Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eikev 73 No Rewards = Happiness

No Rewards = Happiness

The Torah-Bible reading of Eikev , from  Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:13 says ' it will be if you will listen to my commandments that I command you this day to love your Lord, your God and serve him with all your heart and soul then  and I will provide  rain in your land at the proper  time ….  And you will eat and be satisfied.' From these verses it appears that God is rewarding those for  keeping of His  commandments in this world.

This understanding however, is inconsistent with the following teachings of the Talmudic sages - that ' there is no reward in this world '  ,  the reward of a mitzvah- good deed is the mitzvah itself = S'char mitzvah- mitzvah
 and mitzvoth- good deeds attract and bring along other good deeds- mitzvoth =Mitzvah go're'ret mitzvah

There is no reward in this world because (a)the reward is spiritual and this world cannot produce the spiritual enjoyment and reward of heaven that is deserving of those who keep the commandments-, and   (b)-  God wants us to do good deeds and mitzvoth because of their intrinsic value, their intrinsic reward  and expressions of connection to God and holiness. When we begin this journey of a life of good deeds and mitzvoth God lends a helping hand and creates the physical conditions that make it much easier for us to do more mitzvoth and in this way mitzvoth attract and bring along other mitzvoth. In the words of the behavioral economist Dan Ariely we convert 'economic norms ' into 'social norms'. We convert the physical into the spiritual.

This is the Rambam's   explanation of the above verses in the Bible. If we do God's commandments with love and joy, God will create the conditions where we can lead more creative and productive religious lives without the distractions that interfere with our goals.

When we take rewards out of the picture, we tend to be more self directed, autonomous, and mindful , focusing on 'in the moment ' and the intrinsic value and reward of what we are doing and learning. When there are no rewards, we become happier and more fulfilled people.

When it comes to kids, parents and teachers find it easy to promote behavior and learning by bribing kids with rewards. Rewards work in the short-term, but in the long term they undermine intrinsic motivation and the commitment to underlying values.

But more important parents and teachers are unaware of the immediate message of rewards .In the words of the behavioral economist Dan Ariely parents and teachers are guilty of converting ' social norms' into ' economic norms'. They are promoting materialism and immoral behavior at the expense of spirituality and connection.

 A school tried to encourage kids to return lost articles or money found in school or on the playground by rewarding kids for handing in lost property. All of a sudden, kids were finding so many coins on the playground.!!

A kid by mistake kicked a ball that hit a teacher. He ran away instead of offering help  - he did not want to get caught. Rewards and punishments not only convert social norms into economic ones, but they encourage and promote immoral behavior.

A kindergarten imposed fines on parents who came late to pick up their kids. The situation became much worse after the imposition of the fines. Previously parents were guided by ' social norms' – a guilty feeling about keeping the kindergarten teacher or kid waiting , now it was purely an ' economic ' decision – was it worth the money to come late.

We should be helping kids to think in the following way.

A man,  who was about to go overseas for while approached his neighbor's 10 year old son. He needed help with his dog. He asked the boy to look after his dog and take him for walks etc while he was away on holiday.

He asked the kid  -   How much? The kid replied – ' I am willing to pay $15.

Our purpose in this world is to convert ' economic norms' – materialism into 'social and spiritual norms'. We can do this by understanding that the reward of a good deed is the deed itself and the opportunity given to us by God to do further good. We can help kids by cutting out ' rewards ' and help them become more self directed and intrinsically motivated focusing on the process and experience When there are no rewards, we are more mindful of the present and its joys and so we become happier people.

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