is defined as the feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people. I think that this sensation infiltrates so many aspects of life. I think about it in terms of education. It’s like the student who feels the joy when his peer does poorly on a test. There’s a joy. We’ve been there, right? They’re like, “Ah, you got an 88. I got a 96. Okay.” Right? There’s sports, right? When a basketball player feels really positive when she scores more points than her teammate. Not just that she scored 20 points, but that she had 20 points and her teammate had 12. And knowing that the teammate had 12 feels good. Or like when you look at relationships, when we could make someone else look worse just so we can look more attractive. Right? That happens.

There’s an idea, al tismach b’nfol oyvecha, don’t feel joy when your enemy falls. The idea is not just al, but lo, meaning you will not ultimately have joy when your adversary fails at the downfall of your adversary. When we’re pursuing joy, do we enter this space of schadenfreude often? What is that?

Dovid: I think it has to do with a little bit of a fancy term called mimesis. Mimesis is the way that we shape our values and our very sense of self through imitation, through imitating others. It is the basis upon which all luxury goods, which all prestigious jobs, anything that we strive for in common society and it’s nearly unavoidable, but it is the way that we base our very sense of self and our wants on what we see other people having.

And obviously there’s a spectrum to mimesis. On one of the spectrum is somebody whose entire sense of self and all of their desires are shaped by somebody else. And then on the other end of the spectrum is somebody who’s so detached from society, who has no connection to what anybody else is doing. I don’t think either extreme is okay, but I think what you are describing are the symptoms of an overreliance of mimesis and allowing society to fashion your very desires to the point where you are unable to experience your own sense of self and your own sense of satisfaction without it being in relation to someone else.

So therefore, if you don’t have anything independent within your own life to be satisfied with. So in our ability to feel differentiated, we rely on things like schadenfreude and looking at others, “Ah, that person just got fired, just got divorced, just went bankrupt.” And it makes us feel differentiated.

It makes us feel differentiated because too much of our very sense of self is now being formed in relation to somebody else. Instead my teachers in happiness, and all my teachers in happiness were people who naturally were extraordinarily miserable, because they’re the best teachers. And they’re almost all comedians because comedians need to walk this line. They’re in one sense dependent on an audience’s reaction. They’re dependent on an audience’s judgment of their work every single day. They’re recreating themselves based on the audience’s reaction.

And they are forced to develop an independent sense of self. They can’t be completely beholden to the audience. And the comedian in my life who I’ve written about is the comedian, Garry Shandling whose show on HBO, The Larry Sanders Show, really moved me. And what really drew me to his approach to happiness was the documentary by Judd Apatow on HBO called The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, which really discussed his journey through comedy and through difficulty and trying to figure out how he could, with all of his audience and ratings and all the difficulties in his life, and he had significant ones, find that Zen-like quality.

He goes through his diaries and Sarah Silverman in that diary actually has this fabulous quote where Garry needed to be Zen, not because he was Zen, but because he was in desperate need of being Zen. And it always struck with me, and I think he has this one idea that I want to share with you, that’s written in this diary, where he says, “Maybe your comedy is a natural gift to be given to others with joy, to help them through this impossible life. And you sharing it with no desire of getting anything back.”

And to me, this idea of, instead of using others to shape your own sense of self, giving to others and bringing joy to others to help them through this impossible life as the ultimate vehicle and purpose to give you some structure in relation to others. Instead of your relationship to others being this weight on your back that allows you to get joy only in their failure, your relationship to others should be the joy of sharing ideas and joy itself to uplift others.

Noam: That idea is incredible, and it’s Rambam, it’s Maimonides. He describes in the laws of Yom Tov, in the law of the holidays he describes that the fact that if you’re just going to have meat and wine and all these things, and not give to others that ultimately that’s, he calls simchat kreiso, the joy of your belly, that’s not joy. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about joy.

I think that notwithstanding your antipathy towards this topic, in addition to thinking, you’re the ideal person to speak to about this, I think that the Torah has an obsession, Judaism has an obsession with joy. And the reason I think that is because of Wikipedia. I went on Wikipedia and I wanted to figure out different terms for joy, and here are the different terms that I saw. Simcha, osher, ora, gila, rena, ditza, sason, chedva, all different terms to describe joy, to describe happiness.

