Know your obligations. That may help you to live up to them, bit by bit.
We Jews have a Biblical Commandment to be happy on the Festivals.
For Purim, I have this trick question. How can it be that Purim is not a Biblical Festival, but you are Biblically commanded to be happy in Purim?
The answer is not so complicated. (Try to get to it on your own without first reading my answer.) We Jews are Biblically commanded to be happy every day, all the time!
The Talmud already tells us that Those who enter Adar (the month of Purim) should increase happiness. Now, what to do when you’re always happy, and more happiness would be mentally dangerous or impossible?
It took me years to find an answer, but I did find one.
It doesn’t say: increase your happiness! To increase happiness in general. Make more people happier. There are often lots of people around who could use a friendly word or a smile, who would appreciate when someone would break their loneliness or distract them from their worries or pains.
While you smile, you still can be self-absorbed. Try to give smiles away.
Many people have smiling enforced upon them. Sexist men get nervous around women who don’t smile (and horny when they do). In such a circumstance, it’s better to look slightly down. Not enough to set them off. But in your heart stay happy and try to get away as fast as you can.
In some cultures, being happy is a tricky one. For the US Middle Class and Up, you’re supposed to show off your dentistry even while contemplating suicide. Fake it ’till you make it became Be a fake. That’s not Jewish happiness. I’m sure that, for contrast, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, a most generous Jew, was seldom caught smiling. Jewish joy is not pretending.
Thomas Jefferson included in the Declaration of Independence the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as an unalienable right to be enjoyed by all. This is the best way to be unhappy. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
How to do it? As Jews, we must first teach ourselves to be happy with what we have. Yes, it could always be better, bigger, longer, stronger, nicer, or more perfect in all ways. The art is to see how lucky we are already, to have come to life and still be alive, and when ‘everything’ hurts, typically, not everything hurts. Count your blessings. Not as a consolation prize but as an exercise in facing reality. Pull up the corners of your mouth and mean it. The happy feeling comes after that. It’s easy. If you first wait for the happy feelings to appear, you might have to wait forever.
It doesn’t mean don’t cry. When you’re happy, you’ll have an easier time getting to your tears. But while crying, stay happy, happy that you can cry.
I once told my host on Friday night that I first needed to complain about some very hard things that happened to me. He said: Why? Can you imagine it would have been twice as bad? Yeah, I said. Problem solved!
For most people, it’s already a big step to be happy with gifts, things, and situations. It’s not a rung to skip. Before retiring, list five things you are grateful about from that day. Children can be very happy with candy.
But if joy must come from presents, know that the greatest happiness comes from giving them, not receiving! A greater need than to be loved is to love others. More hurtful than not being loved is having no one to love.
A traditional Jewish blessing is: “May we hear good news.” Many don’t realize the goodness of the news often depends on how you hear it. Since every disadvantage has advantages, and vice versa, we have a lot of slack.
Don’t make yourself unhappy about sometimes not having been happy.
Yet, typically, kids don’t jump out of bed in the morning because they think of all the candy might get today. They are happy for nothing. It’s part of being human to be happy. It’s our natural default. But we tend to forget.
I know someone who works in a store, and some time ago, I noticed he wasn’t smiling at me. I tried to be friendlier to him. No effect. After a few months, I asked him if I wronged or hurt him. Not at all! But you used to smile always? Life, he answered. It bugs you down. Nothing personal. Yesterday, I passed him again. Busy with a customer. But he saw me and gave me a wink. I reminded him to smile no matter what. Made my day.
Our Rabbis remind us that the Torah says that curses come into our lives when we are faithful but unhappy. G^d doesn’t go after the Atheists. What ‘bothers Him’ are religious Jews who are faithful but displeased.
Being a Jew is not for everyone. It’s a demanding, laborious lifestyle. But more than that, even when you do everything right but with a krechtz (a grunt when in minor pain or discomfort), you’re violating the Basics.
But being happy all the time has more advantages than just not being an underperforming Jew. When we’re happy, it’s impossible to commit a lot of other sins like being jealous, displeased, ungrateful, rigid, down, snooty, impatient, overcritical, unfriendly, egotistical, greedy, worried, unhopeful, bitter, blaming, edgy, quarrelsome, disrespectful, demanding, and angry.
Besides, an unhappy Jew embarrasses Judaism and G^d, a serious(!) sin. And it misleads onlookers on what it’s like to be an Orthodox Jew. Life is not a valley of tears and then you die. It’s part of G^d’s generosity. Don’t be surprised if others are uninterested when you walk around sour-faced.
Reb Shlomo Carlebach asks why we try to make the groom and bride happy. Why Happy? Why not self-confident or anything else? Because when people are unhappy, each one sits in their own corner moping. People can only come together when they’re happy. The Rabbis tells us that G^d doesn’t even hear unhappy people’s prayer (not to be confused with crying people). Even a Prophet doesn’t hear G^d unless he’s happy.
Don’t follow a Rabbi who doesn’t have a friendly smile when he talks to the community. His intellect may have told him to help the congregation, and he might be very sincere (or not), but his heart is not in it. He’s too stern. Too assimilated to the prejudices from other Monotheists that they have the G^d of Love and we have the G^d of War, G^d forbid. A Chief Rabbi may stride like an emperor but should talk with you like a friend.
The L^rd knows it’s hard. So, He set a minimum standard to rejoice on the Festivals. Let’s just hope you can mean it. Then it may spill over into the other days. And you may have children and students who’d follow that.