Forget About Being Happy: Let’s Define Real Happiness

Happiness. It seems this is the modern buzzword for the ultimate goal in life. Ask parents, “What do you want for your children?” Most will respond, “I just want them to be happy”.

Bookstores around the globe are packed with self-help books promising a happier life if we just follow their simple seven steps (and of course shell out $19.95 for the wisdom contained in said book).



Why Do We Crave Happiness?

This need for happiness is not without basis. We are enjoined by the famous King David to serve Hashem with joy! In fact, the Torah (Deuteronomy: 28:47) warns us that the harsh deluge of horror which will befall our glorious nation is because we did not serve G-d out of happiness. It seems in an ideal world, as Jews, we would be radiating optimism and glee in our every interaction.


We’ve now entered the month of Adar, in which we’re charged to feel an increased dose of positivity. Is this an impossible dream? And frankly, do we really want to be that joyful guy/gal who is always smiling? Perhaps, it is a bit naïve to expect constant happiness?


A number of years ago, I was privileged to do some Hebrew-to-English translation for Rabbi Gershon Meltzer. It struck me how my translations could color the reader’s perception. For example, the Hebrew word ka’as is typically translated as anger. The word anger conjures up a very specific range of emotions. However, it can also be used to convey frustration or annoyance. My choice of English word can create an entirely different narrative. With this in mind, I propose that we shift our thinking about the Hebrew word simcha, which is typically translated as happiness. A quick Google search of the definition of happiness (don’t hold your breath on this one) turns up “the state of being happy.”


How Should We Define Simcha?

Fortunately, some of the greatest minds in Jewish history have taken on the challenge of defining the holy words of our Torah. More than a Jewish version of Merriam Webster, the 19th century Torah giant, the Malbim, was – among other things – a wordsmith-par-excellence. According to the Malbim, the word simcha is not the happy-go-lucky oblivious type of grin. Simcha is an inner feeling of contentment. It is the feeling you have when you’re involved in a worthwhile project and accomplishing. It’s not the momentary, fleeting elation of winning a first-class ticket to Israel. It’s a deep sense of feeling what you’re doing is worthwhile and purposeful.


Application to Adar 

Circling back to the simcha we are tasked with having in Adar, what do we do if we are not feeling an internal sense of simcha? Further, in the month of Adar, how are we to increase our simcha? I believe the first step is to evaluate what we’re doing with our life and time. If we’re frittering our most precious resource, time, and using it inefficiently, we’ll probably feel down. Feeling simcha demands meaning and purpose. We need to challenge ourselves: how am I using my life? What am I doing with my time? And, perhaps most importantly, what am I doing for others?


In my work as a therapist, I have found one of the best ways to improve life satisfaction is to challenge people to find someone they can help. Is there someone you can be a mentor to? Can you help someone with a home improvement project? Engage in actions that push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and you’ll begin to awaken a muscle within that might have begun to decay. This will typically lead to the inner feeling of simcha.


In short, forget about conventional happiness. Do things that will bring you simcha: things that will bring you a long term feeling of accomplishment and value.


simchadic Adar to all!


How do you find happiness in your life? Do you agree with the author’s viewpoint? Please let us know below. 

Rabbi David Fredman
Latest posts by Rabbi David Fredman (see all)

Share your thoughts