Simchah (joy) is a bulldozer that can break through barriers, but depression can lead to apathetic paralysis.

In the chassidic way of life, “Serve G‑d with joy” is not just an adage but the living agenda of a chassid. Just imagine two wrestlers fighting in the ring. One may be physically stronger than the other, but it is the one with alacrity and enthusiasm that will win. Similarly in service of G‑d, the "animal soul" is in constant combat with the "G‑dly soul," and only with a happy disposition and Heavenly aid will a person overcome his darker nature. Depression is not reckoned among the 365 negative commandments, yet it leads to the lowest spiritual depths.

In Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman makes a fine distinction between melancholy or bitterness and depression. If a person is saddened by his spiritual state and yearns for a higher plateau, then the bitterness can act as the springboard to renewed vigor in climbing the spiritual ladder. However if the sadness turns into depression, which is translated into laziness and apathy, it is definitely not kosher, and it stems from the scheming Evil Inclination.

This distinction allows an easy test to discern the direction of one’s feelings. One may ask, "Will these feelings result in something positive? Will what I am feeling bring me to increase my efforts, or will they lead me down the slippery slope?" Maimonides describes serving G‑d with joy as an avodah gedola—an “immense effort.” The state of joy--simchah--is not one of vain frivolity, or of light-headedness or shallow self-gratification.

Happiness may be defined as the knowledge that at all times one is doing what G‑d wants at any given moment. The Arizal said that all his greatest spiritual experiences were achieved through simchah shel mitzvah--"joy in the performance of a mitzvah."

A story recorded in the memoirs of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, illustrates this point. He records that there once lived in the small town of Lubavitch in Russia a Jew called Reb Yisrael der freilicher (Israel the happy one). He would always be found jumping for joy, and would oft refrain, "If Reb Yisrael der Gornisht (Rabbi Israel the Nothing) can give G‑d nachas (pleasure) by doing a mitzvah, should I not jump and dance with joy?"

His point was simple. In comparison with G‑d we are nothing. Yet G‑d has communicated to us that He has pleasure when we observe His commandments. To think that a mortal human flesh and blood can bring joy to Almighty G‑d is truly wondrous and certainly the cause for celebration. Reb Yisroel understood the greatness of this opportunity. He understood that we have been endowed with a unique gift, which is the ability to become attached and bound up with holiness.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman in Tanya brings an inspirational analogy: Imagine a person who lives a destitute and wretched life. Now imagine a mighty king who descends to the gutter and lifts out this wretch and brings him to the innermost chamber of his palace. In seclusion, the king embraces this wretch, hugs and kisses him and tells him how much he loves him. The man is overwhelmed! Not only has somebody taken an interest in him, but it is none other than the king himself. He feels totally overwhelmed by the king's benevolence and sincerity. So it is with G‑d. He elevated the Jewish people from the nakedness and depravity of Egypt and consecrated them with his commandments. He chose us from all the nations and bestowed upon us His eternal gift.

The generation in which we live is certainly the most challenging generation ever in respect to living a life dedicated to Torah and mitzvot. The distractions are numerous. Today there seems to be no place safe from the onslaught of images or suggestions that could lead us astray. Yet despite the pull of the base and low, anything can be achieved when a person is motivated, and one of the most powerful drives is that of joy in being a Jew, in keeping mitzvot, learning Torah, and serving G‑d.

Service out of rote, or even worse, out of force, will not succeed. Being observant today is comparable to walking up an escalator that is going down. If one stands still, one will automatically go down. If one walks normally, one will stand still. In order to go up, one must run. The energy and drive for such a run is generated by simchah, and therefore one should avoid sadness and apathy as one would avoid falling ill.

Think positive and it will be positive. Meditation on the omnipresence and omnipotence of G‑d leads one to be cognizant that you are in His world, and He is the boss. G‑d places a person in a particular time and place with a specific mission. All difficulties, trials, and tribulations are only there to be overcome. To jump the hurdle like an athlete requires energy, stamina, and a good diet. A positive state of mind combined with a joyful heart, coupled with a daily Torah learning schedule and sincere prayer are required to run the course.

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, often called the "Rebbe Maharash," used to say "Lechatchila Ariber!." This means that many in the world think that when one is faced with a problem or obstacle, one should try to go around it or avoid it. However the Rebbe Maharash said that one should "in the first instance go right over it." If it stands in the way of serving G‑d it is merely an illusionary obstacle and one should go straight over it.

The Hebrew word for trust in G‑d is Bitachon. A chassid named Mr. Benzion Rader was once in a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in November 1966. The Rebbe asked Mr. Rader if he knew what Emunah meant. Mr. Rader replied, “Emunah means faith, belief, and trust.” The Rebbe asked further; “Do you know what Bitachon is?” Mr. Rader replied in the negative. The Rebbe said: “If one is confronted with a problem and one has Emunah, then one has faith, belief, and trust that G‑d will help you overcome the problems, but if you have Bitachon you do not see that there is a problem because G‑d does not send any problems—only challenges!”

Anxiety and fear are results of lack of trust. In whichever situation, one should have the overall feeling that “I desire only the King and ultimately He is in charge of my destiny.” One will not earn a penny more than what He has decided one will earn, nor will one have anything that has not been allotted by G‑d. Love G‑d with all your strength. Love Him in whichever way He decides to deal with you, for all is orchestrated from Above.

Every soul has a particular mission in a particular time in a particular place which is all determined by Divine providence. To bewail one’s geographic location, standing in life, financial situation, trials, and tribulations is futile. Rather, one should make the best of what one has and realize that at this particular moment the Divine will is that one serves Gd properly in one’s present situation.

This is in no way contradictory to praying to G‑d for a change for the better, for G‑d's salvation can come in the blink of an eye. The correct balance is to do what one is supposed to be doing in the present situation, pray for improvement and change, and have strong faith and trust that G‑d will help guide and direct one’s affairs in the best possible manner. The overriding factor is the Talmudic personality Nachum Ish Gamzu's favorite saying "Gam Zoo Letovah," which means "this too is for the good."