Why Can’t You Just Be Happy?

Rabbi Aron Moss contributes regular Q&A commentaries to Gather the Jews.  Rabbi Moss is the proprietor of Nefesh and can be reached at rabbimoss@nefesh.com.au.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Moss.
Happy child
Question:
I know Purim is supposed to be a happy holiday, but when I look at myself and my life I see no good reason to be happy. On the contrary, I have plenty of reasons to be miserable. Am I supposed to be able just switch on happiness at will?
Answer:
You are facing some heavy challenges, and your feelings of despair are understandable. But you can turn your situation around. Happiness is never beyond your reach.Happiness is the natural human state. Just look at a little child. Kids don’t need to learn strategies for positive living, and they don’t need a reason to be happy. They need a reason to be sad. If a child cries, we ask, “What’s wrong?” If a child laughs and plays and dances around the room, we don’t ask, “What’s the big celebration about? Why are you happy?” A child is happy by default. If they aren’t happy there must be a reason, like they need to be changed, they are hungry or thirsty or tired, or need attention, or just had a Bris. But as long as nothing’s wrong, a child is happy for no reason at all.

Somewhere along the line things change. We grow older and become more demanding, harder to please and we lose this childish contentment. As we become jaded by life’s disappointments, we feel that we need a reason to be happy. If you see an adult walking around with a big smile, you ask, “What’s wrong with you, why are you smiling?”

The difference is, a child is not self-conscious. They are free to be happy because they are not yet aware of themselves. It is only when we mature and become more self-aware that we also become more self-absorbed. We have worries and concerns, unfulfilled desires and unrealised dreams. None of us can honestly say we have it all, and we can always find reason to be upset. But a child isn’t so aware of themselves and what they are missing, so they have it all. Their lack of self-consciousness leaves them free to enjoy life and be happy.

The more you are concerned with your own happiness, the farther you are away from achieving it. As soon as you forget about what you need and instead focus on what you are needed for, the good you can do for others rather than the good you can get for yourself, your childlike joy comes flowing back and you are happy.

This is the focus of Purim, a time to give gifts to friends, donations to the needy, to say LeChaim, loosen our grip on our self and thank G-d for the opportunity to be alive. Even in the darkest times, by becoming mission-focused rather than self-focused, we can access our inner joy. Happiness is not somewhere out there; it rests within, in that part of us that is forever young and forever giving – our soul.

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