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How Can I Be Happy?

How Can I Be Happy?

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 flowing back 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.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (70)
September 14, 2014
Don't trivialize the ease of happiness for children
Not all children are happy. Some never have enough to eat to be healthy. Some are homeless and they are cold and sick all the time. Some are terrorized and terrified or blamed and ashamed. Or all of the above. Some children have plenty of reason to be unhappy, especially if they dread encountering one or both parents, or some other persistent disparaging hurtful presence in their lives. Some children are expected to cheer up their unhappy parents, and try desperately, but they can't do it. Some children's parents threaten to commit suicide, and they dread that the parent will do it. And some parents DO do it. Some children are threatened at school and at home by criminals who make horrific demands or else their families will be killed. There are plenty of children for whom something is wrong, and it's more serious than needing a diaper change.

But even these, once reaching a certain age, can make a list of things to be grateful for. Can they see? Can they hear? Walk? Breathe?
Joe
Palm Beach
September 10, 2014
To my amazement - gratitude & joy someone spoke of my exact challenge in this article. To me this does feel like a miracle . Of all the challenges in the world - of all the websites on the internet - of all the articles & comments on this website - someone talks about my specific challenge
...... I have asked someone on this website to give me the exact palms to recite.. Someone was nice enough to do so. And now I see someone mentioning my exact challenge. This gives me a lot of hope to persevere . I look forward to writing about my positive outcome . Thank you.


marcia
July 16, 2014
Eat nourishing food. Get 5 minutes of exercise every day. Take time to laugh and cry.
Nourish your soul selfishly.
Nourish others too.
Be close to others.
Try to care for them without "taking" care of them.
Face up to the traumas of your life up to now. Acknowledge that you have good reason to grieve. And do grieve, without resentment, without self-pity, and without self-blame. Acknowledge that you had a right to be treated decently, but avoid wallowing in blaming others.
Claim your right to offer your gifts to others now.
And when you find your gifts are valuable, acknowledge the value and rejoice.

I know this is difficult. But this is the general direction to try to go.
Get help, but be sure that this is the direction they are helping you to go.

Serve GD with joy. Close your eyes and then take 20 minutes to write a long list of blessings. Can you breathe? Can you see? Can you walk? Do you have a place to live? And so on. Wow! Lots to be thankful for! Thank GD! Focus there.

And avoid beating up on yourself.
Saul
Cinncinnati
June 30, 2014
How to be happy--see below from Belize. Also try this....
First,acknowledge that you are a decent person and you have as much right to life and joy as the average person.

Next, offer a friendly hello to everyone you see.

Be on the alert for opportunities to be helpful.

If you can't think of anything helpful, try this: Ask your local congregation to assign you a list of people in the hospital and offer to visit one person (or more) every week.

If you're a pack rat, spend one minute every hour opening your heart to Gd's love. Then say Thank You to Gd for the love. Pray that this love will inspire you to sort through the stuff you've saved and throw some of it away. You have a right to a free environment.Stop buying stuff just to buy stuff. You don't need stuff.

If you are estranged from a parent or sibling, reach out to them. Tell them you forgive them. Ask them to forgive you. If nothing comes of this, at least you did your bit. But maybe a caring relationship will emerge. Don't be a victim, but do take a chance of reclaiming love.
Chaim
Denver
June 26, 2014
I keep getting the urge to advise my friends who say they are miserable to search for ways to give of them selves. Not just on an occasional impulse, but to find a programmatic way to involve one's self in some kind of helping endeavor. We all have some kind of talent or interest or opportunity that we can plug into to be a habitual giver. Maybe all my problems won't disappear, but as I change from miserable about myself to finding out I can be happy to be of service, maybe my own problems start to look less tragic, more solvable. At any rate I am giving someone else material help or at least letting them feel that some one cares, and that alone is a good reason to feel better.
Anonymous
Belize
March 5, 2014
This was just wonderful!
Thanks for enlightening us.
I try to live my life as the child, always thanking HaShem for the good!
Barbara
Wynnewood, Pa
February 9, 2014
Happiness
What a beautiful concept - it's not what you need but what you are needed for. having worked with children and the dying, I see that humanity is one big circle and happiness can be found in the middle of it.
JDV
February 9, 2014
One thing to remember
Depression is a real disease, and if you find that you are depressed you need to seek help for that. There are many great ways to help you with feeling happy, but if you are in a real clinical depression none of those things will do you any good. As a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder I know that many well meaning people will tell me many things, but as well meaning as they are, if your brain is not well none of those matter. Depression is not a sin of the soul, it is an illness just like diabetes or any other long term illness that needs to be cared for. Blessings to you, and I hope that you can find the help you need.
Margo Grace
Ridgecrest
February 9, 2014
Happiness
You are as happy as you allow yourself to be.
Abraham Lincoln
Mark Bockstein
Plantation , FL
February 13, 2013
Judea I. Lawton
Judaism is happiness, if it is taught by the right person. We wake up loving the moment we open our eyes. We thank G-d for all He has done for us. We look at our challenges, and turn them into a play time. We see the pain of others, and know that it is a teachable moment. There is a reason why we are present to see what is before us, and ask, What can I do to help? And as the Rabbi's have always taught, "Jews know that we are responsible for one another." We are supposed to be happy. We are G-d's children, and He gave us a Holy People unto ourselves. Judea, very happy!
Judea I. Lawton
Washington, DC
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