The month of Adar is the time for us to learn how to increase happiness

Each new month in the Jewish yearly cycle brings a unique energy, opportunity for growth and responsibility. This week we entered a new month called Adar.
Aside from the obvious association with the holiday of Purim and all the festive vigor that surrounds it, there is a flavor that immediately strikes at the onset, as expressed in the Talmud (Taanit 29a): “When Adar arrives, we increase in simcha (happiness).” We find similar biblical commands saying, e.g., “you shall rejoice in your festival (Deuteronomy 16:14)” — there are joyous dates on the calendar, but none of them affect the entire month.
When looking at the Torah, a clear, action-related directive makes sense. Instructions to experience specific emotions are more puzzling. In the famous daily declaration of the Shema, for example, we encounter the verse “You should love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” Telling someone what to experience seems like a vain instruction — either you feel it or you don’t.
Dealing with this famous dilemma regarding love, the commentaries explain that properly fulfilling the first verse — “Hear, O Israel” (mindful meditation on the pervading oneness of the Creator, within all details of the universe and beyond) — will automatically lead to the following verses, arousing a sense of closeness. But what about telling someone to be happy (and, furthermore, increasing that feeling)?
Simcha versus ‘being happy’
The ongoing quest for happiness in our lives has never been so widely discussed. During more difficult periods in history, people just plowed forward; minds were more occupied with simply surviving. Today, in the age of the millennials, with all freedoms, privileges, efficiency, spare time and luxuries, there seems to be more awareness of this inner void, which can create an obsession with finding purpose and how to achieve happiness in our life. Speakers and books on the topic are in high demand.
Before getting into how to increase in happiness, let’s first examine this discrete emotion — simcha. The intent here, in a short piece, is not to offer a superficial definition or recipe, but to explore the emotion as it appears in Jewish literature.
While pop culture offers step-by step recipes, “The Five Stages of Happiness,” the actual emotion of simcha may be less contrived, more natural and simple. Culturally, it’s often expressed in spontaneous dancing, singing, drinking, eating and the continuum of celebrations in Jewish life.
From Jewish perspective, happiness is a necessity, but not a mitzvah per se. To be sure, there are famous statements and songs like “serve Hashem with simcha,” but Jewish joy, positivity and gratitude are set components of daily life, a must-have if you want to have a successful spiritual life.
There is a simple gratitude that begins immediately upon awakening — “Modeh ani lefanecha” — the short phrase uttered immediately as we open our eyes each morning. As we shift from dream state into consciousness, sensing our soul re-invigorating the body. It’s a humble gratefulness for receiving life — experiencing the start of the day like a newborn baby entering the world. Then, as we move through the day, our mental faculties more alive, we can experience a gratitude born of reflection — e.g., the wonderment of the underlying intricacy and harmony in the human body, realizing how every organ must function perfectly, just for us to breathe, walk around and digest.
But the feeling of gratitude is not simcha, though it can definitely open the door for that emotion to evolve. Put differently, gratitude and peacefulness are more like calm water; they are reflective sensations. Eastern philosophies and popular guides preach techniques that create this inner calmness. The person seems to be wise, controlled and at ease in a turbulent world. But is that happiness? True happiness is more like igniting a fire inside, an electric energy, aliveness as the soul springs up and expands inside us. It doesn’t give clever answers to hypnotized listeners — but it heals them.
Happiness can be hard work
That definition of joy may not be as easy to picture, or as appealing. People often only want a warm bath to stop the soul from shivering. This superficial notion of “happiness” or tranquility is more like an attempt to soothe the chaotic self, covering struggle with a soft, smooth energy, like a spiritual sedative marketed with a nice smile. Simcha is something else entirely. It often requires focused strength and toil, effort that other paths may not require.
There seems to be an inherent clawing and agitation in Judaism, that actualization of self and world which is inherent in our mission statement. Hasidic sources view happiness more like a prerequisite for divine connection, a battle tool against the inner opponent that seeks to weaken and distract us from our purpose, rather than a pleasurable drug, or an end in itself. It’s not enough just to “be,” or to make a list of what you’re grateful for. Simcha is of a different anatomy — our war on complacency — where happiness and status quo are mortal enemies.
There is a certain fight of the spirit than comes after battling darkness, bursting through concealments to connect with God regardless of surrounding circumstances. (This form of joy, a light shining from darkness, is connected to Purim.) The culmination of joy in this month is a perfect dialogue between soul and body. Usually, the emphasis on eating is a most base instinctive desire, a lack of refinement that pulls one away from spiritual sensitivity. But on Purim, the two opposites merge: The body celebrates the soul’s victory.
The feeling of simcha that permeates this entire month may be general and undefined — unlike the day of Sukkot, or celebration of freedom during Passover. The upshot is that everyone must ask themselves, since now is the season of happiness, how do I increase it?
For some, it may be studying extra subjects in Torah that are particularly uplifting. For others, this may mean treating themselves to a certain pleasure that they don’t normally have an opportunity to embrace. Or, they give extra effort to be in a better mood for the sake of the environment, such as making others smile. But the simple awareness of this time period means that we have to position ourselves to dig within to find that increase in joy.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is the director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. He hosts the Sinai Cafe, a series of weekly Torah study at the Aaron Family JCC and in the community. For more information visit

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