The Pursuit of “Happiness”
I’m not entirely sure what new ideas I could apply to Adam by Kurt Vonnegut, but I do know that the story beautifully expressed certain ideas that I’ve held for a while. My late great-grandmother Johanna had escaped the Holocaust when she was younger, being part of a small number of Jewish refugees who stealthily slipped into Portugal and Spain during the prewar period. Though she never had a firsthand experience of the Holocaust, she would tell us stories about her friends and family members that were less lucky. The stories were never grim, but there was always a certain air of wrongness surrounding the subject. This has often been a shared emotion between the Holocaust survivors that I have met.
Another shared trait between some Holocaust survivors seemed to be the ability to take joy in the minutiae of everyday life, like finding an extra chicken nugget in your fast food order. Johanna often told me that while the Nazis always tried to exterminate hope, the Jewish people found their hope in small, simple things. A phrase that she taught me in Yiddish was “borekh hashem” which meant “blessed be the name of the Lord”. This phrase invokes the attitude of gratitude, and helps me find joy in little blessings in my life.
I feel like there is an unfortunate attitude in the United States, where we assume that our life’s purpose is to provide labor for an upper class that we desperately want to be a part of. The “bootstrap” mentality is becoming increasingly more difficult for the average American, and the unfortunate truth is that most of the nation’s available wealth has already been stashed away in offshore accounts and hedge funds. We defend the wealth of the ultra-rich because we hope that we will have their wealth someday, and members of the church are often the worst perpetrators of this.
We are a target demographic for multi-level marketing schemes because of our innate belief that wealth correlates directly to righteousness. We want to get rich quick because we think God owes us for being righteous and keeping the commandments. There is a reason that the largest majors at BYU fall under business and pre-med, and it definitely isn’t because they have an altruistic desire geared towards supply chain management.
I hope that we can learn from the character of Heinz Knechtmann and not get so absorbed in work, and instead say “borekh hashem” whenever we find something that brings us joy.