Tag Archives: mental health

3 Myths That Are Making You Unhappy

Myths have intrigued people for millennia.  I've written about how they can benefit society.  But some lead to unhappiness and hinder your growth.  My running partner, Rabbi Nachum Braverman told me about three he finds hold people back.

3 Myths That Are Making You Unhappy

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As a society rooted in Enlightenment principles, it's easy to see where they originated and how they became so pervasive.  Yet man-made philosophical systems, by their nature, are flawed. That human beings can think logically does not mean they always do. Nor is the world innately rational. So these three offshoots of the Enlightenment can cause you untold unhappiness:

1.  Life is comprehensibleWhen people search for meaning, usually they're looking for some ordering principle. They want an explanation for why things happen. The question, “Why do bad things happen to good people” endures because of this longing.

Consider:  More than seven billion people interact in the world today. Each has his own priorities.  The National Science Foundation estimates our brains produce as many as 50,000 thoughts a day.  That means there may be as many of 350 TRILLION DAILY THOUGHTS impacting what happens in the world.  Nine-five percent may be repeated each day. So no matter how rationally you believe people think or behave, it is not possible to grasp such a multitude.

Life is not comprehensible.  Wanting it to be will dishearten you, sapping your ability to improve your life and that of your family.

2.  Problems are solvableWith this myth, I distinguish between challenges and problems.  You can overcome challenges, such as changing a bad habit or earning more money.  But the big problems of life, such as poverty and sickness, don't have solutions.

Poverty is a relativistic issue. As the United States becomes wealthier, poor people gain a greater material comfort. They live better than many middle-class people in the rest of the world. But a gap will ever exist between the poor and the wealthy.
Communism, the most radical effort to level the playing field, caused an enormous gap between the few haves and the masses of have-nots. It also led to the murder of tens of millions of people.
Scientists discover newer and better ways of curing illnesses. So thousands who would not have survived childhood now live to be adults. As a result, new medical problems arise.
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You may choose to engage in the struggle.  And doing so is laudable.  Human beings have grappled with these issues since we first inhabited the Earth.  To be sure, we have progressed.  But in the wake of World War II’s defeat of fascism, the belief arose that every problem could be overcome.  An optimistic outlook is great.  An unrealistic one will make you unhappy.

3.  Life is meant to be comfortableIn the United States, we live in such material plenty, comfort seems to be our birthright.  But where is it written that we should live painless lives?  And why would we want to?

Consider the case of the children of wealthy families who grow up wanting for nothing.  Time and again they cannot cope with the rigors of life. Or they get involved in self-destructive behaviors.  The high level of comfort infantilizes them.
Maturation and personal growth develop when you face difficulties and hardship.  You'll gain greater comfort by reconciling yourself to wrestling with serious challenges. Otherwise, you'll be unhappy about the lack of comfort in your life.
You need to assimilate positive beliefs. As important, get rid of those that are holding you back. Purge yourself of these myths. Focus on understanding yourself. Don't pursue a fruitless search for the meaning of life.  Do what you can to reduce problems. Otherwise, you'll only be frustrated that after millennia they still exist.  Prepare yourself to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Give up bemoaning your discomfort.  The result:  You'll increase your happiness and potential for personal growth.

Which myth, if you overcame it, would lead to the most happiness for you

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You Can Be Faithful to Science and Scripture

While showering after PT (physical training) during OIS (Officer Indoctrination School) I overheard two of my colleagues debating one of life’s eternal questions:  Was the world created according to the story in Genesis or through the process described by cosmology?  One chaplain said to the other, “it happened in six days like we have now.  How do I know?  Because the Bible uses the Hebrew word yom which means day. I can prove it, ‘rabbiiiiiiii!’”

You Can Be Faithful to Science and Scripture

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Called out of my shower, soaking wet, I wrapped myself in a towel and reluctantly entered the fray.

On its face, it would seem that the concluding phrase to each of the descriptions of the six days of creation, “vaye hi erev, vayeh hi voker, yom (fill in the number one to six)” conclusively proves G-d created the world in six 24-hour long periods of time.  Intellectual honesty requires acknowledging that since G-d is omnipotent He could have done so.  The original Hebrew can be read to support creationism.

