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Why Aren’t People Happy?

by Chaya Rivka Zwolinski

Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household you, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you. Devarim, 26:11

In Parsha Ki Tavo the Torah says that because we did not serve Hashem with joy and a happy heart when things were going well and living a life of abundance, therefore we will now serve Hashem with difficulties. This is the famous rebuke of the Torah. It lays out (quite graphically) the difficulties we will face.

“Things going well” and “abundance” are relative. We often don’t feel like things are “going well” or that we have “abundance.” Rebbe Nachman explains that most people are full of pain and worry. They find it hard express the depth of their disappointments to anyone. They don’t see that things are actually going pretty well or that they have everything they truly need. They walk around feeling down.

It’s no use telling someone like this that they should be joyful. What you have to do is meet them where they’re at. You’ve got to encourage them. The best way give encouragement is by modeling joy yourself. Even when you are facing difficulties, you can show others that it’s possible to choose joy and happiness. People aren’t happy because they don’t believe they can be happy.

Every person has to come to happiness and joy from the level where they’re at. It is nearly impossible for some people to believe that they could be capable of joy until all the problems in their life are resolved. In truth, this is a very human response to difficulties.

But Rebbe Nachman encourages us to rise above our natural inclination towards despair, hopelessness, pain, and worry. We should grab hold of the little bits of joy we can find in our lives and use these bits to encourage ourselves and others. We should look away from the difficulties, if even for a few minutes, and start listing the good things in our lives. In this way, we will lift ourselves little by little by little until we find that joy comes naturally.

This isn’t easy. It’s not something you can just say to someone: Be joyful, whatever you’re going through, just be joyful. We have to begin by feeling real compassion with each other. Start by letting someone talk out their troubles. Then you can begin to encourage them and point out reasons why there is hope. Show them that despite the difficulties of life, they have the power to choose joy too. Ask them to actively name the good things in their lives, including the little and big things (chocolate, the ability to see or hear, comfortable pillows, a friend who loves them, the beautiful light of the Shabbat candles, etc.) Now, it’s your turn. Name the good things in your life, the things that bring you comfort and joy.

Joy helps us feel connected to Hashem no matter what we are going through. And feeling connected to Hashem helps us feel joy. It just takes some practice.

May you have a day in which you practice joy.

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