Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why is Everyone Running on Empty?

One of the great ironies of modern times is that man isn't happy. Throughout almost every strata of society and every segement what you find is that people seem to be down, stressed, pushed to the limits and running on empty.

If we were to describe our wealth to people of a different generation, they probably wouldn't believe us. Kings in prior times didn't enjoy the luxuries that we do. The reality is that we are wealthy beyond belief. We enjoy comforts and abundance that are historically unprecedented. And it's not just the extremely affluent. The average tax-paying citizen of today lives in opulence and splendor that previous generations couldn't dream about.

We Have Arrived - Are We Happy?

In short, we are wealthy beyond belief. We have riches that far, far exceed our needs. As a society, as a nation, and as individuals, we enjoy prosperity and abundance. We benefit from creature comforts that were unthinkable a generation ago. Everything is so readily available, so accessible, so easy. And so I have one question: now that we have so much, are we happy?

For centuries, all that man desired was freedom from tyranny and a homeland where he could enjoy liberty and safety. Armies went to war for it, entire generations sacrificed all that they had for it, and we now have it. We are there. We have finally arrived. Living in a free society with almost unlimited opportunity, we are easily able to find sustenance and enjoy unheard of wealth; we have it all. But are we happy? Now that we are there, is it all that we thought it was? Is this the dream that we were seeking? Are we any happier today than our ancestors in previous generations?

Drinking When You Are Thirsty

In a memoir written many years ago, a teenager describes what life was like for him growing up in the 1920's in the deep South. Hunger was a part of life; it was just a given. He got up in the morning hungry, and went to bed even hungrier. Often, he left home in the morning without eating breakfast, because there was no food in the house - literally nothing to eat.

One morning while walking to work, he passed a neighbor's house and noticed that the garden hose was left out. He turned on the spigot and began drinking and drinking until he filled his belly, hoping to stop the hunger pangs. It worked. His stomach no longer grumbled for food...till the water passed. Then he was left hungrier than before.

For many people, that is life. They feel emptiness inside, a longing for something. What it is they can't quite tell you, but it gives them no rest. They try to fill it with money and honor, possessions and luxuries, all the while hoping it will satisfy that void inside.

But it doesn't work. For a while they are distracted, for a moment their attention is diverted, but then the quiet time comes again, and they find themselves as empty as before. And the worst part is that for the life of them, they can't figure out why. "I have so much, yet I feel so poor! What's wrong with me? What's wrong with life?" The problem is that they are trying to fill their souls with things that sparkle and shine, but are as fleeting as fireworks on the fourth of July.

The neshamah within me isn't satisfied and can't be satisfied with anything so cheap, so she calls out for more. Instead of heeding her call, many people try to fill that vacuum with more glitter and gold. But the nishamah isn't impressed. So while they fill their bellies for a time and forget their pain, that gnawing hunger comes back to haunt them even more acutely than before.

I Need More

"But what's wrong? What am I missing? I thought I had it all. I guess I just need more." Then in a headlong rush to quell that vacant feeling inside, they pursue careers and promotions, honor and prestige, acquisitions and hobbies, distraction after distraction, running, running, running - anything, just to not think about the emptiness inside. From cars to homes, planes to cruises. Buy a boat, then a yacht. Next a Rolex, then a Rembrandt. Luxuries, parties, extravaganzas... anything, anything to fill that void inside. But it never works. They wake up in the middle of the night and mouth the words, "There has to be more to life than this."

There is. There is so much more. But if man doesn't search for it, he won't find it. And if he doesn't find it, he is destined to be miserable. To achieve happiness and peace of mind, man has to know that he has a soul, and then he has to know what it needs to be satisfied.


  1. brilliant!!!!and soo bitingly true
    none of these luxuries can make u happier so its just a proof that an easy life is not necessarily a haooy one

  2. It's sooo true! Real Happiness is having a real connection with Hashem. Our neshama is screaming to us! It only wants kedusha!!! The other things that TRY to fill up a person are TOTTALLY FAKE!!! It only makes a person miserable by running after more! And it's so not fullfilling at all! It's not REAL! A person that is so limited can be the happiest person alive because it's all in the mind. If he is grateful and appreciates everything he has, there's no question of being unhappy, because he knows that whatever he doesn't have, he doesn't need!!!

  3. I'm so happy you posted this because I think I got about two emails of it but I kept ignoring it, saving it to read for some other time. But when I saw it on the blog I thought, maybe Hashems really tryingto get me a message, He really wants me to read it. SO i did. and it is a really great article. R Shafier made really clear points! Thanks for posting it!

  4. Great post. It's really true, and so sad that we can live in such comfort and still be so empty. B"H, we have Torah, and thank you for keeping us on track!


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