I don’t do self-help.
And I don’t do happy.
So I certainly don’t do self-help books preaching happiness.
Unless…it’s assigned reading.
Because I’m that kind of student.
Prior to the start of the Year-in-Israel program, I received a copy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion: A centennial history : 1875-1975 by Dr. Michael A. Mayer. With clear instructions to complete it in advance of the opening colloquium.
My first assignment for rabbinical school, I thought, excitedly. And completed it within days.
I genuinely loved the book. The subject matter was something of interest. The writing style was clear and inviting. But neither the subject matter nor the writing style provided the compelling motivation. The mere fact that it was assigned reading was enough of a reason to start and finish the book.
For exactly one month (and I mean to the very day), I have picked up, and then put back down, a book in an annoyingly-bright yellow jacket: Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. Written by Tal Ben-Shahar. I mean, is that even the guy’s real name? Dew, Son of [the] Dawn. Really?
With just under six weeks remaining before the next, and final, Rabbis Without Borders symposium, I am starting to wonder what is wrong with me. Why can’t I get into this book? Is it a reflection on me? Does it mean something that I am unable to read a book about happiness? Does it mean something that I am wondering if it means something?
Maybe, with a cross-country move, major career transition, parenting a special needs child, maybe I’m not in a happy place?
Or is it possible that the book is just dreck?
And then something quite remarkable happened today. I turned to a colleague…a mentor, really…and asked her these questions. She turned the questions around and pushed me to confront them. To think about them. She offered an alternate title as a way for me to arrive at the desired place as the other participants via a different route. And she shared with me the goals of the assignment. Most of all, she listened. Really listened to my questions. And the questions behind the questions. So that when I picked up the book again this evening, I was able to look past my misgivings and seek wisdom from its pages.
I am now fifty-seven pages into it which, according to Goodreads.com, is 30% of the book. I still don’t like it. But now I know why. And it turns out, that doesn’t really matter when it comes to assigned reading.