Category Archives: Ethics & Values

Want to Be Happier? Limit Your Choices …

2 minutes to read

“How can you be bored when you have a room full of toys and games?”

I asked my daughter when she stayed home sick from school. Put all exaggeration about my childhood aside. She has a lot more things to play with than I did. Yet despite numerous choices, she’s dissatisfied. My daughter is not unique. Most of my friends’ children are the same. For generations we’ve been taught greater choice will make us happy. Turns out the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

Want to Be Happier- Limit Your Choices …

The Paradox of Choice

Convinced I was on to something, I researched the connection between happiness and number of choices. In a TED talk about 10 years ago, psychologist Barry Schwartz explained why the huge number of options we have makes us unhappy. He acknowledged there are benefits to having alternatives. But having an enormous number of choices often paralyzes decision-making. So people don’t take any action to improve their lives because they cannot decide which one is best.

Further, Schwartz identified four bad effects of a large number of choices:

  1. Regret or anticipation of regret. Your satisfaction in a good decision is reduced because with so many other options one of them must have been closer to perfect.
  2. Opportunity costs. No matter how good a choice is others must have had better features. So, you’re dissatisfied even when you know you made the right decision.
  3. Escalation of expectations. Because we’re so used to a huge number of options, the one we choose cannot live up to our expectations.
  4. Self-Blame. When we had limited choices we could accept discontent as the way things are. But when we have so many alternatives, if we choose a bad one we have only ourselves to blame.

Happiness requires striking a balance between too many and too few choices.

How to Effectively Limit Choices

Schwartz and I part company over how to solve this dilemma. He proposes having an outside entity constrain the choices of people in wealthy nations. The extra resources can then be used to increase the options for those living in poorer countries. The problem arises in assuming the optimal number of choices is the same for all people and for all aspects of life.

For myself, having a huge array of electronic gadgets to choose from does not make me happy. But I have a friend who LOVES comparing and deciding which one is best. (So I call him and he makes the choice for me.)

The best solution is for each of us to determine the amount of a choice that is optimal for our life and set constraints accordingly. Here’s how:

  1. Refuse to believe that more choices are necessarily good.
  2. Are you content with your choices in a particular area of your life? Don’t think you have to change them to find greater contentment. You may end up with less.
  3. Identify an aspect of life you think you’ll enjoy exploring. Test it out. Are you happier? I love trying new varieties of chocolate and ice cream. I go to great lengths to find them.

By choosing to limit your choices you will find greater happiness.

Where in your life are you overwhelmed by choices? Please comment below.

Now You Can Be a Top Philanthropist

2 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Behar – Leviticus 25:1- 26:2

Defining success challenges most people. I’ve asked hundreds what financial success looks like to them. Most can’t answer this question. Those that do usually give a general response like, “I want to be comfortable.” But they don’t give a specific income target. Still, almost everyone wants to give to other people. So, while the Torah is silent about how much money you should make, it’s exact about how to be a top philanthropist. Parshas Behar explains:

If your brother becomes impoverished… you will strengthen him… so that he can live with you. (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:35)

Now You Can Be a Top Philanthropist

This Sabbath’s parsha teaches about the shemitah or sabbatical year and the yovel or jubilee year. It also gives the laws about selling land, how to prevent poverty, and how to treat a Jewish servant.

How to Be Charitable

The great Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon describes eight levels of charity. From lowest to highest they are:

  1. Giving directly to a poor person unwillingly.
  2. Giving directly to a poor person inadequately but gladly and with a smile.
  3. Giving directly to a poor person after being asked.
  4. Giving directly to a poor person without being asked.
  5. Giving without knowing who the recipient(s) are but the recipient(s) know you.
  6. Giving when you know the recipient(s) but recipient(s) don’t know you.
  7. Giving without knowing who the recipient(s) are and the recipient(s) don’t know you.
  8. Finding someone a job, partnering with him, or giving him a loan so he can become self-sufficient.

Notice as the level of giving rises the donor and recipient become more separated. At levels 1 through 4 both parties know each other. From 4 to 7 they get more anonymous. Then a funny thing happens at the highest level. Donor and recipient not only know each other, they could even be partners.

