July 13th, 2017 | 19 Tamuz 5777
On Tuesday, we began what is known on the Jewish calendar as “the Three Weeks.” This is a time of decreasing happiness which culminates in Tisha B’av, a commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple, and the expulsion of Jews from ancient Judea.
It is accordingly a particularly poignant time to think about the sources of happiness and meaning in our lives. It is well-researched that we derive longer lasting happiness from our experiences than we do from our things.
It turns out that we build up our store of happiness not only during an experience, but even in our anticipation of its arrival beforehand and in our reflections upon it long afterwards. Even a bad experience fills our buckets: we might laugh for years recalling that night the rain poured into our new tent. And yet the tent itself – that we were once so excited to buy – quickly grows old.
My father knew this long before the psychology studies came out. When my siblings and I turned our allowance money into concert and show tickets, Dad approved. As we were growing up, he taught us that such purchases were an “investment in memories.” As a tax lawyer, he knew the value of investments. Instead of the fleeting pleasure of attaining things, he wanted us to know the satisfaction of really experiencing life.
As I think about where I want to invest my time and the memories that I want to create – for myself and my family – Isabella Freedman is that place. Last week, my kids were setting up our new tent in the backyard as they prepare to camp during the Hazon Food Conference. And our weekend bike rides are the long-game preparation for the day when my 7-year-old will be old enough to ride in the NY Ride, which we all look forward to attending every year.
It’s been over a decade since I attended my first silent meditation retreat at Elat Chayyim (which now happens at Freedman). I still remember and draw upon the quiet and calm that I found during those ten days. It is an experience that I continue to cherish as a gift to myself.
Retreats allow us the space to breathe. We get to see Jewish tradition and sustainability effortlessly intertwined. We experience firsthand all streams of people coming together as one community.
There’s always something new we can be convinced we need: the latest phone, some new clothing, that must-have kitchen gadget… and at the same time, our houses and closets are filled up. There are entire industries and bestselling books designed to help us get rid of our stuff. (And yes, I have asked myself if that shirt I never wear sparks joy.) And it turns out that all the while, spending money on experiences builds longer lasting happiness than accumulating more stuff.
The research also shows that the longer you can anticipate an experience, the more happiness you will derive. So not only do I hope that you will invest in memories with us, I hope that you register soon. Because as soon as you do, you can start putting deposits into your happiness bank. And if coming to Isabella Freedman isn’t on your calendar for this year, put other places on it. Summer has started, so get outdoors, make memories, and bring long-lasting joy to yourself and others.
Chief Program Officer