Monday, December 08, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Forcing Happiness


A Simple Jew asks:

The Degel Machaneh Ephraim stressed the importance of constantly thinking happy thoughts by noting that the letters of the word מחשבה (thought) are identical to the phrase בשמחה (in joy). Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that being b'simcha is one of the most difficult things, and said, "It is harder than all spiritual tasks."

Have you found that there are times that you must literally force yourself to be happy? To what degree have you focused on this issue of being b'simcha in your avodas Hashem?

Dixie Yid answers:

For me, the way that I generally keep my happy equilibrium is by having trained myself to be indifferent to most things. Perhaps you could share with me whether you think this approach is good or bad, though I'm not sure to what extent I could change it at this point.

It all started way back in ancient times when I was in 9th grade. I had some good friends who shared their problems with me. For a while, my daily mood was dependent on how my friends were doing. When they shared difficulties with me, I would be depressed. When they were happy, I was happy. Eventually, I developed an emotional distance so that even when I was able to be a friend who was there for his friends and who was able to listen, I was not personally affected by the troubles that my friends were going through. I think this attitude has spread through my life in general.

Although when there are extraordinarily bad or good things are going on in my or my family's life, I am affected emotionally, I am generally calm, happy, and steady through the vast majority of life's days.

I am not entirely sure that this is due to a high level of Bitachon, where I have absolute trust in the one Who Spoke and the world came into being. I do not think that I can say that I am fully engaged with my own and others suffering or worries, and yet am still able to maintain my Trust in G-d as the basis for my happy go lucky demeanor.

Rather, I think that it would be closer to the truth to say that I keep myself comfortably distant and unconscious of both other people's worries and my own. On balance, I think this keeps me happier, though it does drive my wife crazy!

Should I just be thankful that I am not phased by most of what is thrown my way in life? Or should I worry that I'm not able to have both happiness and total engagement with my world? What do you and your readers think?

19 Comments:

At December 8, 2008 at 5:58:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

G-d bless you and yours.
i think not everyone is blessed to live the way you do, i wish i could be like that. i wrote once to RDovid Shirel, who lives in hebron about how i worry when my sons are late home after work. we live in a majority of kedar population.
He said we have to remember that Hashem NEVER sleeps, He takes care of us every moment of our lives. NO matter how much we love our children, we do sleep at night, we do take time away from them for various chores. however, he said, Hashem never takes off rom Watching over them/us.
To believe the words of the holy sages and rabbis is no problem, its integrating it into our lives, you seem to be able to do that just fine. blessings.

 
At December 8, 2008 at 8:29:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (جنوب يهودي) said...

Anon,

What does "a majority of kedar population" mean?

That's a great lesson about always remember that Hashem is "lo yanum v'lo yishan shomer Yisroel." And it's very true that the trick is internalizing that.

But as to whether I've integrated it into my life, as you say is the point of my post. I'm not sure I have internalized that trust. I'm worried that my happy-go-lucky personality is more the result of blissful obliviousness than it is the result of a deep sense of bitachon.

-Dixie Yid

 
At December 8, 2008 at 11:09:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dixie Yid:
Kol hakavod to you for doing this self analisis, it shows that something inside you is knocking... "kol dodi dofek, pitchi li..."

All I can say is that it would've been good for you to speak to someone like the Baal Hatania may be, who is any of us to understand a jewish soul...

 
At December 8, 2008 at 12:04:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (جنوب يهودي) said...

Do you know anyone I can talk to to be introduced to the Baal Hatanya?

:-)

Interestingly, he says in the introductino to Tanya that he wrote the sefer as a replacement for personal contact with his chassidim, since there were getting to be too many for him to give each one personal hadracha. He also says that one should connect to a friend who knows the tanya well enough to see its message for his particular question... Maybe you know someone for me who can do *that*!

-Dixie Yid

 
At December 8, 2008 at 12:06:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Perhaps Rabbi Shais Taub ;)

 
At December 8, 2008 at 12:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.
Try his book "turning darkness into light"...

 
At December 8, 2008 at 2:13:00 PM EST, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Of course I am not the Ba'al Hatanay or anything and my adive does not stem from Tanyah but but...
Rebbe Nachman writes that a person who has true emunah doesn't let anything get to him since he believes that everything is from Hashem. He actually says, לא אכפת ליה שום דבר Nothing bothers him at all. (See Torah 155. This is one of the many paths to chizuk and simcha that Rebbe Nachman discusses.)
In your personal case I think it depends. If this stems from emunah, then it is wonderful. If not it should be re channeled so that it comes from emunah (and not indifference or whatever else) if possible.

 
At December 8, 2008 at 3:21:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post.

