With Adar here, work hard to increase your happiness

Each new month in the Jewish yearly cycle brings a unique energy, opportunity for growth and personal goals. This week we entered the month called Adar. Aside from the obvious association with the holiday of Purim, and all the festive energy that surrounds that day, there is a flavor that immediately strikes at the onset of the new month — as expressed in the Talmud (Taanit 29a): “When Adar arrives, we increase in simcha (happiness).”
There are similar biblical commands saying, e.g., “you shall rejoice in your festivals” (Deuteronomy 16:14) — prescribed joyous dates on the calendar — but none affect the entire month like this one.
When examining the Torah, a clear-cut directive involving action is easy to follow. Instructions to experience specific emotions are more challenging. Telling someone what to experience seems like a vain instruction — either you feel it, or you don’t (and furthermore, “increasing” this feeling).
Being happy
Before getting into how to increase in happiness, let’s examine this discrete emotion — simcha — as it is explained in Jewish literature. Within the soul’s complex structure, every power has a distinctive way of behaving.
The ongoing quest for happiness in our lives has never been so widely discussed. During more difficult periods in history, demands were greater and people just ground on and plowed forward — the focus was on surviving, not experience. Today, with all the freedoms, privileges, efficiency and available luxuries, there seems to be more awareness of a natural nagging inner void which sparks an obsession with finding purpose and meaning. That’s also why speakers and books on the topic — the right recipe to achieve happiness — are so popular.
While pop culture offers an array of step-by-step recipes, like “The Five Stages of Happiness,” the actual emotion we call simcha may be less contrived.
Common counsel equates shifts in perspective with happiness, such as stimulating gratitude to uplift the spirit.
But feeling gratitude is not simcha, although it can open the door for happiness to enter. In simple terms, gratitude is humble acknowledgment, not joy. “Counting your blessings” or “staying in the present moment” are vital ingredients for mental health, helping one to achieve a certain lightness and personal freedom. They’re also techniques which can be taught and practiced — but they’re not the same emotion as simcha. Likewise, pleasure and fulfillment are also not the same as happiness. The former experiences involve more reflective movements of the heart while the energy of simcha naturally exudes and expands.
Put differently, gratitude, peacefulness, and fulfillment are more like calm water, reflective sensations. True happiness is more like an electric energy, aliveness as the soul springs and expands inside us.
Happiness through hard work
But there are many challenges to happiness, both internally and environmental. We are creatures whose souls thirst for growth, yet who are forced to produce within demanding schedules or tough conditions. Eventually, people can get so fed up with struggle that they seek advice from other cultures.
Some turn to Eastern philosophies, popular guides who preach ways to breed inner calmness. The speaker seems to be wise, controlled, and at ease in a turbulent world. Such tranquility helps to soothe the chaotic self, covering all tension with a soft smooth energy and marketed with a nice smile. The “simcha” of Judaism, however, contains other ingredients — it requires focused strength and toil, effort and action to reach.
One reason for this is that it is only through consistent action, by giving of oneself, that the soul can be fulfilled. The opposite, inactivity or taking — a focus on getting what you want or self-validation — invites emotions that make happiness elusive. In this vein, Jewish ethical teachings point out how simcha is essentially intertwined with sacrifice and humility, not taking yourself seriously, trying to improve without trying to gain.
The primary battle gear
Chassidic sources also view happiness as a prerequisite for divine connection, a battle tool against the self-destructive emotions that weaken and distract us from our purpose with voices of negativity and guilt. The happiness here is an antidote rather than a pleasurable drug, or an end goal. It’s our war on complacency wherein happiness and status quo are mortal enemies.
This perspective of joy may not be as easy to picture, or as appealing. Unlike the aesthetic grace and harmony, the charming wide smile that greets each stranger, there is a certain silent fighter spirit and soul perspiration that emerges from struggle, bursting through concealments to connect with something higher regardless of circumstances.
Unlike other spiritual paths, simcha does not sprout from long periods of seclusion. Connection with people and feeling the unity between souls is a necessary piece of experiencing happiness, to put yourself in positions to give — to share positive experience and energy with others.
While popular meditation retreats and vacations provide an escape from social pressures and the rigors of materialistic world, they also avoid the soul-body dialogue crucial for inner redemption. Likewise, climbing to the snow-covered mountaintops to ski, searching for the sense of serenity through lying on soft sands with ocean waves faintly echoing, gazing at the sky to appreciate the wonders of the universe — these may subdue the struggle, but the person must come back to work, and then what?
The ability to find the joy and goodness within everything, even during your difficult times, or material occupations, is the main challenge. This spiritual skill, for lack of a better description, takes place mainly within the performance of things that you don’t naturally feel like doing. Such a feeling is intimately intertwined with the emotions we discussed previously — faith and trust — where there is an underlying awareness that no matter how things appear, you are being guided and taken care of. There is some purpose in the present circumstance, some good, that will soon be uncovered.
Breaking barriers
Notwithstanding the emphasis on action, awakening the emotion of joy has one of the most powerful spiritual effects — “it breaks barriers.” The surface interpretation of this phrase is that when that feeling floods our system, it helps overcome personal inhibitions or perceived limitations. It also removes internal obstacles to success, like opening a dull or uninspired heart, or even nullifying heavenly decrees that may be blocking blessings in our life.
But on a deeper level, “simcha breaking barriers” means that most obstacles we perceive are often illusions. And through feeling happiness, the illusion that certain barriers exist is naturally removed.
This form of joy, a light shining from and through darkness, is most connected to Purim. The culmination of joy in this month is a perfect dialogue between soul and body. While preoccupation with food to derive satisfaction usually signifies lack of refinement — a temporary pleasure — that pulls one away from higher sensitivity, Purim is different: The body celebrates the soul’s victory.
While the exact nature of the simcha which permeates this entire month may be vague, the upshot is that everyone must ask themselves, “Since the season of happiness has arrived, how can I increase?”
The first step is self-awareness. While there are principles common to all people, each soul and character has a different constitution, nourished more by certain spiritual nutrients than by others. For some, it may be studying extra subjects in Torah that are particularly uplifting; for others, this may be treating themselves to a certain pleasure that they don’t normally have an opportunity to embrace. Or extra effort to be in a better mood for the sake of your family and friends — making people smile.
The knowledge alone that this brief period of Adar is about reaching new levels of happiness, provides a boost. All we have to do next is position ourselves to dig and find that increase in joy.

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