How best to keep yourself on the path to maximum success and happiness? Or, at the very least, avoid finding yourself in situations you come to regret? Those were the questions that animated much of a long New Year’s lunch I enjoyed recently with friends. Perhaps it was the time of year, perhaps it was the wine; probably, it was a bit of both.
While it’s clear that we can’t protect ourselves against all the tough stuff that life throws our way, we can make decisions that position us to enjoy life more. About that, we all agreed. The question was, and remains, how best to do that.
As the conversation unfolded, I listened and realized how strongly people felt that the key lay in protecting ourselves?effectively (and our kids and loved ones) from the “wrong” people, from risky situations, from misplaced trust. Success, for the proponents of this approach, translated into choosing wisely about from what/whom we should protect ourselves, and sticking to that path.
We cultivate greater happiness not by protecting ourselves from, but by reaching out to, as many people and ideas as possible.
It’s not like I don’t identify with that defensive impulse – I do. Too often, I allow that instinct to shape my own decision-making processes. But I don’t think it’s really the best way to go, at least not as often and as enthusiastically as my lunchmates did.
Rather than spending quite as much time and energy worrying about all the various people and things we need to protect ourselves from, I think we need to focus more on making connections. Who can we associate with, what experiences can we seek out, that improve our day-to-day lives? I am increasingly certain that, however counter-intuitive it may be for many of us, we cultivate greater happiness not by protecting ourselves from, but by reaching out to, as many people and ideas as possible.
Certainly, a wisely lived life balances those needs for both protection and connection. As 2015 opens before me, I hope that I find the wisdom, courage and faith to tip the scales increasingly toward connection. I hope we all do.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.