We have now entered the Hebrew month of Adar Rishon. (There are 2 months of Adar this year, because it’s a leap year. We are now in the first of the 2 Adar’s.)
The Gemara1 teaches: “Mishenichnas Adar, Marbin BiSimcha – When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our joy.”
Of course we would all love to be happier, but how do we do that? If I’m not feeling happy already, what can I do to make myself happy?
We will spend this month of Adar trying to understand what exactly happiness is, and how to achieve it.
A Time of Joy
There is one Jewish holiday that’s called “Zman Simchaseinu – The time of our joy.” Which holiday is it? It’s the holiday of Sukkos. This is pretty puzzling… isn’t every holiday a time of joy and celebration? Why don’t we call Pesach, Shavuos, or Chanukah “a time of joy”? Why is Sukkos a joyous holiday any more than the other Jewish holidays?
Rabbi Lawrence Keleman2 explains that Sukkos is the epitome of happiness because it’s a time when we look back on all that we have acquired. Sukkos (also called “Chag Ha’Asif – the Holiday of Gathering”) happens in the Fall, after the harvest season. After the farmers finish gathering in all their harvested crops, they sit back and look at all their crops, and exclaim: “Wow! Look at how much I have acquired this year!” When the farmers see all the crops they have harvested, they are filled with a feeling of tremendous happiness.
The Torah here is teaching us a fundamental secret to happiness:
Happiness comes from acquisitions.
A person feels happy when they realize they have acquired something valuable.
Similarly, the Maharal3, the Ohr HaChaim4, and Rav Dessler5 all say that happiness comes from a feeling of shleimus – wholeness/completeness, the feeling that you lack nothing. The more that a person thinks about what he lacks, the more he will feel sad. The more he focuses on what he does have, the happier he will feel.
What Do You See?
If happiness comes from acquisitions, then we would expect the richest people to be the happiest in the world. But a quick glance around the world shows that this is not the case: We can all think of people who are very wealthy – own a big house, a fancy car, have a wide social circle of friends, and a well-paying job – and yet they are wallowing in depression or frequently in a bad mood.
There are even people who have more spiritual types of “acquisitions” – such as beautiful Shabbos dishes or wonderful grandchildren, and yet they are grouchy to everyone and often heard complaining.
Why don’t all rich or accomplished people feel happy?
The answer lies in a teaching in Pirkei Avos6: “Eizehu Ashir? HaSamei’ach B’Chelko – Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.” A person might be very rich, but if he focuses on what he is lacking, he will never be happy.
The wealthy business owner is kicking himself all day for the lost business opportunity that he missed this morning. The grouchy grandparent (with wonderful grandchildren) is still thinking about how he stubbed his toe this morning, or how taxes are too high.
We said that happiness comes from acquisitions… but a rich man has tons of acquisitions! So why isn’t he happy? Because he does not recognize and appreciate what he has. He chooses instead to focus on what he’s lacking, and that prevents him from feeling happy.
You can control your own sense of happiness by shifting what you focus on. Just as the farmer looks back at the end of the harvest season, and chooses to focus on what his crop did produce (rather than thinking of the failed crops), we, too, can choose to focus on the things that we do have rather than on what we feel we are lacking.
This week, we will practice shifting our focus, to focus more on all the things we are happy to have.
Next week, we will consider:
Why do some types of acquisitions bring more happiness than others?
Sources:  Taanis 29a;  Rabbi Lawrence Keleman is the author of Permission to Believe and a world-renowned lecturer. The ideas contained here are from his audio shiur entitled Holidays – Preparing for Succot: The Secret of Happiness;  Maharal Netiv HaLeitzanus 1;  Ohr HaChaim on Devarim 7:12;  Michtav Mei’Eliyahu, Vol. V. pg. 77;  Pirkei Avos 4:1
Every day, notice one thing that you’re happy to have.
Say out loud to another person: “I am so happy to have ____!”
(Alternatively, you can “say” it through email or text.)
- I am so happy to have a comfortable chair!
- I am so happy to have this crunchy apple!
- I am so happy to have a warm house!
- When did Avraham Avinu demonstrate that he was happy and satisfied with his possessions, and did not feel the need to take more than what he already had? (See Bereishis 14:23)
- There were two brothers in the Torah. One said: “I have everything” and the other said: “I have a lot.” Who are the two brothers? (See Bereishis 33)
- In Parshas VeZos HaBrachah, Moshe says that one of the 12 tribes was “satisfied” with his lot. Rashi explains that this tribe’s territory contained everything [physical] that its inhabitants could ever desire. Which tribe was it? (See Devarim 33)
- Which woman in Sefer Shmuel davened very hard for something, and then when Hashem granted her request, she said a special tefillah in which she expressed her deep happiness and appreciation? (See Shmuel I 2:1)
- Toward the end of Sefer Yonah, it says that Yonah got something which made him very happy. What did Yonah get that made him so happy?
Questions to Ponder
- As we explained, simcha (happiness) results from recognizing what you have acquired. Some acquisitions make you very happy, while others make you only slightly happy. What kind of acquisitions make you very happy? What are the determining factors that impact how much happiness you will feel?
- Can you think of examples of people you know, or people you have heard about, who are unhappy even though they are wealthy or have a lot of blessings in their life?
- Pirkei Avos (3:14) tells us that Hashem demonstrated His love for humanity by creating man in the image of G-d (Tzelem Elokim), and He demonstrated an even greater love for man by telling us that we were created in the image of G-d. Similarly, Hashem calls the Jewish people “His Children” and demonstrated even greater love by telling us that we are His Children. Why does it matter that Hashem told us these things, and what does this have to do with the definition of simcha (happiness)?
- Rav Dessler explains that the world was truly created as a happy place, but there are 3 middos that make a person leave this natural state of happiness. The 3 traits are jealousy, lust, and a desire for honor. Why do you think these 3 specific traits make a person lose his natural state of happiness?