Presents of Presence, by Rabbi Roni Handler

Happiness. We all want and seek it and yet this elusive emotion is so difficult to attain—and even more difficult to sustain. 

Studies on this topic take place year after year, and there are even entire journals dedicated to the topic of “happiness.”

During the holiday season, one way we show our appreciation for each other is through the giving of gifts.  This ritual has become customary regardless of which holidays we celebrate (or not), as we give gifts to friends, family, teachers, co-workers, and even those who deliver our mail and newspapers.  I am sure many of us have experienced elation, despair and confusion, as we’ve shopped for, wrapped, given and received holiday gifts. 

There is something truly awesome about experiencing the genuine joy and appreciation of a child as he receives a new favorite toy. If only we could bottle that joy and tap into it in moments of sadness, distress, or indifference.

Unfortunately, the joy of unwrapping a gift is generally fleeting.  According to some studies, the ‘happiness’ we experience when receiving gifts may last only a few short days, weeks, or months (or, in the worse cases, hours).  The things we acquire might make us happy in the moment, but true happiness is not connected with the stuff we acquire. 

Studies show that the gifts that foster the most happiness—a long lasting and memorable kind of happiness—are the ones that encourage us to spend time with those we love. Whether the lavish gift of a well earned vacation or the more modest gift of a new game that could turn into a ritualized game night with family or friends, gifts that encourage us to connect with others lead to true and lasting happiness.

Spending time together should be easy, but carving out time to spend with our loved ones can be challenging.   The holidays that punctuate our Jewish and secular calendars help alleviate this problem.  Holidays provide us with an excuse, or maybe even an imperative, to get together.  Beyond shopping or gift wrapping, holidays provide us with the greatest gift of all—the present of our presence. 

This year as we gather around the Hanukkah menorah to light candles, sing songs, eat traditional foods, and exchange presents, I encourage you to be present to the happiness you feel in each moment.  Happy Hanukkah from your friends at Ritualwell!