Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. -Thich Nhat Hanh
Have you ever been walking down the street, maybe feeling a little discouraged even, when suddenly you cross paths with someone who has the biggest smile across their face? In an instant, you feel better. The positive vibration bounces off of you and you too find yourself in an ear to ear grin. That is the power of joy. And thanks to the energy that permeates the cosmos this week, we can all get a good dose of it.
What is joy, really? Generally, we talk more of happiness, in the day to day. We say, "I'm happy with it," which means something more like – I am content. Joy (simcha, in Hebrew), however, is an altogether different force. Joy is more unconditional.
Consider two people who wake up in the morning with identical circumstances. One jumps out of bed with incredible motivation and energy, "Wow! I can breathe. I can walk, I can talk!" The other guy pulls the pillow over his head and and grumbles something like, "Ugh, what's the use? My Dad doesn't talk to me. I've got a terrible job. I don't have enough money..." Same situation! Yet such a different focus and experience.
The Torah tells us that the highest precept is simcha. Why? Because it means that we recognize the Creator's hand in our lives. To live with joy is to see the Light, even in our darkness. It is to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that even in the depths of our despair or the throes of a most difficult moment, the universe is somehow rearranging things so that I can be led to a better way of life. In short, joy is what happens when we have certainty that the Light is everywhere – in every circumstance, and every human being.
Simcha is especially important as we approach Rosh Hashanah. We are all well into our weeks of inner preparation and Teshuvah. It's the year-end review – where we see what we can improve for next year. And yes, we want to identify where our negativity is limiting us, but we don't want to get so entrenched in the mud that we forget the sun is always shining warmly on our shoulders. For ultimately, it is a great gift that we've been granted a place in this cleansing and renewal, not just for our own benefit but for our families, communities, and the world.
Give yourself permission to be joyful. Make it a priority. When we are full of joy, we are naturally compelled to see the good in all things, and to do good in the world.