A message especially for Jews. Just as with the Hebrew Bible, it’s a Jew addressing the Jews but the ideas are for everyone who cares to listen.
First a parallel: I was raised by honest parents surrounded by an honest culture so I came out honest — no great merit of mine. I found a book that wanted to explain how to be honest. So many twists and ingenuity to demonstrate how to do it! Instead of elaborate excuses for why one was dishonest, it used complicated ‘reasons’ for why to be honest. That’s not it.
Some people can seriously discuss for hours how to be happy and how to cry, without ever showing one sign of delight or one tear. That’s not it. One doesn’t need to reason oneself into being happy. Be happy. As Moses reports: [first] we’ll do and [only then] we’ll understand.
There are people who are very fine and deeply religious Jews who say that if you trust completely in G^d, it’s easy to be happy. I believe them. But I would say, Be happy first. It will help you with relying on G^d.
No child in the world wakes up in the morning and tries to reason herself or himself into a happy state. They just jump out of bed and smile.
The recipe is no different for grownups. Show how much energy you want to have and how happy you want to feel. The Ramchal already explained (centuries before behaviorism) that feelings follow action. (If you just sit there waiting to feel energy and happiness, only then to change anything, you may have to wait a lifetime.)
So, pull up the corners of your mouth, show a little teeth, let your eyes twinkle, and go do something.
But how is that not pretense? We don’t want to lie being happy. We don’t want to lie period. It’s not a lie because it’s true. Happiness shows our truest self. You can’t lie being yourself. But, you must allow your inside to follow your outside. Don’t just fake being happy as a mask. Mean it.
All my children are happy campers. One of them said to me at the age of five: I will always be happy. So I asked, What will you do when you go comfort mourners? He answered, Then I will be happy on the inside (בלב).
Some say that it’s not a good idea to complain because the Angels then say, You think that’s bad? We’ll show you. And that it’s a good idea to be happy because the Angels then say, You think that’s good? We’ll show you.
I could tell you a dozen good reasons for being happy. That happiness pushes out ungratefulness, arrogance, loneliness, coldness, selfishness, stinginess, numbness, pessimism, despair, heaviness and passivity, abusiveness, anger, revengefulness, quarreling, and stubbornness. I could show that it says that G^d demands happiness far above obedience. (G^d is not an idol that needs to be please. He lacks and wants nothing from us. He implores us to feel good.) All nice and dandy. But in the end, just do it.
Commerce makes good bucks telling us that if we’d buy their things or travel their destinations, then we’ll be happy. All lies. The best happiness comes without reason. If it is not caused (בחינם), no event can kill it. Happy בחינם also means, that it has no outside or ulterior motive or goal. You’re only happy because it’s such an excellent expression of you. The greatest number of unhappy people are among those who assume that they are entitled (to more). The happiest people are those satisfied with what they have. There’s no way to peace; peace is the way. Tell Americans that there’s no Pursuit of Happiness; happily should be the pursuit.
I won’t tell you you must. But why would you tell me that you wouldn’t?
What about sadness and worry? Worrying has never helped anyone. We may think about the future and try to plan. But as soon as it turns into worrying, it shows that you’ve placed yourself on G^d’s Throne. Leave something for Him to worry about. Walk with Him and it will all be fine.
And sadness? Well, happy people cry more easily than people feeling heavy. Happiness opens the door to dealing well with sadness (crying).
On the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the 9th of Av, you can still be happy to be alive and have the opportunity to join other Jews in coping with the saddest parts of our history. You can be happy to cry.
The Jewish month of Adar and the Festivals of Tabernacles and Rejoicing of the Law, we’re told to spread extra happiness and be extra happy. Today exactly is also the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who advocated happiness as nothing and no one else. (He was also the Rebbi of my Rebbi, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, the Dancing Rabbi.) If not now, when? Just do it. It’ll rub off on your whole half-year ahead. Happy holidays!