People like to cite this study of Eskimos. I think the right term actually is Inuits who have so many different words for snow, right? I don’t know if it’s correct or not correct. You’ll be like, “It’s not a real study.” Okay, fine. Fair enough. But the idea is that when a society or culture, whatever, has so many words for the same concept or so many different types of words for this concept, whatever it is, it stresses the fact that this really matters.

And it matters so much from what I’ve seen that I’ve heard all these stories in different names of great rabbis that right before it was Yom Tov, a good day or chag, a Jewish holiday, if a child of theirs passed away. Right? And then all of a sudden for the next 24 hours or 48 hours, they would be able to push aside the sadness and the depression and the pain of their loss.

And for these 24 to 48 hours, they were engaging in Simcha, in joy. When I hear these stories, I don’t understand what’s going on here. Are these people real? Is this a real thing? Are they engaging in this ritual that you’re speaking about, and that Simcha is really not a state of feeling, Simcha should be viewed as an action?

They were engaging in ritualistic moments of joy, but not that they were actually able to feel joy when they had such a terrible thing going on? Or do you think they actually were able for these 24 or 48 hours able to turn off the pain and turn on the joy because of the commandment to feel joy?

Dovid: It’s an interesting question. I’ll say it from the outset, I do not like those stories at all. I don’t think that they’re healthy. I don’t think that we should valorize a detachment from personal pain in your life. I think that the realness of pain is visceral and real and no Shabbat or Yom Tov meal should be in expectation that it could actually address that. There was in fact a response that was sent to a rabbi known as the Ridbaz, Rav Dovid Ben Zimra, who I think was a 15th century scholar. And the person wrote him and said that, “I experienced loss in my family, but I feel so connected to God and I have such belief in the world to come that I don’t think it’s necessary for me to express any sadness.”

He wanted to know is that a compartment and relationship to his loss healthy? It was coming from a place of deep spiritual connection. And the response was absolutely not. It is not healthy to have an other worldliness at the expense of other people’s pain and even your own pain where you become so otherworldly, so monastic that the entire world and the realness of the pain in this world can be dismissed with a bowl of chulent and a piece of kugel.

That to me is extraordinarily unhealthy. However, returning back to what we said earlier, I do believe that there is a stability, which the practices of Halakhah provide. The stability of ritual, the stability of routine, the stability of direction of not telling you how to feel, but telling you what to do. That is the beauty of practices. The beauty of Halakhic practices, or whatever practices you have in your life is that they are not telling you what to feel. They are vehicles that are telling you what to do, and they are spaces with which you can then fill with your inner emotional world. And that I think is the magic of Halakhah.

The magic of the Halakhic system of ritual is that it’s not saying, “Okay. Now happiness is starting now. Okay. Stop now. Feel sad.” No, they are rituals that allow you in a solemn and sanctified way, elevate your experiential world into very tangible practices in your life. So if there are laws of mourning that are not observed in the fullest way on Shabbat and practices of Shabbat that supersedes certain practices of mourning, those are rituals with which you fill the entire gamut of your internal emotional world.

It doesn’t mean that you forget or don’t remember or don’t think about the pain in your life, it just means that you reorient the practical rhythm of your life in that moment. And practical, I mean, the actions of your life, but that interiority of your world is always going to be a dialogue with your external actions and practices. So I am not anti-gratitude, but I am a little bit anti those stories, in a nutshell.

Noam: It makes a lot of sense. I wonder why those stories are shared.

Dovid: I do not share those stories. I do not share them. It doesn’t work enough for me that I would feel comfortable sharing it with others.

Noam: There is a story that, and maybe it’s not a story, but it’s a description of joy that maybe when I was 18 and I first heard, it made no sense to me, but now that I’m 18 times two, it does speak to me.

Dovid: Double chai.

Noam: Double chai. It does speak to me a little bit more. And that is, I think… Yeah, it’s Rav Soloveitchik, Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik who, maybe to the average person who comes across Rab Soloveitchik and you see his face and he’s like intense-looking like this with his face on his hand, and he’s thinking. You’re like, “Well, that’s not the paradigm of joy.”

