How to Find Joy in Your Life

Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - March 5, 2000

Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening and welcome back. Weíre on the air every Sunday from 6-7pm on WEVD 1050 AM. Itís been exciting in the few last weeks taking such interesting calls from you, and I really appreciate and thank the listening audience for your provocative, stimulating and challenging dialogue.

To find a topic for tonightís show, as usual, I look to Divine Providence in my own life, different things that happen during the day, or calls and emails that I get during the week to inspire me with a topic to discuss rather than coming up with something of my own.

So the topic that Iíd like to discuss is ďJoy.Ē And the reason for it is that we are now in the Hebrew month of Adar on the Jewish calendar. The month of Adar is considered to be the happiest month in the Jewish calendar as it contains Purim, the happiest day of the year. Purim is essentially a day of joy, which in Hebrew the word is ďsimcha.Ē I was looking around for different words with which to translate the word ďsimchaĒóexuberance, happiness, gladnessóbut I think joy is the right word.

Friends of mine asked me the question this past week, ďHow do you bring joy into your life if youíre not in the mood for it? Can you just package it? Can you have joy on demand?Ē

Many of us have many very legitimate reasons for being somewhat despondent, and when youíre in that state of mind, weíre dealing with emotions here, how can one elicit joy? I thought it was a very good topic to discuss, because people often take for granted the issue of joy. You find people who are very joyous just naturally and others that seemingly are much more somber and serious.

So Iíll pose several questions on the air and Iíll address some of them. Iíd love to hear from all of you out there so I invite you to call in with your questions and ideas.

Is joy genetic? If someone is a joyous person, or the antithesis of being sad, is it genetic or is it acquired? Can you do something in your life, any methods or exercises, that can bring joy and happiness into your life?

As I said, the antithesis of joy is sadness, and these emotions are forces in our lives that have a very strong impact. I believe that some of these emotions are critical in our own growth and healing process. Thereís the Patch Adams story of how laughter can aid healing. I think joy is one of those underused tools that, by learning how to access it, can really help us in our lives.

Many of us feel that we are victims of circumstances. If something in our daily life brings some joy in our lives, great, we thank G-d for it, but is there something that we can actually do, that we can actually initiate, that can help us bring joy?

So question number one is, is joy genetic? You do find people who are just naturally joyous, who have a kind of laid-back attitude where itís just good to be in their presence, and then there are others who may be very serious, but at the same time, they always bring us down.

At the outset, let me give an overview from a Torah perspective about what this concept called joy, simcha, is, and whether it is considered geneticó nature vs. nurture.

We can learn a lot by observing children at their quintessential selves, because before children have been affected by society, parents, and community, they can sometimes give us a specimen of what our lives would be like before we were abused or hurt or disappointed.

Children have natural cheer. They have a natural, enchanted air about them; some would call it naivete because they havenít yet tasted of the pains of life, but you can also say that it does definitely reflect on a certain natural state that we all have within us.

When does a child cease to be consistently cheerful? When a child first gets disappointed: the first grief or the first loss or the first disappointment. I would say, to put it in more cosmic terms, that you experience sadness the first time thereís some deception, some type of split in a personís life. Sadness for the loss, sadness for what could have been, sadness for not getting what you want. But naturally speaking on a cosmic level, a soul, a spiritual entity or spiritual state, where youíre in complete touch with who you are and what youíre supposed to be doing, should be literally a seamless flow of joy.

In other words, from that perspective, joy is a completely natural state. Itís not even an expression of a spiritual type of existence, itís equated with life itself. Like a fish swimming in its own waters has that type of natural cheer.

Now, living in a world of so much grief and pain, when we see someone joyous, itís like a novelty for us, an exotic experience. But for someone who has that flow, that seamlessness, where there isnít a dichotomy in life of what you want and what you expect or a deception of different forms, then joy comes very naturally, and thatís why children are joyous.

So their naivete in a sense serves them well because they havenít yet tasted from what it means to live in a world of deception. Once they get those disappointments, the joy begins to bottle up to the point where it becomes so locked up for some, that it canít even be accessed again.

Itís critical to see joy from this perspective, because if joy is an acquired state, something that you develop at some point (later) in your life, then a very strong argument can be made that once youíve lost a reason to be happy, or youíve suffered grief, thereís no way of reconnecting.

However, if joy is a natural state of feeling a certain sense of belonging, a feeling within that you are important and you have a value, then itís just a question of reclaiming that right, not creating something new.

So the argument that Iím submitting to all of you is, that joy is something that each of us has in our hearts. Even if you are the saddest person and you havenít smiled in years, you have a joy, a gladness in your heart, that may in some way be blocked or sealed away because you may not feel that thereís any reason to access it, but itís there, and the key is learning how to dig into those reservoirs and draw from those wells of joy.

