The Jewish holiday season - the one where back in grade school classmates thought I was sick for missing many days of school - from the new year Rosh Hashanah throughout the receiving of the Torah from God on Simchat Torah comes full circle Saturday night (Tishrei 23, October 10).
As this new year unfolds and we start reading the Torah at the beginning, I'd like to share a perception about joy and why the joy of Sukkot - the seven days celebrated in the sukkah commemorating the shelter God had over the Jewish people as they traveled from Egypt to Israel - as said in the Holiday Amidah prayer as, "the season of our rejoicing" is beyond a feeling of joy. Rather, the joy of Sukkot is a state of being to be attained and maintained throughout the entire year! 🍋🌿
Is joy just a feeling?
According to definition, joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. This definition seems to portray joy solely as a feeling. A feeling is an emotional state or reaction and it is something that is ephemeral and transitory.
There are times and seasons that feel joyful and there times that are joyful. There are people that you meet during a festival that feel joyful and there are people you meet or know that have a joyful state of being.
The difference is that a feeling often lasts for a limited duration of time, while a state of being persists and projects at all times. A feeling of joy can be stripped away from a sudden event that triggers an emotional reaction, like a breakup, an injury, or a loss. A joyful state of being transcends the pleasant and unpleasant events because a joyful person responds (not reacts) to an event or circumstance. Joy as a state of being comes from within. Regardless of the external circumstances joy can be present. Joy as a feeling is dependent on something external.
So, do you need something outside of you to be or to feel joyful? By no means does this mean not to feel joyful from something outside of you. The emphasis is on the need. In any given moment we have the power to think and feel a certain way rather than needing something outside of ourselves to make us feel a certain way. A joyful state of being does not mean one wouldn't have an argument with another or wouldn't react to a sudden event, but rather the length of time of their reaction would be much shorter.
Most of us have had some type of emotional reaction to a person, event, thing, or place that left a strong emotional mark on us. The longer in time an emotional reaction is continuously reacted to the more a person will be creating a belief about the event, person, or experience. Which means whenever they see a certain person that triggered an emotion of anger or are in a similar experience as the first one that led them to feel an emotion like insecurity, they will continuously conclude that the person is evil as in the former or that they are not worthy as in the latter.
Even if several people were to think similarly about a person, it is harmful to one's own health and to the relationship to think negatively about another person. A joyful person recognizes that even if someone else had performed an action unpleasant to her, it does not mean he is a bad person. It simply means the action may have been unkind, but the person can still express the kind part of himself.
Why is Joy a must ?
A continuous state of joy brings a higher level of understanding about life. There are times that are pleasant or unpleasant and the joyful person, although fully experiences either experience, fully acknowledges that the feelings arise and pass away. Whereas one day could bring revealed goodness and the next could bring unpleasant experiences (not yet revealed goodness), the joyful person perceives them both with the same level of mind. This means that either experience is acknowledged, felt, embraced, and honored fully. The pleasant experience isn't craved and the unpleasant experience isn't averted or resisted.
Even on a scientific understanding being joyful is the most optimally functioning way because when we are joyful we are present. When we are present there is no dwelling of the past or anxiety towards the future. I remember even seeing this being apparent on brain scans in books by Dr. Daniel Amen, specifically Brain Warriors Way and Change your Brain Change your Life. When we are joyful the brain is lighting up in more coherent patterns and different parts of the brain are communicating with each other.
If you knew that you functioned best when you are being joyful, wouldn't you begin to practice being joyful more often? Rather than placing attention on how something went wrong or worrying about something in the future, investing attention in the present moment is how we begin to become joyful as our state of being.
How do you become a joyful person?
Practice and rehearsal. How do the people you revere and aspire to be like think, feel, and act?
By choosing to think positively, to be grateful for whatever is around you or within you, to love yourself as you are, to love another as they are, and to love the world as it is will bring rise to the joyful part of you, the real you.
I understand that reading this can be limited for one's personal application, so here's what it can look like practically with fictional character, Janice. Janice is feeling depressed, but to her she is depressed.
The first step to anything is awareness and for Janice to no longer feel depressed (or in her mind no longer be depressed) it is key to become aware that she is feeling depressed. There is a important distinction to make: Janice is feeling depressed, but she is not depressed.
During these intense feelings and emotions like depression, step 1 alone may not "click" right away, so here's where meditation can be beneficial to return to a calmer, more effective state and increase awareness. Even 5-10 minutes with the eyes closed, in silence or listening to a guided meditation can be very helpful in climbing out of of the hole of depression.
As Janice settles more into the present moment with meditation and/or perhaps some deep breathing, it is important to know that here (the present moment, feeling more calm) is when she can respond effectively to whatever or whoever is triggering a feeling of depression in her. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, it is actually even making the brain worse by analyzing one's life within a disturbing emotion.
Have positive reminders like quotes or poems that remind her about courage and about experiencing the feeling to continue training herself to be joyful. The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is one of my favorites, along with the teaching this too shall pass from King Solomon.
Practice choosing positive thoughts and placing her focus on positive thoughts by starting a gratitude journal: to write 3 things in the morning and 3 things in the evening she is grateful for.
Consistently practice throughout the day to perceive what is going well around her, what she loves about herself personally, what she loves about others, whatever evokes feelings of joy. This is when she is at her most effective and can begin to be joyful on a regular basis because she makes the effort to choose to be a certain way, she trains herself to be joyful. One phrase I used to rehearse and remind myself is as follows: things usually workout better than I can imagine.
For more tips checkout the article I wrote on How to Achieve Emotional Stillness (Even in Times of Chaos).
As our ancestors traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land with God's sheltering of love, joy, and peace, and we relive the like with our sukkah, so too can we transform "the season of our rejoicing" into a continuous joyful state of being. All it takes is repetitive practice and rehearsal, training the body to be present, joyful, and in the Promised Land.
To the joyful you and a joyful world! 🥂