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Life

The Spiritual and Physical — What Makes Us Happy?

In today’s world, our lives revolve around technology and social media. Day in and day out, we text, Tweet, and see what other people are doing through a constant flutter of photos and status updates. We long to be connected to everything and everyone, feeling naked without our phones or compulsive checking of Facebook. But when the day is done, what do we really get from refreshing the webpage just to see all the photos our “friends” are posting from yet another party that looks identical to all the rest?

In this Moscow Times article, our elders recall how fond they were of their childhood. They reminisce about playing out in the backyard and relaxing with their grandparents during summer vacations. Even in the hard times of the Soviet Union, when food and money were scarce and religious freedom was non-existent, they are able to remember a simple and happy time. But now, with so much more freedom and opportunity than our grandparents could ever imagine, we can barely boast that we are as happy as they were then. With one in every 10 U.S. adults diagnosed with depression, it makes me wonder if all the hype of technology and social media plays a part in the rise of this disease.

The constant comparison to what your peers are doing, what you should look like, and feeling like an outcast if you are not updated on the latest device makes people feel inferior and takes away from their quality of life. As someone who finds myself wishing I could just make Facebook and Twitter disappear sometimes, yet can’t imagine life without these things, it makes me thankful that the lessons I am learning from Judaism can help me stay connected to the things that really matter and bring me happiness.

As I have learned from my recent trip to Israel and studies from the Meor Program, the Torah seeks to harmonize and connect the physical and spiritual factors in our lives. Looking at the roots, the word “mitzvah” means Jewish transcendence. Rather than reject activities that may be pleasurable, Judaism believes that many enjoyable actions are central to our emotional and mental health and play an important role in our spiritual endeavors. The main message of Judaism is that the material world is not an opposition to spirituality. In fact, Jewish spirituality calls for the physical in order to live a good and fulfilling life.

Connecting with important mitzvahs such as keeping Shabbat, lighting candles on Friday night, or keeping kosher, allows you to remove yourself from the constant banter of social media. These deeds remind us of what is truly important in our lives, such as family, friends and personal growth. It hinders the constant comparison to others, and instead makes us see how great we can be as an individual, and what steps we can take to become more comfortable with ourselves and our beliefs.

Enjoy your time with the positives of media and connecting with friends in ways we never thought were possible. But when the sun sets on Friday and Shabbat begins, surround yourself with great people around a dinner table, and remind yourself just how good you have it.

Rashel Noginsky, 22, whose family emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

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