“Serve G‑d with joy,”1 the Psalmist instructs. “Joy breaks all barriers.”2 These true words can be inspiring. They can also be downright annoying. They tend to rudely knock on the door right while I’m in the middle of a funk, whether a full-blown sulking jag or a private blue moment. “Go away, you superficial Pollyanna,” I mutter to them. “I would like to pout in peace.”

Whether it’s hormones, lazy self-indulgence, childhood conditioning, or some toxic brew of the three, I have a gravitational pull toward seeing the cup as half empty. I grew up thinking being Jewish meant being worried, cynical, a bissel neurotic. I’m at home with the Philip Roth and Woody Allen style—even when these men are funny, there’s an edge and angst. Happiness was shallow fluff—Mary Poppins, Wonder Bread, Disney—for plastic Barbie dolls who all lived happily ever after in a Norman Rockwell–type existence.

Then I got into spirituality, and scoured the globe for deeper meaning. The various combos of New Age, Eastern and mystical soups I sipped didn’t quite satisfy. Something was just missing. When I finally encountered Torah, it hit home, on many levels. Jewish-style happiness seemed different. I sensed that the joy was so deep, its power so enhanced—as it had been matured like wine, tinged with mourning over our travails, with yearning. The soaring klezmer clarinet and soulful chassidic melodies are built on minor chords. As a painter, I know that contrasting colors give punch and emphasis. Add a little black, in just the right places, and the colors seem more vibrant. “Those who sow with tears will reap with joy.”3 We’ve sown a deep, rich and fertile people with our tears. And our laughter is deeper, the laugh lines more poignant, as they’ve been carved by those tears, like trickling streams carving out a path in the riverbed.

But still. Sometimes all that joy can get annoying. Like Sukkot. The time of our rejoicing. Now, You’re not just gonna tell me I have to be happy in general; You’re gonna give me eight days of an extra obligation, an extra focus on happiness? What if I’m not in the mood?

It’s five days after Yom Kippur, I would like to pout in peace!two weeks after Rosh Hashanah. I did good. I cooked and cleaned and shopped and hosted and got in some serious extra praying. I kept my kids happy. I spent many hours in shul, and had people in my home. My pity-party voice whines, “Leave me alone, G‑d, and everyone else too. I’m tired. Give me a really pathos-filled, tear-jerking book and a few days off so I can retreat to my cave.”

My husband starts in with the joy the minute Yom Kippur is over. “Gut Yom Tov! (Happy holiday!)” he exclaims, bursting through the door. After havdalah and a brief meal, he’s out in the garage, dragging out the sukkah boards, singing the cheerful Sukkot classic V’samachta b’chagecha . . .—“You shall be happy and rejoice in your holidays, and you shall be only happy!”4

I’m torn. Part of me is pulled into the lively song, the festive mood. Part of me grumbles, in true yenta style, “Now you can find your hammer? Now you make ten trips to Home Depot in five days, for this flimsy hut that’s gonna last only eight days? What about all the home repairs there’s never time for, that you somehow never see?”

After many years of playing out this duality—madly alternating between groaning and sulking, and soaring and rejoicing—I think I’m turning a corner. There are a few things going on here, a few choices I can make. And I’m learning, maybe the last kid on the block to get it, but it’s finally sinking in.

How can You command me to be happy? my inner cynic likes to whine. Fine, I’ll paste a smile on my face. I’m happy! I’m happy! But that’s not really what I’m being asked to do, or—more accurately—helped to do. The Hebrew word for “commandment” also means “connection.” This is a time when we receive an extra infusion of simchah, happiness, flowing down from above. I do have a choice. If I use a rusty colander of negativity, well, not too much of that golden joy juice will be retained. But if I rouse myself out of my comfortable sloth enough to fashion some kind of decent vessel, I can catch some life-flowing elixir sprinkling down in a soft shower.

Sitting in that little hut is one good way to position oneself to catch some. The first sukkah I actually sat and had a meal in was at Chabad of Ann Arbor, Michigan, back in 1980. I’d helped decorate our temple sukkah as a child, but never hung out or spent more than few minutes in there once the last squash was hung.

It was a cold fall. As we sat there, one October afternoon—the rabbi, his wife and kids, some students, and varied other characters and stragglers, including one intrepid hippie-dippie soul-searcher, namely me—it started snowing.

We didn’t panic or scramble We didn’t panic or scramble to go insidesensibly to go inside. We sat there, eating, singing, schmoozing, the snow silently seasoning the abundant food and painting the table white. The delicious absurdity of what we were doing struck me. A bubble of pure joy, of transcendent joy, seemed to descend with the snow. Why were we doing this? Because we had a commandment to do so; in other words, an opportunity to connect with something divine. No logical person would have a picnic in the snow. But we were Jews, and this was our special moment to have lunch with G‑d, recharging in His power hut.

A few weeks ago, I got another insight into this simchah thing.

I was driving home from my father’s home in Detroit, several hours on the highway with a broken radio and CD player, just me and my thoughts. I was worn out, emotionally exhausted and, yeah, a bit anxious.

But, as I drove, I thought about the Rebbe. And his personal life story. His father, exiled and destroyed by Stalin. His brother, exterminated by the Nazis. His childhood culture, laid waste by these evil men. The Rebbe knew the most depraved evil, up close and personal. And he, who appreciated more deeply than anyone the beauty and eternity of a Jewish child, was childless. But bitterness and despair, or exhaustion and self-pity—they weren’t even a smidgen of the Rebbe’s being.

The Rebbe chose and embodied the deepest simchah. A radiant positivity. Not based on externals, on life unfolding in one’s favor. Based on immutable truths: the holiness of G‑d, the Jewish people and the Jewish land; the G‑dly spark in every human being; a globe headed toward fulfillment, albeit with a few bumps.

Simchah, I realized, is an avodah, a life’s work. Choosing it. Crafting it. Revealing it. Inspired by the Rebbe, I’m ready to work steadfastly. In rain or snow, or sleet or hail, like my mailman, to show up, smile and get the job done—serving G‑d, working His ways—with joy.

Note: This article is referring to everyday kvetching. Anyone suffering from serious or lasting depression should seek the help of a mental health professional.