Of course Iíll try to discuss some of the methods of how one does that, but I wanted first to establish a psychological basis for the concept that joy is within us. Psychology uses the words today, ďinner child.Ē From a Torah point of view thatís nothing new. The inner child has always been a reality and the concept is essentially that the natural cheer, the natural spirituality, the enchantment and magic of child life is maintained throughout our lives.

However, once we mature into adults, the casings and personalities of our lives harden, and within them lies locked that child, that cheer, the natural exuberance of childhood. To truly live a meaningful life, a life of purpose and fulfillment, we must learn how to bridge the two. Iím not suggesting that we turn the clocks back and turn into children playing in sandlots, but if we can find some way of bridging that free abandon, that natural flow of a child with the seasoning and experience of an adult, then youíve got yourself a winning package.

I would even say that our search for happiness, in different words, is trying to bridge those two elements.

Now when we talk about joy in general, and reconnecting with that child or the joy within, I have to explain why it is that a soul, or spirit, is naturally upbeat or optimistic. In other words, what Iím saying is that this optimism, this sense of belonging is a natural state.

When you look around at any kind of particular given situation and you see when people are happyó take a mundane example, letís say at workósome people at work are just happy with their job, theyíre happy. Usually, there are a few ingredients that contribute to that happiness. Ingredient number one is that they feel needed. They feel appreciated that theyíre doing their job, they donít feel negligible, they donít feel taken advantage of, they feel that they belong, they feel that their particular talents or strengths are being utilized and appreciated. Thatís an extremely important ingredient and Iím speaking here purely on an ostensible level without even getting to anything deeper than that.

So what is the significance of this feeling wanted, of this sense of belonging? It means that thereís something thatís touching you that allows you to be yourself. You donít have to accommodate anyone, you donít have to tailor your behavior or your actions toward unnatural or unrealistic expectations.

You can come in and do your job, and youíll be appreciated for that. That sense of belonging, using spiritual terms, is essentially a sense that G-d put you here for a purpose and you are wanted and needed. When you have that type of inner security, its leads to natural joy. Indeed, that inner security is essentially one and the same with inner joy.

Natural joy doesnít mean that you get up to dance and celebrate at every moment, but itís just a certain feeling that you are wanted and needed. And when you have that, you have no reason to be sad.

Okay, we have Allen on the air.

Caller: Hi, good afternoon. I want to share a story on what I finally learned at age 42 and this works for me to gain control if I do feel sad over lifeís events. Itís kind of summed up by saying the older I get, the smarter my father becomes. He passed away 17 years ago. I just think back to things he taught me. What I didnít believe at age 21 I now see is so true at age 42. That makes me smile and it makes me able to go back into my memory, remember conversations weíve had, and apply the knowledge today that I wasnít able to apply 21 years ago.

Jacobson: So what do you do if youíre in a real saddened state? Do you just bring up memories?

Caller: I pick up a couple of books. I look at the situation, and if I can affect my surroundings and change the situation, then I devise a plan and go for it. If I canít affect the situation, like the weather or the traffic, then I tell myself thereís nothing to worry about because worrying wonít change the situation.

Jacobson: Well, Allen, I must give you credit, because thatís exactly whatís expected of us. However, what do you tell people who just canít accomplish the same thing that you do?

Caller: Well, I just give them perspective. Iím in medical sales and when my feet hurt when I wake up in the morning, I have two choices and I try to pass this along to them. I can either say, ďOh gosh, my feet hurt, Iím not happy,Ē or I can say, ďThank the L-rd that I have feet, because how many medical facilities do I go into where there are patients in nursing homes with amputated feet.Ē

I just try to keep it in perspective and I try to point that it out to people. Even my daughter, whoís nine years old, knows that a third of her allowance goes in the tzedakah (charity) box, because no matter how tough life is for her, she knows a lot of people have it much worse off.

Jacobson: Well, I commend you for that, and your call is very meaningful to me because I can affirm what youíre saying, because from the perspective of looking at the texts, when they discuss how one accesses joy, the idea of recognizing that Iíve done everything I can do in a given circumstance, and then letting go, is a very fundamental one.

Caller: Thereís a saying that I donít like to quote, because I usually only like to quote sayings I know from my Jewish background, but in Alcoholics Anonymous, one of their biggest sayings is ďLet go, let G-d.Ē And you just summed it up. Look at a situation, if you can change it, attempt to, and if you canít, accept it and know that itís in a state higher than you can conceive of.