When the Torah says to strengthen your impoverished brother, it’s referring to level 8. Help someone find a job or give him some work. Partner with someone in a business venture or lend him the money to start one. The top philanthropist helps another become self-sufficient.

The Benefit of Being a Top Philanthropist

I’ve written many times about the value of relationships. Married people live longer, healthier lives. Strong bonds with friends and colleagues provide similar benefits.

Add to the list being charitable. Giving to and helping people reduces mortality by lowering stress.

Now you can see the depth of G-d’s love. He created a world where when you’re a top philanthropist it helps you too. Giving lengthens your life. So do relationships. When someone profits through using your contacts you merit an even longer life.

It doesn’t matter how you define success. You can connect those less fortunate than you with people who can help them. You can train someone in a valuable skill or encourage him. Give a person a leg up and join the ranks of the top philanthropists of all time.

What do you do to be charitable? Please comment below.

 

Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Tell if Your Humility Is Self-Destructive

2-½ minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Tzav – Leviticus 6:1-8:36

People acknowledge the value of humility. In particular, veterans are humble. But too often such modesty impedes their ability to get a good job. When challenged, they say promoting themselves is wrong. Parshas Tzav has a different perspective:

This is the law of the burnt offering: (Vayikra/Leviticus 6:2)

How to Tell if You Humility Is Self-Destructive

This Sabbath’s parsha continues the discussion of the korbanos (the offerings brought on the Altar) and details the anointing of Aaron and his sons as the Kohanim or Priests who will serve in the Temple.

Connecting Sacrifices and Humility

Farther into Leviticus we read an animal that is blind or broken or has a split eyelid or wart cannot be used as a burnt offering. As was made clear back in Genesis in the trouble between Cain and Abel, G-d wants offerings to be of the finest we have.

This holds true even though we no longer bring animal or meal sacrifices.

Today prayer has replaced the sacrificial service. When you pray, G-d wants you to open your heart. This requires humbly recognizing all you have comes from the Almighty. In humility you should acknowledge the many mistakes you’ve made and your gratitude that nonetheless G-d loves you. You offer your love in return.

If you are arrogant G-d will still listen to your prayer, but like a damaged animal, may reject your petition.

Humility verses Self-Promotion

People often equate self-promotion with arrogance. But you’re not conceited simply because you let people know about your skills and strengths. To the contrary, if you can add value to someone’s life you have a responsibility to do so. You’ll have to explain to him why you are the best person to help.

There are times when humility looks like a lack of self-confidence. People don’t trust a meek person to handle their problems.

By not clearly expressing the value you bring to the table, you’re forcing someone to figure it out on his own. He won’t. Instead he’ll hire someone who makes his life easier by showing him he has what it takes. You and your family lose out. The Almighty does not want you to impoverish yourself with such false humility.

If you’re not used to marketing yourself, use these guidelines:

  1. Always tell the truth. Implying you have skills that you don’t is worse than conceit. You’ll be exposed in the end.
  2. Talk about them at appropriate times. People will tell you when they want to know more about you.
  3. Be brief. Long-winded descriptions smell of conceit.

When you follow these three criteria, and thank G-d for the gifts He has given you, you’ll keep your humility in balance.

What prevents you from promoting yourself effectively? Please comment below.

 

Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask a question and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Being Brutally Honest Makes You a Liar

2-½ minutes to read

Authenticity is the rage in personal development. Everywhere you turn writers (me included) encourage you to be genuine. With so many exhortations you would think everybody goes around wearing masks and deceiving other people. The constraints have been lifted. Be brutally honest. Remember your authenticity is at stake. You don’t want to commit the sin of phoniness!

Being Brutally Honest Makes You a Liar

Act How You Feel

If you’re mad at a coworker, rip him with profanity. If your kid irritates you for the hundredth time, scream at her to stop. Spew invective on Facebook. Tweet 140 character assaults. Being authentic means you can say and do whatever you want without penalty.

Or does it?

What will happen to your job if you give a colleague a verbal dressing down? Gone, right?

How will you child respond to your bellowing? Alienation?

