The Future of a Marriage – Part 4: The Good News File
Words spoken at the festive meal (“Sheva Berachot”) on the occasion of
the marriage of our grandson and his bride, Lakewood, USA, 24th of June.
My dear friend and teacher Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l published an essay called “The Good News File” in his marvelous collection of essays “Celebrating Life – Finding Happiness in Unexpected Places.” In the essay he writes: “There was a time in my life when I became very low. It seemed as if my world was in pieces. What I was feeling was not yet clinical depression, but I had the sense that it was not far away (pp. 29-31).”
Rabbi Sacks discusses cognitive psychology, which is the study of how people think and process information. Cognitive psychology assists researchers in understanding the human brain, and additionally, it enables psychologists to help people deal with mental difficulties.
Cognitive psychology suggests that what we feel is largely determined by how we perceive the circumstances wherein we find ourselves. Indeed, I have mentioned this precise point in the past, quoting the Greek philosopher Epictetus (c. 50 – c. 135 CE): “We suffer not from the events in our lives but from our judgment about them.” When we change how we think of these circumstances, we will feel entirely different about them.
When Rabbi Sacks once met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Sacks what he was doing for Jewish life in Cambridge. Rabbi Sacks responded: “Well, in the situation in which I find myself…” The Rebbe interrupted him and said: “No one ever finds himself in a situation. You put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in one situation, you can put yourself in a different situation.”
The Rebbe may have meant that one may feel that one “finds” himself in certain circumstances” because one thinks in a particular way about these circumstances. However, one may be able to think about these same circumstances in an entirely different manner, and thus open a whole new world before himself.
Even a man in prison can be free. Everything can be taken away from a human being except his thoughts; they belong entirely to him. One’s thoughts are his most valuable possession; they cannot be stolen.
One manner to change one’s mood, alleviate depressive thoughts, and alter his overall attitude is to create a “Good News File.” Maintaining a file for good news requires purchasing a file folder that will contain a record of all the good things that have occurred.
One may write, for example: “My shower this morning was warm and pleasant (and I know that my great-grandparents never had such a luxury)”; “Not only did I make my bus on time, but it was not full and I was able to sit very comfortably”; “Today is my birthday, my friends visited me and brought me a surprise gift”; “Seeing the beautiful flowers on the table fills me with joy”; “I stood in wonder watching the sun set last night”; “My child made a funny remark which was delightful”; “I purchased new shoes that make me feel as if I am walking on clouds”; “I helped an old lady cross the road, and I felt wonderful as a result”; “I composed a great essay—I did not know I had it in me”; etc.
This is what Rabbi Sacks did, and he found it to be of ultimate value, liberating him from a possible depression.
Furthermore, compose a “Letter to Yourself” to give you courage and change your attitude: “Dear…, I am writing to you to let you know how much potential you possess. Remember what you did some time ago and how people enjoyed it? They are waiting for more. You can see that you are able to do great things, and you can do much more of these. Go and help people, you will love it. People appreciate you more than you know. You do not even know to what extent others see you as a role model. Try to be a tzaddik, a righteous person, and bring people closer to a meaningful life. Smile at everyone—doing so can change the lives of so many people! People will appreciate you… .”
Aside from these, remember that you must never feel bad when criticized. Once you have done your utmost, you have done all you can. If you receive justified criticism, learn from it. Unjustified criticism is somebody else’s problem, not yours! The famous Hasidic rebbe and leader, the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk, 1787–1859) would say that when society holds one to incorrect values, one must not be concerned with how society judges him. One must go his own way with pride.
Indeed, one who adopts the Kotzker’s approach will ultimately win the day, and the Good News File and Letter to Yourself will be of tremendous help in achieving happiness and tranquility.
To be continued.