But, just as English is a language of science and literature, Hebrew is one of spiritual concepts.  Rare is the word that has only one meaning. Yom is not such a word.  A more accurate translation is: a period of time with a beginning and an ending.  Throughout the Bible, yom means day but also year.

Cosmology shows the world developed in six stages or eons.  The Hebrew text supports this concept too.  As well, discussions in the Midrash, a compendium of expository material, indicate the creation story may be allegorical.

So was the world created in six 24-hour days or six eons? The best answer is: Yes.

My friend, a world-renown scientist at UCLA, says, “Science explains the how and the what. But it cannot explain the why.”  Likewise, the Bible is not a science textbook.  To my mind, taken together, the two form a more solid explanation than each element separately.  You can be faithful to both.

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I respect people who interpret the creation story literally.  Through this belief, they bind themselves more closely to G-d.

I respect cosmologists who seek to uncover age-old mysteries and expand human knowledge.

If you find yourself uneasy about the side of this debate with which you disagree, hopefully, this explanation will ease your discomfort.

What part of this debate troubles you?

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How to Honor an Imperfect Father

You probably never met my father.  Candidly he was not a great man.  He struggled all his life and made many mistakes.  For periods of my life I refused contact with him and rejected the idea that he had anything to teach me.  But I was shortsighted to think he was, to borrow a Woody Allen joke, “so insignificant his hearse followed the other cars."

How to Honor an Imperfect Father

You're Responsible for Having a Relationship with Your Father

Fortunately during my first few years in the navy we strengthened our relationship. No one empathized more with my complaints about military SNAFUs, Situation Normal, All Fouled Up (or another choice term for F). During the five years since his death and the countless times I abortedly reached for the phone to get his advice, I have distilled the lessons he taught me.

  1. A Man Must Be a Man:  When I transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts he found a troop led by tough army veterans that would kick my wimpy behind.  Surviving hazing from the older scouts strengthened my character and deepened my humility.  At a young age, he indoctrinated me to Sunday football while drinking one beer from a can.  A man excelled in sports.  His pride showed when I won a starting position on my soccer team.  Even more important to him was the poise I showed when I broke my collarbone during my first and only start.
  2. Responsibility Earns Freedom:  With my dad, privileges came after you demonstrated mature behavior.  The first time my older sister damaged the car we thought my dad would kill her (no I did not root for this, she drove me too many places).  But, since she had handled the situation properly he treated her like an adult.  In high school I never had a curfew because I let him know my plan in advance and called before making alterations.
  3. Treat Women Courteously:  A man opens doors for all women, not because they cannot but to demonstrate your respect for them.  You do not use profanity in front of women, not because they would faint at hearing it but to demonstrate respect. Period.
  4. A Man’s Word is His Bond:  My father knew of no snake lower than a man who broke a promise. He repeatedly related stories highlighting his father’s honesty in business.
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From his lifetime of challenges and mistakes, these are a few of the axioms I distilled. They represent the character my father developed as a Boy Scout, lifeguard, firearms instructor, navy officer, engineer, businessman, husband, and father. When my sisters and I were grown and out on our own he rarely missed the chance to tell us how proud he was of how we turned out, conscientiously never taking credit for our success.

Learn from His Flaws

Did my dad always live up to these ideals? Frankly, no. Unfortunately his failures ate away at him, indirectly teaching me another principle:  Learn from your mistakes and move on.

He taught me his final lesson shortly after his death when I was helping a Marine reconcile himself to his own father’s death. I realized there comes a point when a father is confident his son can handle himself and so he exits life’s stage thereby telling his son: You have the conn.

Dad: I love you, miss you, and pray you watch over me and help me as I steer this ship called my family’s life.

What did your Dad teach you?

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How to Be at the Forefront of Mental Development

Parsha Nugget Beha’aloscha – Numbers 8:1-12:16

Often I have the feeling the world is passing me by. Then I remind myself that many changes turn out to be meaningless fads that won't endure. And when it comes to mental development, this week’s parsha, Beha’aloscha, shows why the Torah’s is eternal:

They journeyed from the Mountain of G-d a distance of three-day, and the Ark of the Covenant of G-d journeyed before them a distance of three days to spy out for them a resting-place. (Numbers/Bamidbar 10:33)

How to Be at the Forefront of Mental Development

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This Sabbath's parsha begins with lighting the Menorah and consecrating the Levites.  Then it discusses bringing the Passover Offering and Pesach Sheini.  Next, it describes the cloud and pillar of fire with which G-d led the Children of Israel and other aspects of their travels. Along the way, they complained about eating the Manna. The parsha explains G-d's response.  It ends with Miriam’s affliction with tzaraas.

