In the month of Adar, we are told to increase our simcha, (happiness). There is a slew of reasons as to why we are told do this on this particular month: how it is a month of seeing G-d’s hand in the world and the joy that comes with Purim. Even so, how does one come to happiness? I have found a simple and direct way to lead to this precious thing we call happiness.
Let’s back track. Unfortunately in today’s world there are a lot of unhappy people. If you ask almost anyone, “are you happy everyday?”, most people will answer that they are not. In Strive for Truth, Rav Dessler explains that after asking all people, from the wealthy, to the middle class, to the poor if they are happy, and finding the resounding “no”, that it would appear that the world is devoid of happiness. If no one from the wealthiest to the poorest person are happy, wouldn’t it then appear that the world just isn’t a happy one?
However, Rav Dessler continues, if the world was created by Hashem and Hashem is all good, then clearly He would not make a world devoid of happiness. Hashem, in fact, made a world of only happiness. If this is true, then it must be we who are extracting ourselves from the happiness of this world and not the other way around. The mishna states that there are three things that take us out of this world: jealousy, lust, and status-seeking. Jealousy is anytime one wishes he had that which his friend has. Lust is anytime one desires more of something they perceive themselves as lacking. Status-seeking is anytime one expects to be granted honor for their position, whether at a job, amongst friends, or just in general. If these three things take us out of this world, out of the world of happiness, then when we leave, we are in a world of suffering and despair. If you look at any recent time you were unhappy, it was probably due to one of these three things. What is common among all three of these examples, is a sense of lack. In other words, a sense that we should have something we don’t. In order to bring us back into this world and back into a state of happiness, we must perceive ourselves as lacking nothing and having everything we need. How do we do that?
Now, I know you’ve heard this a dozen times and at this point are thinking- gratitude, really? But don’t stop reading because it’s not your typical sort of gratitude.
Many a time when we hear gratitude we begin to sift through the list of things we are grateful for: our home, our health, our family, etc. While all of these things are wonderful, they are not going to help you if what you are currently unhappy about is your small apartment!
Let’s say you’ve just come home from visiting your friend, Sarah and you can’t stop thinking about her apartment. It’s amazing! It’s big and spacious, and that kitchen- wow! Now all you can think about is how you wish you had an apartment like Sarah’s! If you begin your gratitude list, telling yourself how happy you are for your health, it might work, but it might also leave you thinking- health shmealth, I want a bigger apartment!! Let’s be honest, we’ve all thought this way at one time or another.
In order to bring yourself back into this world, this world filled of only happiness, you will have to switch your gratitude attitude from a general one to a more specific one. Like this: If what you are feeling jealous of is Sarah’s apartment then your mindset should be: “I am grateful for the apartment I do have. It has wonderful natural lighting and is so bright,” or “I am so grateful that I have so much stuff! I have so much stuff, in fact, that it makes my apartment look small, but thank G-d I can afford this much stuff!” or “I am so grateful for my neighborhood. It’s a great neighborhood and I am so lucky to have found an apartment around such awesome people and great restaurants.”
So you see, the gratitude attitude we need when confronting unhappiness is one of parallel equivalence to that which we’re struggling with. We have to say, “I am grateful for that which I perceive myself to be lacking, right now.”
When we do this, we bring ourselves away from our perceived lack and recognize instead what we do have. We bring ourselves back into this world. And, when we’re in this world, we are happy!