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What’s Right With Me?

Traditional psychology has been focused on pathology – figuring out what is wrong with the person and then attempting to fix it, either through medications or psychotherapy. However, in recent years psychologists have increasingly been focusing on what is known as positive psychology – identifying the person’s strengths and tapping into them to enable the individual to overcome challenges and adversity.

Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, envisions the good life as “using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” The principles of positive psychology are applied not only to the individual, but also to families and institutions such as schools and the workplace, to foster the flourishing of human happiness and potential. Positive psychology gives the power to the individual to overcome his or her negative past experiences and bring forth latent strengths.

One of the most potent factors contributing to a person’s happiness level is involvement with spirituality or religion. Among the reasons for this is that spirituality fosters four “sacred” emotions that are essential for attaining inner happiness: gratitude, humility, forgiveness, and compassion.

The contrast between traditional, pathology-oriented psychology and positive psychology parallels the difference between the Mussar tradition and the Chassidic tradition. The focus of Mussar is on breaking negative character traits, on “turning away from evil.” The problem, though, is that by following the Mussar approach one is constantly involved with negative thoughts, negative desires, in order to break them. The Chassidic approach is to “do good.” As laid out in Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad Chassidic thought, every Jew has an ahavah mesuteret, a deeply rooted, hidden love for G-d. By accessing and tapping into that love, a person’s service of G-d will flow naturally from there. By focusing on our love for G-d, and G-d’s love and compassion for us, this brings forth a desire to serve G-d through studying Torah and performing mitzvot.

The approach of Chassidut is not to do battle with oneself, but rather to shape and channel our desires towards G-dly ends. And by dooing so, we bring ourselves and the world closer to the ultimate Redemption.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, King Moshiach, explains that the word for exile (golah) and the word for redemption (geulah) are separated by just one letter, the Hebrew Aleph, first letter of the Aleph-Bet. The Aleph, with a numerical value of one, represents the unity of G-d. To transform golah into geulah, all we need to do is bring the Aleph of G-dliness into our golah reality. In other words, in geulah, our world will not change. Our lives will not change. Our reality will not change. All that will change is our perception. We will see that everything we need to experience true joy, happiness, sanctity and connectedness is already present. As the Rebbe says, the Geulah is here, we only need to open our eyes to the reality.


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