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My Happiness Coach

When Adar begins, guilt increases. A surefire way to get people to feel down is to tell them that they should feel happy. We all know that Adar is meant to be a joyous month, and we work on our mood from Rosh Chodesh. By the second day of Adar, we’ve had an irritable outburst or some disappointment that convinces us we will never maintain simcha. It seems the Talmudic sages served up an ideal that we can’t live up to.

It’s not only Adar that’s the problem. Prozac sales and the well-trod self-help aisle at Barnes and Noble prove that the quest for happiness is universal. As Dennis Prager says, “Happiness is a serious problem”.

Popular as they are, I would never have considered paying for a “happiness coach”. Turns out I didn’t have to because G-d sent me an excellent one. My happiness coach has no formal qualifications other than a beaming smile and contagious laugh. People queue for a session with her, but I’m lucky enough to get daily training. Her sessions are demanding but rewarding. Her coaching has forced me to confront my deepest fears and experience joy I could never have imagined.

She is impressive, especially considering that she is six years old and barely talks.

I used to consider myself an expert on simcha. I was well-read on Jewish spiritual principles of joy and had studied genuinely happy people up close. Turns out, it was all book knowledge, and this little girl has challenged me to apply it in real life.

My happiness coach is my youngest daughter, Shaina, who has an ultra-rare neurodegenerative condition called BPAN. She’s had her fair share of trauma. Shaina has been resuscitated by Hatzolah more than once and has spent too many nights in hospital ICUs, including a week on a ventilator. She has physical and medical challenges that make it gruelling for her to do many things we take for granted.

And she smiles through it all. She grinned her way to the operating theatre last week and beamed from ear to ear shortly after waking in the ICU. She laughed with the hospital staff between treatments and danced through her days tethered to a high flow oxygen tube. It’s how she rolls- all smiles, laughter that vibrates from deep inside her, and lots of dancing.

I watch in awe and try to learn. Adar is 12 months long for her. If I’m lucky, I might learn to pick up some of her energy from now until Purim.

She has many secrets that we have yet to uncover. Here are some simcha lessons Shaina has taught me:

You don’t need much to be happy. You can celebrate blowing bubbles or watching a creeping ant.

Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Dance without concern for tomorrow and celebrate without sadness over yesterday.

Smile at everyone. You’ll be happy when you make others happy.

Don’t waste energy on envy or resentment. You have everything you need to be happy now.

Shaina is the best teacher. She says little and role models plenty. Her diagnosis has challenged our family to the core, and she has brought us profound happiness. That has been her greatest lesson- you can feel joy even when life is exceptionally tough.

You can read more about Shaina’s story here

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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