During the cycle of the Torah we read each weekly parsha three times. Having done this for a score of years I still find details that I had not previously noticed. Take the above verse. Do you notice anything strange about it?

What would you consider to be the Israelites' most precious possession? The Tabernacle? The Incense Altar? Wouldn’t it be the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, both the complete second set and the fragments of the first set that Moses broke, inside? G-d “wrote” on these pieces of carved stone with His “finger.” Surely they were treasured above all else. So why would the Ark that contained them travel three days ahead of the Tribes where it was vulnerable to being stolen?

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Rashi interprets the Hebrew word lasor, which usually means “to spy out,” as “to prepare.” The Israelites encamped where G-d indicated by having the Cloud of Glory stop at a particular location. How does that connect with the Ark preparing?

Mental Development for the Ages

There is a great deal of discussion about whether certain, perhaps many parts of the Torah are relevant today. For instance, why should we be concerned about the dietary laws when we have modern means of checking for contamination? Why do we need to live in communities close enough to walk to a synagogue when the automobile can get us there so easily?

Yet it seems that in other cases it is as if the wisdom of Torah is just being discovered or rediscovered. Psychologists recently acknowledged taking a set period for deep mourning of a deceased relative is excellent for dealing with the grief. This practice, called Shiva, has existed for millennia. The mikvah (a ritual immersion pool) has regained its centrality to the spiritual life of many women. In fact, the number and types of places where women can commune without men are increasing. Yet such were commonplace over two thousand years ago.

Like G-d, the Torah is omniscient. Its relevance is not merely to Biblical times but for all times. This is why the Ark, which contained the Tablets that embodied the Torah, traveled far in advance of the Children of Israel. Wherever they were going, whatever experiences they would face, the:

Torah was already prepared with the wisdom and guidance they needed

So today when you think that the demands of the Torah are outmoded, you close your mind to solutions to the greatest challenges you face. Torah is not obsolete. Rather your desire not to feel out of step with contemporary life may compel you to reject its millennial-old wisdom. Open your mind and consider how what the Torah asks of you can help you. By doing so, rather than conforming to an old-fashioned, uncool way of life, you put yourself at the forefront of spiritual and mental development.

What aspect of the Bible do you think is antiquated?

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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 we read a portion known as a sedra or parsha. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

Don’t You Think There Should Be Aunt’s Day?

Don’t you love your aunts and uncles? They are like parents without the baggage who have more wisdom than your friends. My Aunt Nadine is a honey. She is a retired banker and the author of Celestial Messages. Unfortunately several weeks ago she took a spill and hurt herself badly enough that she could not do many of the things she was used to. After my blog post on How to Handle Disagreements with G-d, she sent me this email:

Don't You Think There Should Be Aunt's Day?

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Hi Kevin,

I found this message very helpful.  I hope that you are back to full recovery or close.  I am doing better.  The finger is still pretty stiff so I may have to get some physical therapy.

When I fell for the second time in less than six months, I have to admit I was asking G-d what He was doing to me?  I think I have found part of the answer. Maybe I was taking things too much for granted.  I mean the simple tasks like cutting up the vegetables for a simple salad, showering, or driving my car. Suddenly, these were no longer options in my life. I felt helpless and my life not completely in my own control. It gave me plenty of time to think of millions of people around the planet who face this every day of their lives. People in wheelchairs, the blind, illnesses so severe are just a few that come to mind.  Then I began to feel lucky since this was not a permanent state for me. I would soon gain back my precious freedom and I could once again be the captain of my own ship.

What a relief when I took the car out for the first time and went by myself to the grocery store. The shelves seem more stocked with goodies, the clerks seem friendlier, and the other customers were smiling at me. No the world had not changed in that 6 weeks, but I had. Now all I have to do is remember to thank G-d and try to help the less fortunate around me.

What a lesson!

P.S.  If you want to use or incorporate this in a blog, feel free.

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Didn’t I tell you she is a honey!

How has your aunt or uncle helped you?

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