Then to further that point, he describes Yom Kippur as the most joyful of days. And the reason he describes Yom Kippur as the most joyful of days is that he says that that day, that you are, quote, omed lifnei Hashem, that you are standing before God. And the reason that for him that is the most joyful of days is because knowing that you are in the presence of somebody else and that person, or that being, is there with you brings so much joy.

When I was 18, I kind of heard that idea and I was like, “Amazing. Write it down. Great idea.” As a 36 year old, I find that idea resonant because the ultimate joy that I have, and you said this earlier is the presence that I have with my children, the presence that I have with my wife, the presence that I have with people who are just there with me, right? A few days ago, it was my son’s birthday and I took him and my daughters to this pizza shop. It’s called Foozo. It’s delicious here in South Florida. It’s amazing. Okay?

Every Friday night, we do this thing. We do this ritual called simchat hashavua. Go over what the highlight of your week was. Let’s let’s talk about it. My children all said it was eating the, they call it foozganiyot, these delicious donuts at Foozo. And they were good by the way. They had great sugar on it. They had caramel on the side. They were good.

So I told a mutual friend of ours, perhaps a rebbe of ours, Rav Judah Mischel. I told him the story. And I said that they were so happy. And he said, “No, Noam. You’re so cute. They weren’t happy because of the sufganiyot.” He said, “They were happy because they were with their Abba. They were with their Abba. They were alone with you in a restaurant, eating something delicious. It wasn’t simchat kreiso. It wasn’t the joy of their belly. That’s not what they were remembering. (They were delicious.) It was the presence. It was just being present. It was powerful. That is something that I think if we could do more of it with other people, in our own lives, it could really… I don’t know. It could bring joy.

Dovid: I love that you’re anchoring this in Rabbi Soloveitchik. I also want to kind of push back and remind you that, I think there is a big difference between joy and happiness. The joy that Rabbi Soloveitchik, I believe, is expressing, about standing before God on Yom Kippur is, it’s not the same as happiness. It is the realization that your life is anchored in something beyond yourself. It’s the escape from the nihilistic abyss of feeling that you are isolated and alone, and there is a meaninglessness surrounding you and your identity and your actions. And the ultimate joy in life is knowing that your life is anchored in something beyond yourself. And that I think is the joy that Rabbi Soloveitchik is in describing when you are standing before God on Yom Kippur.

Noam: So Rabbi Sacks says, he does have this distinction between happiness and joy. He says that happiness is the state of mind of an individual. He says,

“Simcha in the Torah is never about individuals, it is always about something we share. The festivals as described in Devarim are days of joy, precisely because they are occasions of collective celebration. Simcha is joy shared. It is not something we experience in solitude.

So this idea, if that’s true, then this helps explain why Denmark is the happiest of countries. In the world happiness rankings that every year comes out and Denmark is always top three. When people ask why Denmark is, they have this concept called Hygge, which I have one Danish friend. It’s true, I have one Danish friend and she says, “What is Hygge? Hygge means, very simple, it’s, you come home, you have a nice meal, you kick it, you kick it. You put your feet on the chair. You relax. You have some wine. You have some cheese. You’re with people you love, whomever that is. And that is joy.”

Having that equanimity, that feeling of just like… The feeling of no feeling in many ways. Just being in other people’s presence. Maybe that’s a way to have Simcha, which is really joy shared. The secret of Denmark, it’s also the secret of Judaism. That doesn’t mean that we’re always going to feel joy in those moments, especially by the way… And it depends on who’s with you. It depends on if you’re on the spectrum of introvert to extrovert. It’s anywhere in there, but people can feel that joy when they have the right people around them or the right relationship with the people that they deeply love and love being in their presence and doing those things more.

Dovid: I totally agree with that.

Noam: Dovid, I want to ask one more question that is about you. It’s about Twitter.

Dovid: Twitter? Twitter.com?

