"Everything has its season and there is a time for everything under the heaven: …a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to embrace and a time to shun embraces, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate…." (Kohelet 3:1-8)

I will never forget my friend, who was 34 years old when she was told that she had Stage Four (i.e., terminal) breast cancer. A brilliant and inspiring teacher, we shared ideas at a very deep level. She critiqued my writings and never hesitated to show me where I needed to improve spiritually. She taught my EMETT classes in Hebrew, while I handled the English speakers. We had a soul connection that is rare and irreplaceable. The first and only time I visited her in the hospital, we looked into each other's eyes and cried. I held her hand as she talked about death and her fears as to how her children would manage without her, especially a severely handicapped older child and the youngest, who was barely out of diapers. And after we cried, we were able to laugh and let go and just enjoy each other's company. That's how it was with us; we needed to share the pain before we could move on to more sublime.

After that first visit, one of her family members called to say that he heard she had cried with me and he was upset that I had made her sad and because of this, he asked that I never visit again, as she had been told to feel only positive emotions and never talk about the "D" word (i.e., death), because, "Only positive thinking will keep her alive." She died a short time later, keeping everyone else's spirits up – for them—while keeping her pain inside, feeling emotionally isolated from the people who were caring for her because she was unable to talk about her true feelings.

I'm all for happiness, but to be fully human means to be able to acknowledge and express the full range of emotions which G‑d gave us. When the prophet Elijah cried out, "Take my soul!" (Kings I, 19:4), G‑d did not chastise him for failing to be cheerful. Even a saintly person is seen as having "a cheerful external countenance even if his heart is grieving" (Duties of the Heart, Sha'ar HaPrishus, chapter 4).

Perhaps the positive thinking movement is a backlash to traditional psychology, which tends to over-focus on gloom and doom. However, while positive thinking can be helpful, the pressure to deny feelings causes even more pain. Positive thinkers make others feel guilty for all the ills in their lives, as if cancer and accidents are the result of "negative thinking." Then…why do animals get cancer and die? Positive thinking is a kind of primitive voodoo charm which is supposed to ward off all evils. It causes people to be frightened of their own feelings and fear the "happiness cops" who admonish, "See, you don't have faith!" Such excessive emotional manipulation is very harmful.

All normal human beings feel sad, mad and scared at times. These feelings are not necessarily indications of emotional disorders! Newsweek magazine, in a past edition (February 11, 2008), reports that sadness has been turned into a disease. While it is obviously a serious problem if the depression leads a person to become paralyzed, lethargic and apathetic, moderate "discontent" is the normal and a healthy response to loss. It is impossible to go through life without getting bullied, betrayed and bereaved. After a blow, we need time to recover, just as a person who has undergone an operation needs a recovery period. Unfortunately, the pressure by doctors to medicate our emotions away is so strong that, "instead of listening to the heart, we are pressured to chemically silence the heart."

Is happiness all that wonderful? The magazine reports that, "People at the top of the jolliness chart" are so satisfied that they have no motivation to change. They live hollow lives, cutting off half of their emotions. The "chronically happy" tend to be rather stupid and shallow. On the other hand, those at the bottom of the chart are equally difficult to bear, as their depressive gloom, obsessive anxiety or angry explosions drag everyone around them down into their emotional chaos.

So how should we react to the painful events in our lives? The positive thinkers make us fearful of expressing anything other than jubilation whenever we have sustained a loss. The drug industry tells us to simply medicate our feelings away. Traditional therapists promise that pain can be "talked away" with endless hours of therapy. The truth is that "positive thinking" is often phony; drugs can numb all feelings; and excessive talking can reinforce feelings of victimization, self-pity and bitterness. The alternative to these approaches is what I call the D.V.I. tactic:

A. DEFINE: "Yes, you feel anxious, sad, stifled, frustrated, angry, etc."

B. VALIDATE: "I am not bad or crazy. It is normal to feel this way."

C. INSPIRE: "While I wait patiently for the pain to fade, I can strengthen myself spiritually, pray, do acts of kindness or engage in other meaningful activities. I will be grateful for what I have and humbly accept that whatever I do not have is also a gift from G‑d to bring me closer to Him."

We can use the D.V.I. approach to all of the endless frustrations and losses we encounter. It is not bad to feel bad. A degree of melancholy or emotional turbulence is what drives us to question our beliefs, to leave unhealthy relationships or to channel the pain into creative endeavors. Like orchestra conductors, we must embrace our emotional richness and allow each feeling to express itself when appropriate, while making sure that the "soloist" is the one which fills us with faith.

No one is happy all the time. This is not only impossible, but unhealthy and dishonest. Those who think they should always be happy can get a reality check from Torah. Although we cannot grasp the spiritual level of our Patriarchs or Matriarchs, were they always happy? They expressed the entire range of feelings as they faced universal problems – jealousy, fear, anger and shame as well as endless wars over love, territory, influence and honor. Would it be helpful to edit the Book of Psalms so that only happy verses are included? King David was an example of emotional honesty. Yet his pain was directed at one goal – not to be disconnected from G‑d.

So, yes, do not be ashamed to be happy. But also give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. True, "The shechinah (Divine Presence) does not rest on one who is sad" (Shabbos 30b), but we also read, "G‑d is close to the broken-hearted" (Psalms 34:19).

Perhaps this duality exists because bitter, self-pitying sadness does distance us from G‑d, while humble grief, in which we struggle courageously to accept G‑d's will despite our suffering, brings us closer.