We are supposed to serve G‑d with joy. But what does that really mean? Life is hard. So many painful, disturbing and distressing events occur to us and to the world around us. Can we really be joyful in this kind of environment?

G‑d also knows the nature of our world, and if He expects us to be joyous, then clearly we are not only “entitled” and “allowed” to be happy, we are even obligated to be happy! Moreover, when we are happy, from the very moment our happiness commences we are rewarded. Immediately,Life is hard. Can we really be joyful? positive chemistry is released into our bloodstream; every physical system in our body undergoes a transformative process. Our mood improves, our intuition and problem-solving capacities improve, and we become a spiritual magnet for blessings and success. We are renewed, rejuvenated, inspired and healed on every level of our being—just for a single good thought that produces a single good feeling. All of this is substantiated in research; happiness is very good for us.

And in case we need a bit more feedback before we’re completely sold on the idea, we immediately suffer negative consequences for each negative thought or feeling that we run through our system. One negative image, idea, word or action starts a cascade of biological processes that breed physical disease, emotional agitation, low mood, impaired cognition and spiritual alienation. Success and blessings elude us. Our entire bio-mental-emotional-spiritual being is depleted and drained to the point where, if we run enough negativity through our system, even the will to live can be severely compromised.

G‑d has gifted us with this compass—an immediate feedback system that lets us know whether we are on the right track or the wrong track with our thoughts, feelings, words and actions. When we pay attention to where the pointer is pointing, we can set our course in order to thrive.

Our Impact

We may suffer from our negativity, but why should those around us also suffer? The answer is simple: We are all one. We are connected to each other and affected by each other’s thoughts, feelings, words and deeds. When someone sends a few unpleasant words our way, we are crushed, even though the speaker owns those words. Of course, the speaker is also harmed by his utterance. The negativity is sitting in him and recycled through him even as he sends it out to others. And as his negative words or unkind actions penetrate across interpersonal boundaries into our own being, their toxicity affects us. Our soul becomes darkened by their presence.

We are not, of course, only victims of this process, but perpetrators as well. We too send out arrows of negativity that penetrate the souls of our loved ones and even those of friends, acquaintances and strangers we meet in the street. Our wordless, sour, cold face can ruin a person’s day and sap her of her strength and joy. Our sharp remark can fill her veins with ice. Even our personal, silent, anxious internal state can fill a room with agitated energy pulsed out through our heart-rate variability, leaving the private chamber of our own heart and moving into the public space, affecting the entire universe.

Examples of Negativity

For the most part, we have no idea of just how negative we are and just how frequently we “share” our darkness with others. All of the following communications that might occur between spouses, for example, are negative in nature:

  • Complaints and criticisms: “You never listen to me.” “You always leave the light on even when I remind you to turn it off!” “You shouldn’t yell at the kids like that!”
  • Expressions of anger: “My mother is really irritating me!” “I spent an hour on the phone with customer service today and still didn’t get what I wanted!”
  • Expressions of anxiety: “What if the roads are icy? I’m worried about the kids driving.” “What if the money doesn’t come in?”
  • Expressions of sadness or discontent: “Nothing ever works out for me.” “What’s the point?” “I’m just fed up with this house.” “I’m bored.” “There’s nothing to eat here.”
  • Insults: “How could you think that? That’s ridiculous!” “Why would you do that? What were you thinking?” “You forgot again?!” “You’re just like your mother!”
  • Judgment: “I can’t stand when people do that.” “Those people are a bunch of phonies.” “They’re all liars and cheats.” “What snobs!”

Examples of Positivity

The opposite of negativity is positivity. It sounds like this:

  • Gratitude: “I love our fridge!” “Aren’t coffee machines the best invention ever?” “Thank you so much for helping!” “I’m so grateful we live close to you.”
  • Expressions of faith: “G‑d will help make it happen!” “G‑d is already taking care of it.” “G‑d hears what you are saying and understands what you are feeling.”
  • Expressions of acceptance and approval: “Everyone here is so nice!” “We live on the best block in the city!” “You look fantastic!”
  • Expressions of compassion: “That must be very hard for you.” “It’s natural to feel that way.” “I realize you are going through a difficult time. How can I help?”
  • Expressions of forgiveness: “No problem.” “It’s all good!” “I understand.”
  • Being supportive and helpful: “I made you some cookies.” “Do you want the kids to come over so you have some time for yourself?” “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Understanding the Challenges

Expressing positivity feels better inside our cells and our souls, and is healing and loving for those around us. When shared within a family on a regular basis, relationships flourish. The challenge is that the nature of family life seems to present an open invitation for negativity.Expressing positivity feels better inside our cells and our souls People in the house, both spouses and children, are consistently imperfect. They fail to listen properly, forget to remember things, neglect responsibilities, make messes that they don’t clean up. They’re hard to live with. We chase them around with our complaints, and when they don’t measure up, we freeze them out with our resentments. We blame them for our stress and hold them responsible for our misery; the more they do wrong, the more we—and then they—become submerged in bitter suffering.