Jacobson: Well, I appreciate your call Allen. Is there anything else youíd like to say?

Caller: No. But thank you for listening so attentively and you know, itís a lot easier to say than to do, but Iíve learned if you talk about things, your philosophies to people, and you share them with your family and friends, youíre more likely to integrate them into your own life.

Jacobson: Exactly Allen, and I hope that your call inspires others as well, because hearing it from a person whoís there is always best because itís not just theoretical, but from a real live person of flesh and blood. So thanks for the call.

Iíd like to embellish somewhat on what Allen just said. We see that joy consists of having a sense of purpose, coupled with what Allen just said, which is the second ingredientórecognizing that you do what you can do in certain circumstances, and after that you have to have what is called in Hebrew, bitachon, which means trust. You have to let go, not from a vulnerable place or out of weakness, but recognize that you have exhausted every option possible. Those of us who continue to obsess in a situationófeeling that it could have been differentócuts into a deeper issue of our own insecurity, and thatís why I go back to my initial point of having a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose.

I canít ignore, of course, when youíre dealing with a topic like this, that as legitimate as Allenís comments are, there are many of us who grew up in homes where that sense of self was seriously abused and oneís self-esteem was eroded.

Often when I hear people talking about the difficulty of being happy, when you really cut through the layers, what youíre really hearing is a sense of foreboding, of expecting things not to work.

But when you think about it, why would a soul sent by G-d to earth, with a very clear mission and a sense of purpose (i.e., this is what youíre needed for), ever feel that they are hated or that they canít get it done or that they have no purpose in this world?

The answer is that that child who had natural joy, natural exuberance, and was ready to take on the world, all that was stamped out, at least on a conscious level, by parents who either projected their own insecurities or just projected their own inadequacy, their own lack of joy, onto this child.

And this outer layer doesnít let that person access his own soul and his own joy.

So this is, of course, the most difficult situation, because what do you do to turn the clock back to return to the innocent child before it was damaged?

So letís go to Joe, on the air.

Caller: You know, you said to make yourself feel happy you should take care of your insides. What do you do about the Holocaust?

Jacobson: Well, what do you do?

Caller: I asked you the question. I tell you why I asked. During the War, I was in France. You know in 1944, the French were ambivalent, they werenít like the other people. Some were turning the Jews in and some were hiding them. They hid a bunch of Jews, and there was a German battalion in the area. We were in the area and I happened to be investigating, doing ďpoint,Ē and I heard noises. I thought they were Nazis so I slammed open the door and I was ready to shoot, and I found about 20 people there.

Now, the captain said to me, ďLeave them there.Ē

I said, ďNo, I have to take them. Give me a break. Let me take them to the rear.

He didnít want to let me take them to the rear. And this bothers me to this day.

Jacobson: So you did leave them there?

Caller: No. The captain walked away and there was a back road thereóthere were a lot of roads thereóand I took them about 2-3 miles away from the front and told them which way to go and they would find either a Jewish organization or the French underground, they would find somebody who would save them. I wouldnít leave them there. I was fighting for America but I certainly wasnít going to turn my back on Jews.

Jacobson: Well, Joe, youíre a hero.

Caller: Iím not a hero. Any Jewish guy would have done that. And I think the captain knew I did it. He had to give me orders to stay because we were in line, we were very close to the Germans, we were exchanging fire, we were having gunfights. He had to do what he had to do, and I had to do what I had to do.

But you still didnít answer my question.

Jacobson: I appreciate your telling me the details. First of all, your call brings me joy. Because anyone like you whoís alive and thank G-d whoís healthy and who behaved in that fashion as you just described, has to lift our spirits. Because despite the entire darkness of the Holocaust Ö you know, I remember once hearing from an atheist who was debating a Holocaust survivor, and he was saying, ďHow could you still have faith after the Holocaust?Ē Can you imagine, this guy had the nerveóhe didnít even live through the Holocaustóand in his own philosophical mind he was challenging a Holocaust survivor?

And the Holocaust survivor turned to him and looked him straight in the eye and said, ďYou know, Iíll tell you what the Holocaust taught me. I lost my faith in man and I regained my faith in G-d. I realized I cannot depend on men and human beings.Ē

Joe, what you just described, yes itís true, the Holocaust is a source of sadness that is a bottomless pit, and as much as we could talk about it, thereís no way that Iím going to explain the Holocaust here, and Iím not even interested in justifying it. Itís a source of deep sadness, not just for Jews but for the entire human race that allowed such a blemish and allowed such an atrocity to occuróitís human beings at their worst.