Why would someone hire you when your social media attacks people and ideas they may agree with?

Do you want to be an unemployed misanthrope?

Perhaps you’ll have to refrain from expressing brutally honest emotions. After all, we teach children to stop throwing temper tantrums. Oh well, it’s only a small compromise of your authenticity.

Who You Are Going to Be

You’re probably frustrated about not having something in your life. Maybe it’s more money or a solid marriage. It could be the time and resources to travel or pursue a hobby you love. Will being brutally honest do anything to get you what you lack?

Is your deepest need to express yourself uninhibitedly? You’ll never get to without suffering consequences.

Or is your frustration actually about something else? If this is the case, being brutally honest with people will make it even more difficult to get what you want since the only way to fill your needs is by helping others fill theirs.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can mistreat people under the guise of being authentic. Genuineness comes from behaving in a way that fulfills your deepest aspirations. Indulging the childish side of your nature bespeaks immaturity. Staying true to the best image you have for yourself is true authenticity.

Venting your frustration, verbally or through social media, may make you feel good. But it’s only authentic if your goal in life is to alienate as many people as possible. You know from your own experience, the success you’ve had thus far in life has come from cordial interactions with others.

So stop lying to yourself that being brutally honest expresses the true you. Let your actual authenticity shine through in being the person you wish to be.

How do you stay focused on being your ideal person? Please comment below.

How to Raise Your Confidence When Others Have More

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Terumah – Exodus 25:1-27:19

Despite a lack of designer clothing, what people wore during Biblical times conferred status and sometimes caused jealousy. Case in point, Jacob makes a multicolored tunic for Joseph. The gift ignites the envy of his other sons. When you get jealous and start wondering why don’t you have such nice things it undermines your confidence. Parsha Tetzaveh has the cure:

“And they will make the ephod of gold, blue, purple and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen…” (Shemos/Exodus 27:20).

How to Raise Your Confidence When Others Have More

This Sabbath’s parsha explains the mitzvah of the Ner Tamid (continually lit lamp), how to make the vestments for the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the Kohanim, and how to inaugurate them, the mitzvah of the korban tamid (continual offering) and how to build and use the incense alter, the Holy of Holies.

Garments Specifically for the Priests

Not long ago my daughter asked why we’re not allowed to have cloths made from a mixture of wool and linen. She was referring to a verse in the Torah, Deuteronomy/Devarim 22:11, that prohibits wearing such a mixture. I answered her since G-d doesn’t want us to, we don’t in order to show our love for Him. She didn’t seem convinced.

Then I explained to her that garments made from wool and linen mixed together may only be worn by the Kohanim. She accepted this because she knows they have a special relationship with the Almighty but also huge responsibilities. The tradeoff made sense to her.

Contingent Confidence Is Actually Self-Doubt

I doubt you envy the Kohanim. In Biblical times, only Korah and his followers coveted the priesthood and there’s no indications it was because of their vestments. But you may be jealous of a neighbor who has a nice car or takes fantastic vacations. One of the pitfalls of financial success is a heightened awareness of what you have compa. Feeling you don’t measure up often weakens your confidence.

Tying your self-assurance to things or other people means anytime relative wealth changes so does you confidence. When someone gets more, your self-esteem drops. Combating such feelings can be difficult. The lesson of wool and linen garments is one among many that will help you:

  1. Some people have vast responsibilities, ones you don’t want, that enable them to earn huge incomes or unique privileges.
  2. Some people come from wealthy families. Their starting point is different than yours. Comparisons don’t apply.
  3. Some people have suffered a great deal. Though they might gladly give it, all their wealth can’t relieve their pain. Do you really want to trade places?
  4. Some people sacrificed their youth to develop talents that paid off later in life. Even if you are willing to make such a trade off now, it’s impossible. But it doesn’t mean the other person is better than you. Incidentally, he may live with the burden of hating his childhood.

By recalling these truths, you will detach yourself from what other people do or have. Then you can tie your self-confidence to your own personal development. Ridding yourself of envy will make you an unqualified success.

What do you do to be happy about other people’s success? Please comment below.

 

Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

What verse in the Old Testament would you like to know more about? Ask here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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