Judaism Unbound Episode 82: The Happiness Prayer - Evan Moffic


Evan Moffic, author of the new book The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today, joins Dan and Lex for a discussion of how a text that is over 1,000 years old aligns closely with the findings of positive psychology. The conversation moves beyond positive psychology into an exploration of the shifting role of American synagogues and even, of all things, the Chicago Cubs' recent World Series victory. 

(0:01 - 18:22): What is the "Happiness Prayer?" [1] Author Evan Moffic, who is also the rabbi of a Reform synagogue in the Chicago area, begins the episode by giving us an overview of his recent book about a wisdom text from the Talmud that begins with the words "eilu d'varim" ("these are the things") and is included in many Jewish religious services. [2] This text provides the framework for his book, which argues that each of the elements of the prayer can be put to use towards the goal of achieving happiness and human flourishing. [3] Moffic distinguishes between "happiness" and "pleasure," and he uses the case study of the Chicago Cubs' World Series championship to illustrate elements of the science of positive psychology that have been especially influential in his outlook and in his work.

(18:23 - 30:10): Moffic expands on a number of elements of the Happiness Prayer. He discusses why visiting the sick and honoring one's father and mother, in particular, can be conducive to happiness even though there are challenges associated with each. He suggests a few principles that would be worthy additions to the prayer in our own time, including mastery of a skill and self-reflection. He also gives his perspective on the topic of "unbundling" Judaism, which arises frequently on Judaism Unbound. [4]

(30:11 - 53:00): Does the Happiness Prayer have something to offer even to those who are not themselves Jewish? Does Judaism writ large have something to offer those who are not Jewish? Moffic advances an argument that, in both respects, the answer is yes. [5] He then talks about the ways that Jewish denominational movements have shifted, along with how individual Jews are engaging with them. To close, he outlines a few of the challenges faced by today's synagogues, as well as important purposes that they still serve for many.

[1] Purchase a copy of The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today, by clicking here.

[2] For the text of the "Happiness Prayer," in both Hebrew and English, click here.

[3] For more on human flourishing as the potential primary goal of Judaism, listen to Episode 53: Death and Rebirth and Episode 54: Judaism's Job, both featuring Irwin Kula.

[4] Episode 25: Unbundling Judaism

[5] Lex references language on Moffic's website that demonstrates an interest in connecting spiritually even with those who are not Jewish. In particular, Moffic's website tagline is "Jewish wisdom has been inaccessible for too long. Whatever your background or faith, here you will find ancient truths to live by." Visit his website by clicking here.