I know that a Jew is supposed to always be joyous, but when I look at myself and my life I see no good reason to be happy. On the contrary, I have plenty of reasons to be miserable. Am I supposed to be able to just switch on happiness at will?
Yes, we face some heavy challenges in life, and feelings of despair are understandable. But we can turn our situation around. Happiness is never beyond our reach.
Children don't need to learn strategies for positive living
That's because happiness is the natural human state. Just look at a young child. Children don't need to learn strategies for positive living, and they don't need a reason to be happy. They need a reason to be sad. If a child cries, we ask, "What's wrong?" If a child laughs and plays and dances around the room, we don't ask, "What's the big celebration about? Why are you happy?" A child is happy by default; if they aren't happy there must be a reason, like they need to be changed, they are hungry or thirsty or tired, or need
attention, or just had a Bris. But as long as nothing's wrong, a child is
happy for no reason at all.
Somewhere along the line things change. We grow older and become more
demanding, harder to please, and we lose this childish contentment. As we
become jaded by life's disappointments, we feel that we need a reason to be happy. If you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you ask, "What's wrong with you, why are you smiling?"
The difference is, a child is not self-conscious. They are free to be happy because they are not yet aware of themselves. It is only when we mature and become more self-aware that we also become more self-absorbed. We have worries and concerns, unfulfilled desires and unrealized dreams. None of us can honestly say we have it all, and we can always find reason to be upset. But a child isn't bothered by what he is "missing," so he does have it all. The child's lack of self-consciousness leaves her free to enjoy life and be happy.
As soon as we forget about what we need and instead focus on what we are needed for - our natural joy comes
The more we are concerned with our own happiness, the farther we are away from achieving it. As soon as we forget about what we need and
instead focus on what we are needed for--the good we can do for others
rather than the good we can get for ourselves--our childlike joy comes
flowing back and we are happy.
This is the focus of the joyous holiday of Purim: a time to give gifts to friends, donations to the needy, to say l'chaim, loosen our grip on our self and thank G-d for the opportunity to be alive. Even in the darkest times, by becoming mission-focused rather than self-focused, we can access our inner joy.
Happiness is not somewhere out there; it rests within, in that part of us that is forever young and forever giving--our soul.