And of course, drugs are a massive problem in our generation. The reason is not hard to find: a culture that seeks pleasure and avoids long, hard work is grasping for exactly those things that provide instant pleasure with no effort. The mindset of seeking instant gratification is a mindset that seeks drugs. We are living in an addicted generation.
Drugs can provide instant pleasure. And drugs will dissolve your sense of self until you have no personality left. The pleasure they provide is hollow: it comes from outside of yourself, outside of the dimension of genuine pleasure which is the pleasure of discovering and building yourself. Quick fixes never work; they are indeed quick – quick to come, quicker to leave, and certain to leave you feeling more desperately empty than before.
Every superficial quick fix cheapens you, depresses you, and damages your self-esteem. Every superficial quick fix prostitutes your deeper self, sells out your deeper potential, and in a very deep sense, kills you.
And so it is no wonder that depression is widespread and self-esteem is hard to find. Where there is no real work and no real growth, there is sure to be depression and no sense of self-worth. There is depression because there is no growth, and there is a lack of self-esteem because there is an absence of production of self. Where there is hard work and genuine growth, there is deep happiness and a rich sense of self.
We need the courage to define our own real values, not unthinkingly accept those of the culture we inhabit. The pursuit of happiness as an end in itself, happiness without hard work and a life of quick fixes may seem the proper pursuit of nations and cultures, but it is not ours.
Secular culture wants the happiness of the next world right here in this world, and they want it free. They are willing to sell the self for cheap thrills, to sell deep love for superficial fun, to sell the real pleasure of giving for the immediate gratification of taking and to sell life itself for empty laughs.
That is not Judaism. If you want happiness, you must work for it. If you want to discover yourself and build your self-esteem, you must fight for it.
The road may be long, and it may be difficult. The load may be heavy. But if it is the right road, and you are moving steadily along it, you will understand the real meaning of happiness. Keep moving, keep fighting, keep your eyes on the goal and deliver the goods.
Adapted from The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life by Akiva Tatz, Published by Targum Press