Practical Joy

If you type in "how to be" on Google, the first search suggestion is "how to be happy." We all crave happiness, but really having it is easier said then done.


Follow this series to learn:

What is true joy?

How can I be truly happy?

What can I accomplish when I'm truly happy?

and lots more!

A grandfather was walking along a forest path with his grandson. They were enjoying the fresh air and the shelter provided by the tall trees when they came to a clearing and witnessed a frightening scene. In the midst of the clearing were two wolves wrestling ferociously with each other. The boy gasped in dismay when he saw these two beastly animals at each other’s necks; it was clear that both wolves were in it to the death.


“Grandpa!” he cried. “What can we do to stop them?” Grandfather gently told the boy that there was nothing they could do since neither wolf seemed to be letting up. “But which one will win? They both seem so strong,” the boy asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene.


“Which one will win?” repeated Grandfather thoughtfully. “The one that will win is the one that is better fed.”


Our lives sometimes mirror this struggle between hope and despair, joy and sadness, happiness and gloom. The key to overcoming negativity is found in the wise words of the grandfather: It depends on what we feed. If we consciously make the effort to feed our spirit of positivity, and if we gravitate toward activities, people, and events that bring us joy and happiness, we will find ourselves feeling more positive and uplifted.


Here are a few ideas to focus on to keep ourselves from succumbing to negativity:


1. Bring joy into your fulfillment of a mitzvah—being happy when you do a mitzvah enhances the mitzvah. This idea should permeate everything that you do. If you are going to focus on doing a mitzvah, do it happily. Consider this: when you do a mitzvah, you cause Hashem to dwell here in our world—and you get to be the host!


2. Joy may be part of the actual mitzvah—“Visamachta bichagecha—rejoice in your festivals.” The Torah, in its description of the details of yom tov, adds this directive, “And you shall rejoice on your holiday.” So not only does joy enhance our performance, it is our performance. Remember, yomim tovim can’t be observed to their fullest without this joy. It is up to you to model this joy for people around you—your joy is contagious, and will quickly spread to others. At times, preparing for yom tov may lead to stress, and it is important not to let the stress ruin yom tov—for you and, as importantly, those around you. If you are determined to find the joy, you will celebrate the yomim tovim as they are meant to be celebrated.


3. Shlomo Hamelech states in Mishlei (15:15), “V’lev tov mishta tamid—the good-hearted are festive always.” Joy is a state of being, not an activity. Happiness is something you have to work on; it is not a natural state for everyone, not a default setting in most adults.

We are able to make joy a part of us so that mitzvahs—positive or negative, large or small, communal or individual—are done with the joy that comes simply from the ability to perform a mitzvah.


Chassidus teaches us to think differently, in a way that will lead to simchah:

Everything depends totally on Hashem; we can’t survive without Divine energy.

Understand that everything is Hashgacha Pratis; whatever happens is because Hashem wants it that way. To put it another way, happiness is when we free ourselves from dwelling on the “why”; this only causes us to falter.

Realizing that Hashem controls whatever happens should automatically cause a person to be happy (to do otherwise is to imply that Hashem is not doing a good job). We have to believe that everything Hashem does is for the good.


There is a story told of Rabbi Yechezkal Feigen, hy”d, who was a Chassid of the Frierdiker Rebbe and a mashpia during the most challenging years of Communist rule in the USSR. One night, he secretly led a farbrengen deep underground knowing that the KGB was on the prowl. He spent time talking to the Chassidim, and he scolded them for their lack of enthusiasm and diligence in their Avodas Hashem. The men were moved to tears by his words; he had touched a chord deep within them.


All of a sudden, a lookout came and said that the KGB was nearby and may have spotted people entering the farbrengen. Quick as a flash, the men dispersed and hid any incriminating evidence of their gathering. After a few very tense minutes, they realized that it was a false alarm, and the men returned to the farbrengen.


Surveying the scene, R. Feigen said, “When you sensed imminent danger, you knew that crying would not help, and you all jumped into action. Why when it comes to a spiritual problem do you feel that crying is an acceptable solution?”


His lesson to the Chassidim was clear: thinking about your lack of devotion may move you to tears, but tears don’t move you closer to Hashem—simchah is the key.


Let us make it our goal to find ways to increase our simchah. When we stop focusing on what we need and instead focus on why we are needed, we will find joy.


Simchah breaks through barriers, including the barriers of Exile. Moreover, simchah has a unique potential to bring about the Geulah. During the First and Second Batei Mikdash, G-d’s happiness was not complete. Only in the third Beis HaMikdash, to be built in Yimos HaMoshiach, will there be perfect happiness.


Tracht gut, vet zein gut—it’s not just a way to weather negative occurrences; the Rebbe said that it actually brings positive results.

Esther Kosofsky is a Jewish educator, writer and lecturer. She served as director of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Resource Center for Jewish Education. Esther and her husband Rabbi Noach Kosofsky have been emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Western Massachusetts since 1984. Her articles have appeared on Chabad.org and she is the author of The Secret of Carlos Romanus.