Fulfilling the purpose of Adar

Positive Psychology is all the rage lately. Also known as the Science of Happiness, it was recently the most popular course offered at Harvard. Twice a week, 900 students packed into Tal Ben Shahar’s lecture Hall to learn ‘how to get happy.’ Based on research from the emerging field of Positive Psychology,Professor Shachar concentrated on what makes people happy, rather than on their limitations and pathologies. His course is in line with what Jewish tradition has known all along, and what our sages command us to do in the month of Adar; משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה- When Adar arrives we should increase our joy.

So how does one ‘get happy’?

Every year, as Purim approaches and the Hebrew calendar changes from Shevat to Adar, I ask myself how can one be commanded to be “joyful”. That sounds like a tall order, if not an outright impossible task. Perhaps one can be coaxed to feel happy for an afternoon or a full day – but for a whole month?

Yet according to the three pillars of Positive Psychology, a state of happiness can in fact be achieved, ‘on demand.’ If one follows the following three precepts, joyfulness and serenity will follow:
– be satisfied with the past
– be content in the present
– be optimistic about the future

I recently learned something similar from Rebetzin Chana Reichman in the following dvar torah she shared; the inner two letters of the Hebrew word שמחה- happy -comprises the Hebrew word for brain- מח. When we instruct our brain to act in accordance with our wishes, we can actually experience greater joy and happiness. Accordingly, when we make a conscious decision to be enthusiastic, when we chose to see a cup half full, when we opt to see the positive in a situation, it makes a difference in our overall mood and outlook. “Happiness” and “joy” therefore, are not something one feels automatically all the time, but rather something one can make a mindful effort to achieve daily.

Positive Psychology encourages asking oneself frequently, “what is good in my life right now?” This question automatically focuses us on the positive; on one’s strengths and advantages, as a springboard for looking at one’s life – rather than using one’s shortcomings and failings as a point of departure.

Life can certainly be challenging at times – yet what define us are not the challenges we face, but rather how we meet those challenges. We all know people that seem blessed with a more positive attitude than others, who no matter what challenges life presents them with; they seem to be able to take things in stride. Clearly facing challenges with a positive attitude makes it easier to navigate a difficult road. That would seem to be the lesson and the gift of Adar. It’s also an essential life lesson to model for our children.

In a world peppered with natural disasters, violence, and human suffering, having a positive attitude – while it may not alter the facts – can help make the intolerable more tolerable, and life more manageable. Although we can’t control many of life’s events, we can teach our children that they CAN control their reactions to them.

Children are generally well aware of their parents’ attitudes, and they tend to be good imitators of their parent’s beliefs and feelings. Therefore, it’s important to consider how we behave in front of our children – since they will most probably be copying our habits and imitating our coping strategies for years to come. If children learn to develop a positive attitude when they are young, it becomes second nature for them to employ positive thinking, and they won’t need to enroll in a college course to learn how to be happy. Positive thinking, later on in life, can alleviate many of the pressures connected with adulthood. Once we’ve modeled positive thinking for our children in their developing years, being positive or negative is entirely up to them. And we should remind our children that how they respond to a difficult situation is their choice.

On the flip side, focusing on shortcomings and weaknesses, will impact one’s thoughts and behavior negatively (e.g. “It’s too hard, I’m going to fail.”) In his book Positive Self -Talk for Children, Douglas Bloch emphasizes that children can be taught to have an optimistic view of problem solving by learning positive self-talk, such as “I can handle difficulties;” and then later when confronted with a challenge, a child will tell himself, “I can find a solution for this. I’ll keep trying.”Thus it’s important to teach our children the technique of positive self-talk to direct their thoughts towards a positive outcome. If we focus on the positive, it will shape our thinking and impact our behavior positively (e.g. “If I relax, I can do better and I can handle this.”) As a result of an internal dialogue filled with positive coping statements, a child is more likely to persevere.

Thinking positively, can become a way of life for all of us if we approach the above suggestions with intentionality and mindfulness. The month of Adar is a great time to start to incorporate positive thinking and positive psychology into our repertoire since we are mandated by our sages, at this time, to increase our joy.

May we all merit a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances.I wish everyone a wonderful month of increased joy!

Tani Foger Ed.D
Psychologist and Educational Consultant
Founder of Let’s Talk Workshops – Guidance workshops for all ages at all stages.