For example, suppose a woman is married to a man who fails to pay enough attention to her. She feels neglected and upset, and starts to ruminate about how she ended up with such a horrible husband. She complains to him about his negligence, which simply pushes him further away from her. The less he attends to her, the more unhappy she becomes, and the more intense her complaints become and the more he avoids her company. Eventually, the marriage is a miserable mess that overflows into a daily negative emotional state for both husband and wife.

Can we blame this state of affairs on the husband for his errant spousal behavior, or should we blame it on the wife for being a fault-finder? Actually, blame is simply another state of negativity. What we should do is imagine a different scenario.

Changing the Dance

Suppose it begins the same, with a woman who marries a man who doesn’t pay enough attention to her. She accepts his fault, and uses her time to fill her own days with purpose and joy. She recognizes that the man has other qualities that are very positive: he fulfills his financial responsibilities, he is a very good father, and so on. The wife makes sure to acknowledge and praise him for what he is doing right. When he does manage to give her a little attention, she is particularly nice to him, making him feel loved and appreciated. Over time, the husband does more and more things right, including spending more time with his wife. Although he never becomes quite as attentive as she would have liked, the wife is satisfied and happy. The truth is, even if he would not have improved at all, she and her husband—and their marriage, family and the world—would have prospered from her investment in positivity.

Most people instinctively react to negativity with negativity. We can’t always get what we want. But we will get more of what we want when we choose positivity.

It Starts With Me

We need to take strong steps to alter the natural state of affairs. It starts with us. Let’s fill ourselves with positivity that we then share with spouse and children. Our own well of positivity will soother our nerves, strengthen our reserves, and create a “good eye” that allows us to tune into the positive side of people. Our “good eye” allows us to see our spouse’s goodness. Our gratitude, both internalized and expressed, brings that goodness to the forefront, where it grows and blossoms and nourishes our spouse and us simultaneously. A beneficial cycle occurs in which our own focus on the good fills us with lifegiving feelings of gratitude that then flow over to the subject of our focus (in this case, our spouse), nurturing and supporting that goodness to grow ever stronger.

How do we fill ourselves with positivity? We make a conscious choice every moment, thought by thought and word by word, to dwell on the positive side of the world. There are two sides: the dark evil side and the light-filled positive side. There is death, pain and suffering, but also birth, beauty and love. Our minds can focus on only one thing at a time. As our sages tell us, “Our soul is where our thoughts are.”

We build a dwelling place for ourselves either on the dark side or the light side—and we live there. If we live in the darkness, then that is what we take in and give out . . . with the predictable results discussed above. If we live in the light, then that is the air we inhale and exhale. Depending on our choices, we harm ourselves and our marriages (and our other relationships and the world), or we bring blessing to ourselves and our marriages (and our other relationships and the world).

Some Strategies

Here are some strategies for getting over to the positive side:

  • Read, think about and speak about faith in G‑d.
  • If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.
  • Practice looking for good, finding it and expressing it in acknowledgments, gratitude and praises.
  • Be compassionate to the negativity within yourself, your spouse and others. Accept and experience all of your feelings in order to help clear negativity in the form of fear, anger and sadness.
  • Make friends with your own feelings. It will help you be accepting and compassionate of the feelings of your spouse and others.
  • When you find yourself judging yourself or others—or you experience a desire to control someone or something, or feel an addictive or compulsive urge—refuse to give into it. Instead, feel the feelings in order to heal and release them.
  • Support and endorse yourself for your courage and determination, and applaud your efforts.
  • Access resources (psychotherapy/​counseling, books, courses/​webinars) to learn how to release negativity and strengthen positivity.

Yours spouse’s negativity is not holding you back. In fact, no one’s negativity is holding you back. You own your negativity, and your can heal it and replace it with positivity. In doing so, you will light up your heart, the hearts of your loved ones, and all the lamps of the universe.