I swore I would not be one of those parents. You know, those new parents who are obsessed with how totally amazing their baby is and take out their phones to show you and post on Facebook and OMG have you SEEN him, he’s the yummiest-most-adorable-little-human-god-ever-made…

Big shocker: I am TOTALLY one of those people, Lord help us all. I am the caricature of the parent I said I’d never be. And it’s not because my kid even does anything so special… he doesn’t pull his weight around the apartment, doesn’t do the dishes or laundry, can’t drive himself to day-care, can’t sign for a UPS delivery, can’t make breakfast himself, requires constant attention… in short, he’s a ton of work. Not coincidentally, I love him more than anything.

The IKEA effect is the principle that what you invest in, you love. You might think it would be the other way around, that what you love, you put your time and resources toward. But it’s exactly the opposite: if you put hours of sweat equity into building a bookshelf, no matter how hideously badly… you will love it more than the one you may have paid a lot of money for, but didn’t make yourself. The Harvard behavioral economist Dan Ariely discusses it here. Essentially, what you labor at, you love. What you work toward, you’ll fight for.

In times like these, when all around us are messages deifying wealth, selfishness, celebrity, and reminding us about all the things we can acquire on the cheap during Black Friday sales, I return to Pirke Avot, the Jewish wisdom literature: “Who is rich?” the text asks. “The one who is happy with what she already has.” What does it mean to be same’ach, happy? The Torah describes happiness as bringing the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the land-less one into your home to celebrate with you on your festivals. Happiness is the feeling of giving of yourself to others, not taking.

Gratitude doesn’t come when we get what we think we deserve, as if we’re entitled to a certain kind of life or situation. We need to create contexts for gratitude by serving, helping, going out of our way, loving, healing. And when we do this, we generate love. By giving of ourselves to people and the world around us, the world becomes a place we delight in and in which we find deep satisfaction and joy. And that’s what it means to be rich.

I’m pretty sure that to give of yourself is the most direct road to spiritual enlightenment. I bless you with a Thanksgiving of not just giving thanks, but giving more. Giving love, giving food, giving money, giving time, giving attention. I have a feeling if you do, you’ll reap dividends of happiness and love in return.

Shabbat shalom and happy Thanksgiving,
Rabbi Lizzi