However, when you hear a story like your own, Joe, and how you behaved, and Iím sure itís consistent with your life following the war as well, thatís a source of joy that means that there is hopeóeven in a jungle, there is hope. I have no other words to say. The only other thing that I can say about the Holocaust in general is, we do not understand the mysterious ways of life and death. I have no answer for the Holocaust, yet we have two options, as I once heard a person who really suffered serious trauma (he lost his wife and was left with many little children), say, ďI could either sink, go under, or dig deeper, and I decided to dig deeper.Ē So we have two options.

The Holocaust can be a source of an unbelievable pain if we dwell on it. That such a thing could have happened is simply unbelievable. It canít get worse than that.

However, to dwell on it in that way is actually bringing upon ourselves a second Holocaust, creating an unproductive life where weíre only dwelling upon the negative.Ē

Iíd love to be able to share with my children, and share on the air here, a story like yours, Joe. A story of thousands of others who came out of the Holocaust with renewed faith and who rebuilt their lives. Even though the scar will always remain a prominent oneóparticularly for Jews, but for all peopleóat the same, itís not a contradiction.

You know, Rashi, a commentator on the Torah, says an interesting thing: you can mourn and grieve, and at the same time, as time passes, you celebrate. That doesnít mean that you forget the loss, it just means that thereís a certain resilience, a certain power, that faith has that allows us to grow, and in a way, pain and grief can be transformed into a catalyst for growth.

If we in any way can sanctify the memory of the Holocaust victims, the way to do it is not to bring upon ourselves a Holocaust and say, ďLook how terrible life is.Ē If we can, in their memory and in their spirit, we should be inspired to be a better people and inspired to never allow such a thing to ever happen again. To cry out at injustices as they happen today, as you, Joe, did. To save people who are in situations of a mini-Holocaust. (There are children living today whose homes are almost a Holocaust environment.)

If that memory inspires us, then what weíve done is transformed tears and sadness into joy. So joy isnít a type of naÔve, glassy-eyed blindness to the realities of life. There are many causes and reasons for being in pain and sadness. At the same time, thereís a firm belief and faith that thereís a G-d, and a human being has a soul, and the spirit will rise.

And stories like yours, Joe, will inspire us that way. I donít know if itís a complete answer to your question; however, itís as much as I can say without getting into the whole discussion of why a good G-d would allow bad things to happen. So again, I thank you for your call.

Letís go to Norman. Youíre on the air.

Caller: Good evening. The holiday which is the memorial for the destruction of the Temple, is that Tisha BíAv?

Jacobson: Yes, itís called Tisha BíAv, which is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. The antithesis of Purim.

Caller: You see, this holiday in which the Jews are supposed to be sad over a long period, hours and hoursóI feel bad about that and I donít do that. I think it should be acknowledged, but I definitely omit myself from this type of activity because to me itís just dwelling in a morass of negativity and I donít do it. I thought this might add something; Iím not asking for your justification.

Jacobson: But you do celebrate the holidays that are joyous?

Caller: More so thanÖ yes. And in addition to that, I find that Iím evolving into acknowledging and feeling and vibrating to those holidays. Even though I may not do them now, I learn every day what vibrates within me and I pick up on that. Even though I may not do it actively, ever year I do less the sadness and more the joyous.

Jacobson: Okay, Norman. Thanks for that. My comment would be that I think the issue is really two sides of one coin. Jewish philosophy teaches us that there are two types of sadness: thereís a sadness that is destructiveóa sadness of depression that is demoralizing and that weakens you.

But then thereís a healthy sadness, for example, where you are sensitive to a loss. Itís not one thatís demoralizing. Or you regret a mistake youíve made. To be insensitive to that and just say, ďHey, nothing happened,Ē is a form of denial. And interestingly, when youíre in touch with healthy emotions, sadness and joy become very similar in a way. I know people who are very happy but itís simply because theyíre oblivious or completely in denial of whatís going on around them.

Thatís not the happiness weíre discussing here. Thatís not mature joy, thatís blindness. Iím not denying that it may be useful for the time being for certain individuals. Not everyone has to be exposed to all the traumas of life in order to test their mettle, but in a way, a person whoís able to be sad in a healthy way, out of strength, that same person will be able to be happy in a healthy way.

I see the other extreme as well: people who are so self-absorbed with their own depression, they also canít get out of it. It has a lot to do with how you see yourself.

I often make the point in the classes I give that arrogance takes on different shapes. Arrogance can take on a shape of pompousness expressed as ecstatic joy, oblivious of the realities around you, even when people are in pain around you, but arrogance can also take on the shape of complete depression.

