Although people can differentiate in their own lives what it feels to be happy and sad, this question has long puzzled philosophers and psychologists. How do you define happiness?
Over the last 10 years or so the leading researchers in happiness, Martin Seligman, Felicia Huppert and others, have concluded that happiness as a mood is not something we should be striving for. They argue that one can really replace the word happiness with well-being. According to these researchers, if one has a sense of meaning in life, satisfaction, self-esteem and various other positive attributes, one will find that they have a sense of well-being.
With this background, it is interesting to note that the Talmud says (Taanit, 29) that as one enters into the months of Adar, one increases in happiness. There are some who think one is obligated to be in a happy mood, and when one enters into the month of Adar, one just turns up their happiness a couple of notches.
But a happy or jolly mood is not something you can turn on and off like a switch. One might argue that the Talmud is not asking us to be in a jolly mood during the month of Adar but is rather suggesting that when enters the month of Adar, one’s sense of well-being and therefore joy of life (as opposed to joyful mood) should increase.
But how does this occur?
Well, on the seventh of Adar the biblical figure Moses was born, and following that is the festival of Purim. Moses was a man who spoke directly with God face-to-face, and was the catalyst for the greatest ever divine revelation. The festival of Purim reminds us that God looks out for us, and if we pray to Him, He will protect us from all manners of trouble and sorrow.
Internalizing these two concepts brings about a sense of comfort. It makes us aware that we’re not alone in this world and that there is a greater depth and meaning to all things. This then brings about a sense of life satisfaction and meaning, which will inevitably result in a sense of well-being and therefore joy in life.
Clearly therefore, what the Talmud is really saying is that we should be conscious and aware of the inner meaning of the month that we enter into in each season. And, based on the particular inner meaning of festive days in Adar, our sense of well-being will increase.
But there is also a deeper message here. The pursuit of happiness as a mood is futile. Yet, an ability to perceive a deeper meaning within the events and experiences around us, and having a consciousness of the hand of the divine, results in a sense of well-being and thus joy of life.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life