I once attended a talk where the speaker suggested that depression can only really grip us if we become depressed about our depression. As a clinical social worker, I'm well aware that this condition can be debilitating and that there is usually little we can do to prevent its onset. I'm also aware of the many existing and emerging tools and strategies that help us manage and even thrive during episodes. Although I feel that both of these are much larger discussions for other times, as a clinician, I began wondering if the same approach could hold true about our happiness.

Passover is known as Zeman Cheruteinu (the time of our freedom) because it was then that we experienced collective freedom from Egyptian bondage. On Shavuot, referred to as Zeman Matan Torateinu (the time of the giving of our Torah), we celebrate collectively receiving G‑d’s Torah at Mt. Sinai. But calling Sukkot Zeman Simchateinu (the time of our happiness) seems incongruous. The Talmud explains that we sit in the sukkah either to remember the miraculous, protective clouds that surrounded us throughout our desert travels, or to recall the huts we dwelled in during these journeys. But neither of these reasons imply any element of happiness. At most, we should refer to Sukkot as Zeman Zichroneinu (the time of our remembrance)!

To understand Sukkot as Zeman Simchateinu we first have to define happiness. It can’t be a state of having, because we see little correlation between happiness and the amount of wealth and belongings a person accumulates in life. Neither can happiness be a state of being because not every moment that we experience across the lifespan is positive: people get sick, relationships shatter, individuals experience financial hardships, etc. As King Solomon aptly wrote, there is a time and place for each emotion under the sun – and not every situation we face is supposed to be joyous.

Since happiness can’t be a state of having or a state of being, it must be a state of becoming. When we view happiness through this lens, we approach life as an unfolding journey of continuous growth and development, with inevitable bumps along the way. But by shifting our perspective towards those realities, we can choose to become happier.

The most significant element of any sukkah is its sechach, which must be mounted low enough that we can see it and remain mindful of it, and dense enough that it provides more shade than sunlight. It seems as though G‑d desires that the holiest aspect of our happiest festival be focused more on darkness than on light. Why?

Because G‑d can be found within the darkness, in the shade of the sechach, and within the challenges we face as we journey through life. Happiness isn’t about knowing everything all the time, but about understanding that we are each placed in specific situations because we have something to offer those moments which no one else can. Choosing to be happy about our happiness isn’t about blindly accepting the struggles we face or ignoring the painful realities we may encounter. It means having the courage to embrace that darkness because we know that Someone Else believes in us even when feel like giving up on ourselves.

While Passover celebrates our collective freedom and Shavuot celebrates our collective covenant, Sukkot celebrates our collective happiness. On Sukkot, we draw our focus away from the material houses and objects which we accumulate during the year and instead concentrate on the root-soul that we all share that transcends those material differences. If we never take a break from the pursuit of happiness to actually choose to be happy about our happiness, we get stuck in that race of accumulation. Sukkot is about taking the break and leaving everything behind as we take leave from our homes and make those choices.

Perhaps Sukkot cannot be referred to as Zeman Zichroneinu because remembering the past focuses on who we once were, not on who we can become. Becoming whole within ourselves and at one with our people cannot be defined by the materialistic and ego-driven differences of our pasts. For it to be attained, unity must be future-driven. It is about what we can accomplish tomorrow by working together today.

We may not always know where we’re supposed to go as individuals or where we’re headed as a collective nation, but perhaps those don’t matter as much as we think they do. Happiness isn’t about getting it right all the time, but about making the choice to try. G‑d can be found within the darkness if we choose to look for Him. Have the courage to choose…you may be surprised at what you find buried within!