Bottom line, arrogance means: ďI figured out that Iím the only one who can determine what mood I should be in.Ē So sometimes I meet someone and I say, ďWhat do you mean you have a low self-esteem and youíre not valuable? G-d said youíre needed here on this earth.Ē And the person answers, ďNo, I know better.ÖĒ Thatís arrogance. Itís just an arrogance that takes on the shape of complete self-annihilation, self-obliteration.

So self-hatred and depression is really just another form of the same arrogance of a person whoís completely arrogant at the expense of everyone around him.

Itís an interesting custom in Jewish tradition under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, to break the glass at the end of the ceremony. One of the reasons they do this is that itís a reminder of the destruction of the Temple. So I always wondered, of all times to choose a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, itís at the high point in two peopleís lives, their wedding, the highest simcha, the highest joy? Couldnít it have been done seemingly at the end of the wedding, or on another day? Why at that high point?

And the point is this. Those who know how to remember othersí pain at the height of their joy will also know how to remember to have joy at their height of pain. Itís people who live in extremes, who cannot find balance, where their joy is complete and they donít have that one percent opening that there may be people out there who are not married, or who are unable to, or who have difficulties in relationships, or people in pain in some other way.

If you remember those people, or youíre just sensitive because youíre not so consumed with your own feelings, no matter how justified they are (a marriage is a marriage), but you leave that little opening, then one day, if G-d forbid you should be challenged where youíre faced with a trauma or some loss, it also wonít be all consuming. Youíll have that one percent opening of joy and happiness. And I think thatís the balance. So Norman, I canít tell you how to live your life, but I could say to you that itís important to know that thereís a time to cry and a time to celebrate, as King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. But I thank you for your call.

Now, Iíd like to take a break to invite you to my Wednesday night class in New York City, at 8pm every Wednesday night at 346 W. 89th St., corner of Riverside Drive. All are welcome no matter what background or what gender, no matter what affiliation or non-affiliation. And just as this show has been coined ďA Show for Skeptics and Seekers,Ē so too is the class.

Weíve been talking about joy, a human emotion that is sorely needed. We see how productive we are when we are happy people, and we see how unproductive we are when we are saddened.

We have Rikki on the line.

Caller: I have a question about Purim. You say itís a joyous holiday, but thereís something about it that makes me a little uncomfortable. When Iím in the synagogue, at the mention of Hamanís name, everyone starts yelling and screaming. I understand that originally it was intended to obliterate the name, but it seems to me more and more that it is a hateful expressionósomething that seems incongruous with Jewish thought because I donít think that Judaism is about summoning up those kind of feelings. I would always think that Judaism tries to promote love. Could you explain that a little more?

Jacobson: Good question, Rikki. Just for those listeners who may not understand what Rikki is referring to, traditionally on Purim day, which is the 14th day of Adar, the Megillah scroll (of the story of Purim, the story of Haman and the plot against the Jews, and how they were saved by Mordechai and Esther), is read publicly in the synagogue, both on Purim evening and Purim day. The tradition goes that when Hamanís name is mentioned in the reading, some people stomp their feet, some people shoot off little ďshotgunsĒ (I donít think thereís any TNT or any major fireworks going on) but a lot of noise and racket goes on in the synagogue.

What Rikkiís asking, which is a very legitimate question, is that itís slowly taken on its own culture, a life of its own, which seemingly is not the emphasis in Judaism. But the tradition begins, simply on the mildest level, with the awareness in the context of what I said earlier: Even when weíre celebrating on Purim, where we have very good reason to celebrate, (and letís speak on a psychological level, when a person is happy with their lives and they find many reasons to be joyous), you still have to remember that there was a Hitler out there, and in the time of Purim, Haman was no different from a Hitler. There are people who are either cruel or wicked, and they continuously hurt people. So the awareness of that, even when youíre at the height of joy, is one of the most beautiful elements of Judaism: that itís never unrealistic joy, itís never an escape.

As long as this world is imperfect, we still remember those in pain. And one of the ways we remember is that when Hamanís name is mentioned, we stomp with our foot, which essentially is a symbol of remembering that there are still people out there who are that way and we have to eradicate evil.

Interestingly in Judaism the concept of evil is looked at that the sin should be erased but not the sinners. So even in the worst scenario, when weíre talking about evil, weíre not talking about the destruction of an individual unless that individual has become completely corrupt, like a Hitler, or like a Stalin, or others in history, where simply their existence is a threat to others.

So I do agree that when negativity is overdone to excess, it almost becomes a spectacle of its own. But if you think about the original tradition, it has beauty to it, that thereís the height of celebration on Purim for the victory against the enemies of the Jews, yet we still remember that there is a Haman and we have to protect those who are vulnerable and can be hurt.

