A Holiday for Optimists

In pre-COVID days when I spoke to large audiences, I enjoyed asking groups to raise their hands if they were sales professionals.  Usually, only a few hands went up.  I then asked, “How many of you are justices of the United States Supreme Court?”  After the chuckles subsided, I asked, “How many of you are tenured university professors?”  Finally, I would say, “Look, if you’re not a judge appointed for life, and you’re not a professor hired for life, you are probably in sales.

At the very least, you must constantly sell your employer on the idea that you are worth keeping on the payroll.

Selling means helping others see things from a new perspective. Whether you are a dentist or a lawyer, whether you are a bookkeeper, a bartender, or a ballerina, you are in sales.  To a large extent, your success is as dependent upon your selling ability as it is upon your basic skill.  If you have a job or are looking for a job, you are in sales.  If you are a teacher, a pastor or a preacher, you are in sales.  And if you are seeking a spouse you are in sales. In other words, in any number of areas of our lives we are all in sales—perhaps even that Supreme Court Justice is.

Fortunately, ancient Jewish wisdom can help hone your selling ability. Not only can it help, but the prescription doesn’t include spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition or demand that you have relatives or friends to pave your way. As the famous MetLife study brilliantly conducted by Martin Seligman and many other subsequent studies strongly suggest,  optimism is a prerequisite to being successful in sales.  But how do you become a more optimistic person?

To answer that question, let’s look at a perplexing piece of Scripture. We first meet Moses as a baby, then we follow him as he matures and seeks out his suffering brethren. We track his escape to the land of Midian where he rescues Jethro’s daughters and becomes a shepherd. We delight as God appears to him and sets him on his life-mission.

Surely Moses must have been confused when, at the very beginning of the plagues that will culminate in the Israelites leaving Egypt,  God instructs him to take a back seat and instruct Aaron to turn the Nile River into blood.  (Exodus 7:19)

Isn’t Moses to be God’s messenger to Pharaoh? Why does God assign Aaron to bring the plague of blood?

“Gratitude,” answers  ancient Jewish wisdom.  The Nile carried Moses to safety as an infant.  It would show ingratitude to turn that life-saving  water into a lifeless stream of blood.

Excuse me? This is a river we’re talking about. Can a river feel shunned? No. That is the entire point!  Expressing gratitude does allow those who helped us to feel our appreciation. But it benefits the speaker as much—or more— than the recipient.  Among other things, expressing gratitude dramatically increases one’s optimism level.

An article published this year in a National Institute of Health journal noting the correlation between optimism and gratitude stated, “Thus, optimistic people experience more gratitude, which could give more sense to their lives and, in turn, enhance life satisfaction.”

The researchers have the equation back to front. It is not that optimistic people experience more gratitude, it is that grateful people experience more optimism. Working on “being optimistic” is difficult to pin down. But it is simple and clear-cut to work on “being grateful.” Whether you start a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to express gratitude aloud, to God, to each person with whom you interact, or to your nation on a daily basis, there is no more effective way to induce the happy sensation of optimism and hope in our souls than finding opportunities to say, “Thank you!”

Rather than focusing on the deprivation and great losses of the preceding year, the early Pilgrims counted their blessings and gave thanks. Not surprisingly, they embedded in America a sense of boundless optimism. It is no surprise that as their descendants become ungrateful “it’s owed to me” citizens, they are increasingly pessimistic and unhappy.

Wishing all of us a Thanksgiving of first principles, where we remind ourselves multiple times a day of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

Did you know that Chanuka is a holiday for “praise and gratitude”?
Its timeless messages are for all humanity.
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15 thoughts on “A Holiday for Optimists”

  1. Rabbi Lapin You are absolutely right! If everyone stopped to praise God for their blessings each day we would have a much better world! All throughout history there have always been problems large and small and God got people through them because he has a plan for our lives. There is much we have no control over and we need to “Let Go And Let God” To everyone have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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  2. Jennifer Dollinger

    Thank You Rabbi Lapin for the ancient Jewish wisdom( informational nuggets) Wishing You & Your Lovely Family a Wonderful Thanksgiving❣

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  3. “Let go and let G-d” you are absolutely right. I’m so thankful for my wife, 17 grandkids and 2 great grandchildren, Happy Thanksgiving Rabbi.

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  4. Rabbi Lapin, I’m so grateful for the Ancient Jewish Wisdom you and Susan so generously bestow upon me each week.

    One of your podcasts many months ago spoke of the way gratitude begets optimism. When this happy combination is wrapped up in faith, resilience is the result. I have recognised this is an integral part of being a happy warrior, able to meet life’s challenges, knowing all will be well.

    I lived in Marina Del Rey in the 80’s and feel certain I passed you on the streets of Venice. Many years later, I listened to you on KGO. I now continue to be blessed by you as I currently live in Australia. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Everybody needs a Rabbi!

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    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Terri-
      Thanks for writing such kind words. We have to have met since we used to keep our sailboat in Marina del Rey, on Palawan Way. Just yesterday I did an interview on an Australian Christian Entrepreneur show hosted by Annemarie Cross out of Melbourne. (It’s up on Facebook and YouTube)
      Stay in touch,
      Cordially
      RDL

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  5. This is very inspiring. Being grateful is a faith booster, it makes one to understand that the Lord who has blessed us before has not changed.

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  6. We must thank and praise Our creator every day, not just once a year, do we eat once a year? Do we shower once a year? Do we drink water once a year? We do function every day, so praise God every day, and be happy

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  7. I am so grateful for your words of wisdom. This message strongly reinforces our sermon from Sunday. It was on how we need to live a life of gratitude. Not just practice transactional gratitude for individual events in our life. Thank you for this timely message.

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  8. Thank you and many blessings. Awesome words! Positive thoughts and words have more value and can move mountains with action. Our nation has proven that!
    Negative words and attitudes are destructive.
    I enjoy your positive words of wisdom!

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  9. I remember when you pointed out that one of Moses’ excuses to God was that he was a man of action, not words. God had consented to let Aaron go with Moses to be the spokesman. But the first actions were done by Aaron after God told Moses to speak. Maybe He was pulling both men out of their comfort zones, thereby showing them that He was in charge and would fulfill His promises. That truth is real today, even though we may think God should do things our way. Talk about something to be thankful for!

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  10. A few years ago I won the door price at our OWLS (older wiser laughing saints) meeting. The prize was a set of four colorful pencils. I gave two of them to grandsons and one to my wife, I’ve used the one remaining daily , for marking the places were I stopped reading. The eraser never wares out or smuggest.
    I thank God for this little pencil and praise it for its’ good work.

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