 
At December 8, 2008 at 5:36:00 PM EST, Anonymous YIshai said...

I think it is good to have a certain distance, as you describe, but on the other hand it is also good to have compassion for people and understand on one level what they are going through.

As the Ramak says,

"[A] person should act as a father to all God's creatures. And he should constantly pray for mercy and blessing for the world just as the Supernal Father has mercy on all His creatures. And he should constantly pray for the alleviation of suffering as if those who suffer were actually his children and as if he had created them. For this is the will of the Holy One, Blessed is He. Furthermore, his mercy extend
to all creatures, neither destroying nor despising any of them. For the Supernal Wisdom is extended to all created things- minerals, plants, animals and humans. In this way man's pity should be extended to all the
works of the Blessed One. He should not uproot anything which grows, unless it is necessary, nor kill any living thing unless it is necessary."

There is a passage in Likutei Tefilot that is very similar, so there are similar themes in Rebbe Nachman's work.

I think there's a way to emphathize with people without getting caught up in the emotion and negatively affected by it. Instead of thinking, Oh, that must be horrible, over and over, until you feel horrible, perhaps it would be good to cultivate a feeling of love and compassion for that person, and use that opportunity to pray for that person and to thank Hashem that you are not going through the same thing, and that it has been brought to your attention so that you have an opportunity to help the person by listening to them and making them feel better, and by praying for them.

Shalom Arush, in the Garden of Peace, explains that women have a need to talk about their day, all the details and so on, and to be able to say it all without being criticized or giving advice -- just listening. I think this is hard to identify with for many men, like myself, who are more detached and feel less of a need for lots of talk. (The Talmud, I believe, says 10 shares of speech descended into the world, and 9 came to women.) Rav Arush says men should reserve half an hour or an hour a day to talk to their wives. This is a good time not to be too detached! (I don't mean to be saying anything critical, here, Dixie Yid -- just throwing out some thoughts.)

Two things I remember Rebbe Nachman saying about how to force yourself to be happy, relate to doing something silly, and humming a holy melody. Are there other specific things he told us to do, or that any of you have used successfully?

 
At December 8, 2008 at 5:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous Yishai said...

One thing I do sometimes to try to force myself to feel joyful is to take a deep breath and try to feel love and yearning for Hashem breathing in, and thankfulness to Him while breathing out. I don't know if this is too simplistic, but I think that when you feel love for Hashem, he gives it right back to you, allowing you to feel his love.

Love for Hashem is mentioned often in the daily prayers, such as in the blessings of the Shma, and many times in Tehillim. Rebbe Nachman was said (perhaps this is in Sichos HaRan) to have read Reishit Chochma (a great portion of which is about inspiring the reader to feel great love for Hashem) countless times.

I remember seeing Rabbi Lazer Brody davening in some video, saying to Hashem, let me feel your love.

Just as feeling love for another person can make you happy, feeling love for Hashem can also give you great joy.

I think when Rebbe Nachman talks about yearning for Hashem, this is a yearning that is a loving yearning. So this isn't incompatible with Rebbe Nachman's stress on this.

 
At December 8, 2008 at 10:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

G-d bless you and yours. To Dixie Yid:
i replied to you at your blog. Could not find an email. sometimes i have to use short forms. ASJ knows my surroundings and why i have to do so. its not out of disrespect to my teachers when i address them as just R.
If i am not mistaken kedar is the second son of yismael.
i am also a believing gentile. Have been studying since 1997 with teachers since the net came to where i live.

My R's teach me that its a great and wonderful gift to be always happy or at atleast most times. the holy baalshemtov wrote that sadness is the doorstep to all sins.
My R's taught me that everything we have is from Hashem. so your being happy always is also from Hashem. its simple and true.
blessings.

 
At December 9, 2008 at 10:40:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (جنوب يهودي) said...

R' Golshevsky,

Thank you for your point. It would seem like a happiness based on indifference is not really a good thing. The challenge is *how* to channel to a happiness through Emunah, which I think Yishai addresses.

Neil,

Thanks!

Yishai,

I appreciate your suggestions. As a practial matter, your suggestion that I daven for those people with problems (and for my own "problems") and to thank Hashem that I do not have those problems sounds like a very good way of developing more empathy with others. Plus, I think the fact that the act of developing that empathy comes through tefillah will also include the aspect of happiness because the process is tied up with Hashem and Emunah.

Thank you!

Anon 10:26:

Thanks for writing back. I understand what you mean now. Is your Rabbi R' Brody? Since you end off with "Blessings," I can see his influence. Hatzlacha raba in your neighborhood. Did you grow up as a Muslim?