But interestingly, when the Jews came out of Egypt (the Egyptians had oppressed the Jewish people for many years, and they were enslaved by them, and after the Jews left Egypt, the Egyptians still didnít give up but pursued the Jews), and the Egyptians were drowning in the parted sea and the Jews began singing praise to G-d, the Talmud says that G-d said to the Jewish people, ďMy children are drowning and youíre singing praise?Ē And remember, weíre dealing here with Egyptians, who were the equivalent of Nazis at that time. They had enslaved the Jewish people for 210 years and wouldnít give up. They wouldnít let them go. And they deserved to be killed; G-d had killed them. Yet we always need to be sensitive.

So even when weíre stomping on a Haman, weíre not talking about some type of vengeance, itís more of a sensitivity that thereís evil in this world. At the same time, itís not gloating but a form of recognition and a sensitivity to be joyous when you need to be joyous, and saddened by that which saddens us.

So weíll go to AJ.

Caller: Good evening. I like your program. Youíre very articulate and very interesting to listen to. I think a sense of hatred and guilt and also sometimes the guilt is conscious or subconscious, I think that as a strong way of pushing out joy, that people really canít get joyous once they pick up this entrenchment of sorts, which is a killer of joy.

For instance, I donít think that Hitler and these guys were really joyful, except for maybe a temporary period when he took Paris or something, but throughout their lives, I think it was just eating away at themselves with a concern about what they didnít do or what they did do, or how they hadnít accomplished as much as they wanted, and they really were not all that pleasant to be around.

Their joy was very temporary and their hate and guilt ate away at them. And sometimes itís even subconscious.

And by the way, for people in the Catholic church, the Saintís Day is relevant to the day they die, not their birthday. And they feel that as they die they may go to heaven, or will go, and itís a joyful day in a sense that they are delivered from this life to a perpetual joy in the next. Thatís it.

Jacobson: Thank you for your comments, AJ. I totally agree with you, AJ, that the worst thing that a person can do when theyíve been hurt and have legitimate grievances (as I was referring earlier to bringing on your own personal Holocaust in your life), is to perpetuate it by becoming hating or hateful, because then you become a greater victim of the person whoís hurt you, the perpetrator.

In a way, our own pride should say to ourselves, ďYes, that person has wronged me, but I donít want to remain their victim by continuing to carry that type of demoralizing hatred or sadness around with me. That doesnít mean Ďturning the other cheek.í It means an awareness that something wrong was done, that there was a wrong perpetrated, but I will convert my motivation into something extremely positive that eradicates the evil to bringing more light into the world.Ē

Obviously, for those who are in danger and in the line of fire a person has to do everything possible to protect himself, but what a person should do is not to run from a burning building, rather build new buildings and new structures in which to live.

And thatís why I am filled with admiration for people who came out of the Holocaust or for that matter any trauma, and have built and rebuilt and have not been brought down and demoralized.

You wonder, what is the anatomy? Why are some people so consumed and so overwhelmed by real tragedies, and others have an inner joy or an inner reservoir, an arsenal to call upon? Victor Frankel said it when he writes about the Holocaust in his book Man in Search of Meaning, that a human being who finds prior to the tragedy that he or she has a real purpose in being alive, then no matter what happens in their lives itís like roots of a tree. The storm may strike, branches may be broken off, leaves may be blown away, but the tree remains standing because itís firmly planted, firmly rooted, firmly grounded, and it has a sense of belonging that I was referring to earlier.

Itís a sense that G-d put you here on this earth and no human being can take that away from you. And no human being gives that to you. Your parents donít give you your reason for being, your justification for existence. What gives it to you is an inherent sense of purpose, an inner sense that ďyou matterĒ because G-d put you here.

And since no human being gave it to you, no human being can take it away from you. People can hurt us and people can take away opportunities from us, but they cannot take away our inherent value, which is the real reason why we should celebrate life, that we are here.

In Jewish tradition thereís a prayer thatís said every morning upon arising, ďModeh Ani,Ē ďI acknowledge G-d for returning my soul to me.Ē Itís essentially saying that the greatest reason for celebration is that I am here, I belong, and that no person can ever take that away from me, because I have that inherently.

Now I do want to make a suggestion or two of how to access that part of you, but letís go to Bob in New York.

Caller: Yes, Iíd like to contribute another aspect of joy that I believe that is accurate, that when people had rescued Jews, which is voluntary of course, they had a pure feeling of joy toward G-d on a high level. And I believe that if I were a rescuer, that would drive me also if I was feeling that high. Not everybody feeling that close to G-d would do it, but it has to be from a joyfulness.

