In her book, Mindset, Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck asks the question: why do some children seem to grow and flourish in school and in life, and others who may be more gifted somehow don’t reach their full potential? She proposes that you can divide children, and adults for that matter, into two types. Those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.
Those with a fixed mindset see their gifts, their capacities as something given at birth, something they have, which is determined. It’s not going to change very much. And there are other people who see life as a matter of learning and of development. And they don’t think of themselves as having a fixed potential, they simply try, and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. That’s a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset, she says, are risk-averse. They will work within their comfort zone. They will take on challenges they know they can handle, but they will be intimidated, nervous, and reluctant to engage in challenges that they can’t handle. Because if they fail, they will take that as a blow to their self-esteem.
Whereas people with a growth mindset don’t even think in terms of failure. They don’t define failure as failure. They see failure as a learning experience. Those who have a growth mindset go on to flourish. And those who have a fixed mindset do not.
J.K. Rowling wrote a children’s book and she sent it to 12 publishers, all of whom turned it down. To get 12 rejections, that’s a serious blow. But if you’re a J.K. Rowling, you don’t let that stop you, because you don’t think in terms of failure. Okay, that’s a growth experience, I keep going.
When William Golding first submitted his manuscript for Lord of the Flies it got rejected by 21 publishers. He was on the brink of despair, but no, he keeps going and in 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In January of 1962 the Beatles had their first audition at Decca Records. Decca Records heard the Beatles and they passed the following judgement: The Beatles have no future in show business.
The definition of a Jew is illustrated in the Torah (Beraishit 32: 25-27), when Jacob wrestles with Esau’s angel. He is told that he will now be known as Israel, one who struggles with God and with humanity and prevails. And Jacob says something very profound to the Angel. He says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
And that is how I feel about suffering. When something bad happens, I will not let go of that bad thing until I have discovered the blessing that lies within it.
The Hebrew, the biblical Hebrew, has two key words for happiness. One is ssher and one is simcha. And they are very different. Asher is the happiness we feel. Simcha is the happiness we make. Asher is the happiness we can experience on our own, but Simcha is the happiness that only exists in virtue of being shared. This is how Kind David in the first Psalm describes the happy life:
“Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat where scoffers sit. But his desire is in the Torah of the Lord; on his Torah he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in all that he does he prospers.” (Psalms 1:1-3)
Happiness is an attitude to life as a whole, while joy lives in the moment. As J. D. Salinger once said: “Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid.” Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to God. It comes from a different realm than happiness. It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude.
Joy is mentioned in this week’s parsha, Ki Tavo.
“Then you will rejoice in all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the stranger in your midst.” (Devarim 26:11)
After describing the ceremony that took place when one would bring the first-fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem, Moses proclaims that the capacity for joy is what gives the Jewish people the strength to endure.
Celebrating together binds us as a people: that and the gratitude and humility that come from seeing our achievements not as self-made but as the blessings of God. The pursuit of happiness can lead, ultimately, to self-regard and indifference to the sufferings of others. It can lead to risk-averse behavior and a failure to “dare greatly”. Not so joy. Joy connects us to others and to God. Joy is the ability to celebrate life as such, knowing that whatever tomorrow may bring, we are here today, under God’s Heaven, in the universe He made, to which He has invited us as His guests.