Newspaper and magazine articles note how, although most Americans own far more material goods than their ancestors, they’re less content than former generations.
The idea that our possessions do not bring happiness is commonly found in religious tracts; those writers suggest the key to contentment is focusing less on the material and more on the spiritual. Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., explores this idea from a Jewish point of view in “Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most” (Jewish Lights Publishing).
Goldberg explains that while life is filled with uncertainty and pain, we can learn to appreciate its gifts by finding “a kind of joy in being present” in the current moment. In order to accomplish this, it’s necessary to release what we don’t need, while, at the same time, discovering the most important facets of our lives.
Goldberg offers three steps to help readers begin the process: “Find the space in your life to discover what your core values are and, through that discovery, what you want in your life. Second, identify the things you therefore cannot pursue, the opportunities you must willfully deny for the greater good. Third, practice the discipline of adhering to your choice. (No really means no).”
In order to discover our core values, we need to pause and take a break from our busy lives. Although contemporary culture celebrates us being connected to the world 24/7, Goldberg believes that’s not conducive to living a meaningful or thoughtful life. However, escaping from the daily stress of work is only the first step. The author suggests that writing a mission statement is the best way to uncover our purpose in life.
He lists slogans used by a variety of successful corporations as inspiration. The idea is not to model our purpose on theirs, but to show how, when businesses clearly focus on their core purpose, they have a far better chance of succeeding.
Goldberg also believes we need to realize not only what we want to accomplish, but how to avoid activities we shouldn’t be doing. Among his suggestions for better ways to focus on “the most important things” are “less TV, more reading;” “less consuming, more creating;” “less busywork, more impact;” and “less noise, more solitude.”
The author then outlines a variety of practices that can help us make room for what really matters, including:
• Letting go of resentments in order to free ourselves from the past. This allows us to go forward with our lives, rather than focusing on what can’t be changed.
• Exploring how downsizing our possessions can lead to more happiness. Goldberg offers seven different ways to begin the process.
1. Suggesting how to be fully present for those we love by putting away our gadgets and giving them our complete attention.
2. Explaining that while we should actively strive to do good, we must recognize we will never be perfect. Expectations of perfection can lead to feelings of failure, which then prevent us from trying and exploring new ideas.
3. Learning when to say no to those we love, especially our children, in order to teach them resilience.
4. Understanding the importance of small kindnesses. The author lists small acts that can make a true difference in the world.
5. Facing our fears in order to put them into perspective. That robs them of their power and allows us to accomplish great things.
6. Realizing there are no guarantees in life and that we have to learn to accept what is handed to us, while still working to follow our chosen path.
7. Seeing “the Divinity in others” so we treat everyone with civility and respect.
Goldberg’s practical suggestions on how to change our lives are excellent and thought-provoking. While I had difficulty formulating a mission statement (my life feels far too complex for just one), reviewing his suggestions struck me as a worthwhile exercise.
His book works in several ways: as a self-help guide and as a blueprint to finding a greater spiritual connection to the universe. Anyone feeling dissatisfied with their life may find the answers they are searching for in “Saying No and Letting Go.”