I want to add another pointÖ I heard criticism when I was a grade school student that some of the Germans didnít help the Jews when they knew what was happening. Well, on the reverse side, how could you help somebody when the Germans had all the armaments and the machines and the equipment? This is the normal fear of a human being. But the gentiles and others who rescued Jews, in my opinion, were close to G-d and had joy for G-d.

Jacobson: I appreciate that. I hope, Bob, you have some of that joy yourself, but you shouldnít have to use it to save people who are in danger. We should be able to use our joy in situations that are healthy. Unfortunately was see that the strength of human beings is mostly expressed only in darkest times, like they say, it takes the eclipse of the sun to see the power of sunlight. Sometimes in the darkest of times (and I see from the calls coming in this evening) you see the greatest joy and the power of it.

If we were all joyous people and there was no reason to be sad, we would never appreciate what joy is all about. But because we live in a world that is cruel and a world in which people have been hurt, children particularly, joy is that powerful, elusive goal that so many of us aspire to.

Weíll go to Steve on the line.

Caller: Hello Rabbi. I was thinking that one way to draw on the joy that is found in the wellsprings of the heart, as you say, comes from a teaching of Rabbi Nachman who says that when thereís nothing in the world to smile about, the thing you should do is smile, and G-d gives you everything to smile about.

Jacobson: Well said. I like that. And as a matter of fact, thatís a good segue, Steve, because I was going to address that one of the traditions on Purim, for instance, one of the exercises, is to join a festive meal. And I always wondered, if youíre not in a happy mood, who wants to go to a party? So it becomes a Catch-22 situation. How do you force yourself to go to a party when youíre not joyous?

At the same time you do see that when youíre with others who are happy, thereís a contagious element to joy. It may be distracting and it may not necessarily have a profound effect, but Iím a firm believer that behavioral change, sometimes acting a certain way, definitely can affect you in a way where you begin to assume that personality.

Now, if we werenít joyous at the heart of it all, if we werenít inherently joyous people and the inner child was not a joyous one, then you could say that itís a superimposed state to just party. But if we really believe that deep in our reservoirs there is joy, then the question is, how do we unclog the pipes to get there?

So with unclogged pipes, just to use that analogy, we usually do two things. If you can get to the root of it, from the bottom, then you unclog it from the bottom, but if you canít reach it from the bottom, then you go to the top and you try to unclog whatever is blocking itólike Roto-Rooter.

So to access in a personís soul those reservoirs of strengths, sometimes you need that behavioral change, you have to go to a party, you have to participate. And if you have a friend who is sad and doesnít want to go (I mean obviously you donít have to force anyone), you do everything possible, because sometimes a person needs a type of shock treatment to just shake up the clogs in our arteries. When you begin unclogging it from one end, sometimes it dislodges it and something can flow from within, in other words, from the reservoirs of joy themselves.

So on a practical level, one of the suggestions that the Torah does give for a person who just canít pull themselves out of their own despondent state, is not to sit and dwell on it. Go find yourself someone whoís happy. The fact is that in the presence of someone whoís naturally joyous and happy, it always has an effect on us. It may not change you overnight and it may not have a dramatic impact, but being in that type of presence does have a certain warming effect and, letís put it this way, you have nothing to lose.

On the other hand, hanging around with people like yourself when youíre despondent doesnít usually help, because what happens is despondency and demoralization breeds demoralization. It all comes down to that you have to have belief and faith that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Of course there are situations in life where weíre so overwhelmed that we canít see anything. Thatís why we have to prepare in the years of plenty for those years of famine. In the times that we do have an opening, and everyone has a moment in their lives where thereís a little opening, where they feel a little joy, they have to grab that moment, and get themselves some friends and say to them, listen, when I go under and I canít see the difference, and Iím in such darkness that I donít want to hear anything, remember to shlep me to some party. And thatís a window of opportunity that we have to use that allows us this and particularly in months that are opportune times in the Hebrew calendar, because time has an energy that allows us an opportunity that we have to access. Perhaps the clogs are a little less clogged up in these months.

So thank you for your call, Steve.

Thereís no question that thatís one of the things that none of us would reject if someone came to us and said, ďI have a gift for you called joy.Ē Because when a person is optimistic and happy with themselves, theyíre more productive. You can accomplish more in one hour in a happy state than a person who has ten hours and is in a saddened state, because when youíre happy your faculties are sharper and youíre more in tune.

By the way, a topic like this cannot possibly be exhausted in such a short time, so we want to invite all of you to share your thoughts and questions and we will post them on our website. You can reach us at or www. and we welcome all comments and questions, from skeptics to seekers.

Weíll go to Larry.

