Sep 6, 2017
Tiffany Shlain

Character Day: Meaning, Mussar, and Moses

The author, a past presenter at the Jewish Futures Conference, is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and co-founder of Let It Ripple, a creative team that produces global days of film, discussion, and speakers around universal and important topics shaping our lives.

Jews have a birthday greeting: till 120. Moses lived until 120, and we wish for a life as long and as virtuous as his. We’re not quite there yet. But our average life expectancy is still remarkably long: 30,000 days (around 82 years). How do we fill these days with meaning?

Research shows that having a sense of purpose in life -- regardless of when in life you find it -- can have extraordinary benefits, including living a longer life. A study done by Veronika Huta and Richard Ryan has shown that adopting a “meaning mindset” -- living with purpose -- results in decreased stress and improved well-being. And as psychologist Carol Ryff and colleagues have demonstrated, there are concrete physiological benefits to being driven by meaning.  People who describe themselves as living meaningful lives are actually healthier than those who describe their lives as happy but not necessarily meaningful. Their cholesterol levels are lower, their weight is healthier, and they sleep better. They have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and less risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

In other words, find your mission in life, and you’ll have more life to achieve it.

None of this will surprise those familiar with Mussar, the Jewish practice of strengthening character. Through Mussar, mitzvot, and a thousand other things, Jews have been striving to live with purpose for ages.

What brings you that sense of meaning and purpose is unique to you. Because at the core of all of it is your character: the qualities you value, the qualities that make you you, like  leadership, curiosity, creativity, enthusiasm, self-control, honesty, appreciation of beauty, and so much more. And focusing on and developing those qualities, throughout your life, is what’s going to help you find that sense of happiness, meaning, and purpose. We actually have scientific research to prove it.  Who doesn’t want that?

So what’s the world asking of you? Not an easy question, but we want to help people answer it.

Which brings us to Character Day, our organization’s global initiative, now in its fourth year.  Each year, on a single day,  people around the world use film, discussion materials, and more to focus on these issues in their companies, orgs, universities, schools (K-12) and homes. What does it look like when we stop the business of stressful events, news cycles, posting, emailing, and focus on the big things that matter?

We have a new 10-minute film that will premiere this Character Day called 30,000 Days that is all about old and new ideas about living life with meaning and purpose. All events can also screen our short films The Science of Character and The Adaptable Mind, which explore ideas about flourishing in the 21st century; and the Making of a Mensch, which approaches the idea Jewishly through Mussar. We provide free discussion materials to all participants, as well as an online Global LiveCast Q&A featuring speakers such as Alan Morinis (Mussar movement leader), Rabbi Lee Moore (Lippman Kanfer Foundation), Sharon Salzberg (meditation expert and author), Angela Duckworth (author of GRIT), Moby (musician), and Krista Tippett (NPR’s On Being).

We expect over 100,000 events this year and would love for you and your company, organization or school to be part of it. Everyone is encouraged to create their own distinctive event at any time of the day and in any place on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. It’s all free. Organizations already signed up include top tech companies like Twitter and Intel, the US Air Force, museums and schools across LA & SF Unified School District, and universities including UC Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, and UT Dallas -- as well as homes around the world.

Please join the worldwide conversation and initiative by signing up. It takes two minutes and is free.


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