The Top 5 ingredients of a meaningful life

“Top 5 Lists” of virtually anything you can think of have become prevalent in American culture. We see more enticing headlines than we can digest, requiring us to become better at sifting through online clutter, discerning the informative and meaningful content from clickbait and trending material posing as educated opinions.
Whatever the subject, there’s never a true “Top 5” or “Best Of” list; there are usually overhyped items, and key components are left out of the discussion. Nevertheless, while we research or reflect, the mental exercise of evaluating and ranking can itself help us to clarify overlooked features or call attention to priorities.
Blending personal experience with Jewish sources, here’s my list of Top 5 ingredients for a meaningful and productive life .
Your attitude: There’s no such thing as an easy life without challenges; an easy life teaches nothing. It’s just a question of when you will face adversity, and how much. Evaluating where you stand, there’s always a mixed bag to sort through — beautiful blessings to acknowledge along with areas of ongoing struggle, sore memories with cherished moments, personal victories alongside regretful defeats.
Your approach can paint the mental picture of your life. There’s the importance of perspective, for example, when looking back, wherein possessing “good memory” becomes not so much the amount of information recalled as how you mentally manage thoughts — forgetting the bad while remembering the good.
A good attitude can flip a memory from painful to positive, change a challenge into a pleasure, redirect an adversary to become an aide. Or if something remains painful, a positive outlook can make it much less potent, more bearable.
Emphasizing the limits of control over circumstances, and the unique role of our character, the Talmud boldly declares: “Everything rests in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven.” Looking to the future with strong faith (emunah) and trust (bitachon) is the most vital ingredient for success and happiness. As the Yiddish aphorism goes: “Think good and (consequently) it will be good.”
Your spouse: Finding a soulmate is one of the most awe-inspiring supernatural events smuggled within nature. There’s an extra dose of divine intervention in bringing two people together, the process of finding and maintaining a partner in life. This intense interfusion is said to be as “difficult as splitting the Red Sea.”
(In classical Jewish literature, this term is employed whenever two opposites are joined by a force that’s higher than both, as well as increased significance or attention given to an event.)
On one hand, two parts of the same heavenly soul-root reunite in the physical realm. Yet such a sacred union — a meeting of souls, minds, heart and bodies — is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts, “a couple.” And so is the powerful effect on the world, especially when spouses align their values, goals and focus, which results in “an everlasting edifice.”
Mystically, male without female and female without male, lack the completion of God’s name. But when two souls join in the right context, the half images of divinity, contained within each person, also unite. The passion that pulls husband and wife to each other has multiple layers, the most profound being a yearning to create new life and to recreate the full name of God among them.
The bond established through marriage, a love that continues to develop and deepen over time, knows no limits. Having a difficult partner versus a gem of a spouse can make all the difference in accomplishing your potential.
Health: The body takes the soul to places it could never visit alone, allowing it to accomplish a unique mission on earth. The relationship between body and soul can be likened to a horse and its rider. Ask a wild horse to let you ride it, it will buck. It wants to do its own thing. To ride it without worry, there is an option to “break” the horse in order to ensure cooperation. But in the end, there can be no true harmony.
There is another option — to build rapport so that the horse becomes an extension of the rider and those feet willingly travel anywhere the rider wishes.
You have one body. Treat it well. “A small hole in the body is a giant hole in the soul.” We need to be strong and energized in order to carry out the reason for which we were created and to add light to the lives of others around. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have the fuel to uplift your environment and endure a rich but rigorous life journey.
Children: They are your most tangible legacy and gift to the universe. There is a saying: “True Jewish wealth is not material — neither houses nor cars, but rather children who walk in the upright path, absorbing the wisdom in Torah and doing good deeds.” The goal is not simply to raise polite, well-mannered children who go to prestigious universities and proceed to have productive careers, yet make little impact on their community.
Treasure every moment with these precious souls you were entrusted with, those you brought into this world, to nurture and teach them well.
Finances: Financial stress can affect all the above areas. In the very first words of the verses with which the Kohanim bless the nation, the most famous and all-inclusive blessing around, the commentaries explain that the first phrase, “May God bless you,” imparts monetary prosperity. One reason is that physical well-being and financial stability is the platform for a person to grow spiritually and give in the fullest measure, without being weighed down or distracted.
Honorable mention
Guidance and friendship: “Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Appoint for yourself a Rabbi (Rav), acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person favorably.”
As we become older and more accomplished, we may mistakenly think we are experienced enough in most areas of life that we don’t need advice. The main reason behind this instruction is not so much that we lack the discernment to make our own decisions — whether with marital issues, parenting, business ethics or other moral dilemmas — as much as we may be too close to the situation to see clearly. “Love conceals all blemishes” (Proverbs 10:12) and the greatest love is self-love.
Therefore, “appoint yourself a teacher” — even if you have not yet found the best fit. This person will not only ensure we continue to progress and learn, but protect from the trappings of self-reliance.
“Acquire for yourself a friend” carries a slightly different flavor. Unlike a mentor, a friend is not simply appointed whether or not the person is an ideal fit. With a friendship, details matter. There must be mutual appreciation and trust. A true friend is someone with whom one can act freely, offering a level of comfort and safety to share flaws without any worry of being judged.
In the end, both relationships save us from unnecessary mistakes, hold us accountable and encourage us to grow. We should always be aware and appreciate that wise mentor and good friend upon whom we can rely.

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