Noam: I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s this thing called Twitter and some people like me have no idea what to post. I’ll be like, “Hey, I was just…” Something clever that I’ve… That’s not clever. And then I like… 36 followers. And then there are people like you, but here’s… By the way, social comparison. Then there’s people like you, who I look forward to your tweets. Right? Does Twitter bring you joy? Is it a rush? Your endorphins get going? Is it your dopamine? Does being on Twitter service Dovid Bashevkin’s joy?

Dovid: It’s a great question. I’m happy you asked it. Overall, the answer is a resounding yes, because I think over the years, I’ve really tried to use Twitter in the right way. I think part of that is in my handle. And this is genuinely not a plug for more Twitter followers, though I would accept them with love and graciousness as I always do. My Twitter handle is @DBashIdeas. D like the first letter, my first name. Bash, like the part of my last name that’s easy to pronounce. And then ideas.

What brings me joy about social media and why does social media cause so many other people so much frustration? It brings me joy because I am sharing ideas that I find funny, inspiring, uplifting, with others. I don’t come on Twitter to argue with others. I don’t come on Twitter to cause divisiveness to escalate, to give hot takes, to really feel like I have this big sounding board that I could go off on whatever politician or headline that’s most recent in the news. I go to Twitter to share ideas that I find joyful. And because of that, Twitter does bring me a lot of joy.

To me, Twitter, more than anything else, and I think my social media platform is, it is a privilege. It is a joyous privilege that I never, ever take for granted that I am able to share ideas that are silly. It’s narishkeit, it’s joyous, it’s hopeful, it’s inspiring.

If you make a commitment and you have a deep abiding conviction like I do, that you are going to use this space for positivity, it can bring positivity to others and ultimately it will bring positivity to yourself. And that has been my experience on Twitter. And please follow me on twitter.com.

Noam: Absolutely. Dovid, it was awesome having this conversation, notwithstanding the fact that you don’t think that you’re the ideal candidate to speak about joy and happiness. Thanks so much, Dovid.

Dovid: Noam, I love you brother. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Continue all the amazing work that you’re doing. This has been an absolute pleasure and privilege. Thank you so much.

Noam: Thanks, Dovid.


One thing that Dovid and I didn’t get to talk to, but I think we talked around, was the concept of PERMA, first taught to me by my father. I mentioned Martin Seligman in the opening of this episode. Segilman is a founding leader of positive psychology, and in his book “Flourish,” he uses the acronym PERMA to represent what he sees as the five key elements to happiness: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.

I want to run through those quickly, and what I think we can walk away with here.

P, Positive emotions – Positive emotions refers to the pleasant life, or feeling good. And I think here, gratitude is key. I know Dovid was down on gratitude, just kidding, kind of, and I think he’s right, if it’s superficial, if it ends in our mind, or on our paper. So I urge you, and I urge me, let’s not let it end there. If you appreciate someone, call them, tell them, right away. I think it’ll make you happier than you think.

E, Engagement – Engagement is the presence of a flow state, or what is sometimes called “being in the zone.” Do you enjoy basketball, like I do, maybe a little too much? Maybe you enjoy walking, or yoga, or even just washing dishes. I actually enjoy washing dishes. Maybe that’s a humblebrag. Whatever it is, I think, happiness involves really losing yourself in it, being fully, fully there. Leave your phone, clear your mind. It can change you.

R, Relationships — Relationships are everything. Be in the presence of family and friends, sharing in the intimacy of those around you. When was the last time you laughed with best friends? Invest in these relationships and honor them above all else. It’s the ultimate irony: If we selfishly want to feel good, we need to be with other people.

M, Meaning — Meaning is the awareness that something is bigger than us. It’s when we ask questions, engage in dialogue, clarify purpose and tell our story. For me, this is what shabbat is for. As an added bonus, it’s a great way to have deeper conversations with friends and family – back to relationships! A two in one!

And last but not least, A — Achievement. When you achieve things – maybe you finished up that assignment you’ve been pushing off. You built that bookcase. You changed the oil, anything. That sense of accomplishment, and the recognition and pride in what you’ve done, is critical for real, essential, joy.

PERMA means a lot to me, and it feels too small to just say it’s changed my life, because it’s done so much more. It transforms my life, when I let it. And I hope you let it too.

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