Caller: Hi Rabbi. I have one quick thought that I want to share with you and your listeners. My wife and I find a good way to create happiness in our lives is simply by celebrating a few simple elements of Shabbat. On Friday night especially, we light candles, we say the motzi on the challah, we bless the wine and we go through a few family ritual acts. We find that that gives us tremendous energy to start the new week.

Jacobson: Thatís a very good point that Larry made. We were talking mostly about Purim, but there is no question that any spiritual reminders in our lives, anything that a person can do (and speaking from the Jewish tradition, whether itís the Sabbath), any time we take time out from the material immersion of our lives and remind ourselves of our own inherent spirituality is the greatest cause for joy.

I didnít really have the time to elaborate on this, but the fact is that materialism inherently is the root of all despondency. Because the fact is, anything materialómoney, possessionsósince theyíre all temporary, can never provide the type of security that real inner joy comes from.

In Ethics of the Father we learn, Marbeh nechosim marbeh daageh, the more money you have, the more problems you have, because you have more to protect. More property, more anxiety, more to worry about.

Anxiety is a direct result of the temporary and transient elements in our lives. However, on the other hand, that which is eternal in our lives is always going to be a cause for joy because it gives you that type of grounding, that anchor, that you know you can depend upon.

Itís like if you start a project and you have someone who is doing work for you. If you know you canít rely on that person and you always have to be checking on him, the anxiety level may not be worth hiring a person like that. It may be worth doing it yourself.

However, when you can depend on someone and know that he or she is going to be doing the job, that type of reliance gives you the security that you can then feel happier. So happiness is very much connected to the objects of our desires and our happiness.

I do want to share a blessing and a suggestion that one of the keys to happiness is to have happy friends. Find yourself a happy friend that you can call upon that has that sincere sense of happiness, and remember, the spirituality that you build in your life is a nest-egg. The more you diversify it, the more security you have.

As always, itís been a pleasure. I hope youíll join me next Sunday at 6pm on WEVD 1050AM. This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. Thank you and have a good evening.



101 Ways To Wear A Mask
A Feast & a Fast
A Purim Poem
A Role of Dice
A Singular People
Beyond Structure
Beyond the Moon
How to Find Joy in Your Life
Joy in Four Dimensions
Knowledge & Naught
Purim - Joy on Demand?
The Angel & the Drunk
The Power of Five Seconds: Jewish Obsession with Food
The Thousand Year Difference
The Young & the Fearless


Visitor Comments
WENDY, 09/20/2014
this is one of the best, realistic articles I have ever read and I'm 63 and have had lots of counseling, whomever wrote this has great wisdom and it has helped me GREATLY, thank you so so so much, I wish all could read this,
C Landrey, 03/14/2014
Confused by Holocaust interpretation
I am an atheist man married to a Jewish woman. After 20 years of marriage I still cannot understand why any Jews remained Jews after the Holocaust. If this is how G-d treats his chosen people, thanks but no thanks. The comment by the man that " the Holocaust survivor looked him straight in the eye and said, ďYou know, Iíll tell you what the Holocaust taught me. I lost my faith in man and I regained my faith in G-d. I realized I cannot depend on men and human beings.Ē seems incredibly silly, i.e., G-d's responsible for the good things, but not for the bad. You can't have it both ways, but it would seem that for my wife and other Jews, that's the logic.
elizabeth kramer, 09/18/2012
I am not of the Jewish faith, but I do believe in a great Creative Power that I call God. I enjoyed reading your How to find Joy in your life, but why do you say G-D in place of the word God?

Editor's reply:

To preserve the sanctity of the divine and to demonstrate how it is different than any other experience, we differentiate the word by writing G-d with a dash.
Amelia, 07/04/2012
Joy is
Joy is! As the Rabbi said it is an innate part of us to practice. In the same way we have to practice our religion we have to practice joy. Laughing at ones self is easy when we don't take ourselves and life so seriously. We forget that all of the things that seem so difficult and hard are existent in the same temporary place we live in, which means it will change. If there is anything that makes you smile, makes you feel happy or experience a sense of joy, practice that, do it more often, this could be a walk in the woods, listen children laugh or go for a swim,whatever makes you feel joyful that does not cause others pain anguish or suffering you should do more. You know when you are doing something right and feel good inside, if it is something that makes you feel in anyway uncomfortable or confused inside that is something you should not do. The more often you smile, the more often you will smile.
lann mcc, 12/23/2011
joseph's comment 01-2011
I felt the same way today that you felt in Jan. & I found this website & have learned what I need, it is a email friend to converse with. Perhaps the Rabbi can email our addresses to each other without publishing them here. Find Joy! !!!!!
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