I have made some pretty major changes in my life over the past year.
For one, I dropped 14 inches around my waist, and over 100 pounds! Many people might think this is quite an accomplishment, but I read something a year ago that aided me, and I have made part of my life ever since. It is the secret of this month, the Jewish month of Adar, the month of happiness.
The Code of Jewish Law states, that when the month of Adar begins, everyone should increase in happiness. This is in addition to the requirement that each of us serve G-d with joy.
It seems joy is a constant obligation that must be multiplied in the month of Adar. When we understand more about happiness, the challenges of life become manageable and goals easier to accomplish.
A person who is happy is empowered. Imagine a basketball team motivated by its coach. His (or her) excitement and enthusiasm helps them win even if their opposing team may have better stats.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in his classic book of Tanya, writes, “Just as when two people are wrestling, the one who is passionate and joyous will overcome the other even if his opponent is stronger.” He explains that joy can help one battle the evil inclination or any other obstacle in life.
How then does one become happy? How can one feel happiness when faced with all the ups and downs of daily life? Our sages tell us that the answer to this crucial life question is focusing on what’s most important in our lives.
We are all mortal, which means we are finite. G-d is immortal, which means he is infinite. G-d should have no connection to any finite being, just like finite numbers have no connection with infinity. G-d chooses to embrace and uplift us with his divine presents.
If one recognizes the relationship that they have with G-d then they are bound to be happy regardless of the other things going on in their life. In the story of Purim, Haman recognized that the Jews had strayed from the path of G-d. He thought to take advantage of the situation and murder every Jewish man, woman and child. I won’t get into the whole Megillah now, but G-d showed love for the people of Israel, not because of their actions, but because of his unbounded love for them. One who thinks deeply about this essential fact has no choice but to become engulfed in joy.
What more can individuals focus on to create a state of happiness, which will then give them energy to accomplish their goals and dreams? It is written in the Kabbalah, that happiness is derived from a feeling of gratitude. If people believe they are deserving of gifts, they will never be satisfied; whatever they have will never be enough. However, when people recognize that G-d is giving them so many things in their lives that they couldn’t possibly deserve, they become filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness.
Are you concerned about your weight? Would you like to change careers? Go back to school or write a book, but are scared and unable to reach your dreams? Try being happy and see if happiness doesn’t provide you with more energy. In the words of the Talmud, “Joy breaks all boundaries and obstacles.” (Bava Kamma, p. 41)
My next challenge is a triathlon, and I look forward to competing in one later this month. Will I accomplish it? I don’t know. But I will face it with happiness and joy, and I am hopeful that this will carry me through. If I can do it, so can you. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry Be Happy!”
(Rabbi Chaim Litvin is program director for Chabad of Kentucky.)