-Dixie Yid

 
At December 9, 2008 at 3:27:00 PM EST, Anonymous Yishai said...

Thank *you*, Dixie Yid!

Inspired by ASJ's post on the Alef-Bet Book, I was browsing it and I came across a quote that relates to what I was saying above:

"Compassion is a segulah for eliminating depression."

So according to Rebbe Nachman, not only can one have compassion for others and avoid depression -- this can actually cure depression!

 
At December 10, 2008 at 7:41:00 AM EST, Blogger Shorty said...

I think that having "some emotional distance" from some events is a good thing. We can care and be empathetic, and even compassionate, but I don't believe we need to be "deeply affected emotionally" to show all those things. In fact, its probably a good thing not to be that way. If we are so emotionally affected, we risk becoming depressed even. And when we are depressed, then we risk giving up hope. I have been there. Depressed. So depressed I can't move. I would lay there, staring at the wall, because everything seemed so pointless. Eventually I made a decision that life is too short to be that depressed. To have that little hope. There are sparks of light in some places, and it actually doesn't take much to find them, one must be willing to see. It can be as beautiful as a little prayer. Or as physical as a tree.

I have felt the immense emotion of someone else's loss - as if it were my own. I know that I am emotionally empathetic that way. Some people say it is a typical trait of the Pisces, or maybe some other reason...now I try not to get pulled into the deep emotional wave. When I am so emotional, it not only affects me but my relationships with others. I took my pain out on other people. It was terrible.

Now I try to always look for light, when someone complains or is truly feeling sad, I try to bring them light. It is much more effective.

 
At December 11, 2008 at 1:46:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yasher koach on machsava=bsimcha
wow

i know someone who works at a hospital, he's a jewish chaplain. he says he focuses on being bsimcha.
he tries to be a presence of simcha n this place. there's a difference between simcha and happy. joy can be a deeper thing. he said he pays attention to all the staff who work there; nurses, janitors etc and always smiles and speaks to them as well. his rav told him that he represents am yisroel and the torah so he must be happy.
he said you have to constantly look for the good and also understand that sometimes you feel bad for people...but you can feel it and then do your best to transform yourself... by connecting to H'.

 
At December 11, 2008 at 1:50:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps, re the guy that works at the hospital, he would agree with:
I think there's a way to emphathize with people without getting caught up in the emotion and negatively affected by it. Instead of thinking, Oh, that must be horrible, over and over, until you feel horrible, perhaps it would be good to cultivate a feeling of love and compassion for that person, and use that opportunity to pray for that person and to thank Hashem that you are not going through the same thing, and that it has been brought to your attention so that you have an opportunity to help the person by listening to them and making them feel better, and by praying for them.

he also said to focus on bringing light to a situation, finding some kind of good for the person to see. and, most importantly: that people feel genuinely heard. if you are present with them compassionately, you are doing what H' did for yaakov and everyone.

 
At December 11, 2008 at 6:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that true happiness only come from real emuna. If you tune out you cant be emotionally present enough to even get to a point where you make a conscious switch to just trust Hashem. For the majority of people that switch always has to take place-we are not naturally inclined to trust Hashem at all.
It's really amazing that you are asking the question and I am sure through just asking and being open to hear what others think you will merit to see a big change.

 
At December 21, 2008 at 9:12:00 AM EST, Anonymous yehoshua said...

The only way to stay happy is through continuous giving to others. The key is to know what the other needs and then provide it. I think there is a story about Hillel putting an impoverished aristocrat on a horse and leading him around because that gave the aristocrat pleasure. One of the great rebbes said that after hours of yehidus he was fatigued since he had "changed clothes" so many times in the course of meeting with a variety of people and having to adapt himself to the world of each. It sounds corny and trite but it is eminently true: the key to happiness is making others happy.
Pscyhologists have done great damage here by labeling non-stop givers co-dependents (they used to be called saints/tzadikim), as if there is something pathological about continuous giving. (Read about Aryeh Levin, z"l.) Many of the great rebbes had this trait, including the Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l who, in his 80's, would stand for hours greeting and giving dollars to thousands of people.

 
At December 21, 2008 at 6:17:00 PM EST, Anonymous yehoshua said...

There is also this: a rich Jew who lost his money complained to the Alter Rebbe that he could no longer support charitable enterprises. The Rebbe said, "Don't think about what you need. Think about what you are needed for." Even though this Jew only appeared to want riches in order to continue to give charity, the Rebbe understand his sadness as an indication of the self-cenetereness of his giving. The Rebbe wanted this Jew to focus on what he was really needed for -- perhaps to make a deeper connection with family -- and to act accordingly.

 

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