Rivky Cohen, Manchester, London
Essays 2019 / Joy and Happiness


I chose the topic of simcha because I saw how it personally affected my life and changed the way I dealt with different hard situations.

I based my essay on the verse King David writes in the book of Psalms, “Serve G-D with joy, come before Him with jubilation.”

Our mission in this world is to serve G-D and King David is advising us to fulfil this mission in a joyous manner, but how does one go about this?

My goal here is to bring a clear explanation on what joy is, where and why to find it and finally how to live a happy life.


Depression is a common and relevant issue nowadays, and it can cause lots of destruction. With all the technology that’s around, people will often lose their self-confidence and look for something more to fill themselves up with. Whatever they are looking for, meaning, contentment or friends, that cannot be found there. Yet, still thousands are looking, searching for more.  But where they are searching that will not give them real happiness.

The Yetzer Hara (evil inside of us) often uses a trick to make us spiral downward and that is to make us depressed and decreasing active enthusiasm, this then causes lack of interest, apathy etc. The person will then not care to do anything, thinking, what difference does it make anyway? This depression is a lot worse than committing a single transgression as this causes a big downfall, and many more transgressions G-D forbid.

It is especially harder for adults to be happy because we are more responsible and see more disappointments in life. We are more self-absorbed and have unfulfilled dreams

On the other hand, children are usually cheerful and carefree.

The problem is it’s easy to become sad. It’s hard to keep the joy constant in our life.

It’s easy to be happy when life is going great but when it comes to practicality it becomes hard when we bump into struggles

But when the goodness is hidden from us, we only see the situation as bad due to G-D concealing the revealed good.

With the many disappointments we face in life, it is easy to let them take control of us and become depressed about it. It is very important that we remain focused and in control of our emotions. We should look at life with a positive attitude, this in itself will make our challenges fall aside and we will no longer be bothered by them. We will realise that there is someone “running the show”, orchestrating everything that happens down to the very last detail, including every struggle that we are faced with. We will realise that it is G-D who has placed us into this situation only because he knows we have the power to overcome the test.

There are three types of Joy.

הוללת (Holulus) – frivolousness, this kind of joy we will not be delving into since this is not the correct joy G-D desires for us to serve Him with. This is a fake, negative joy where a person is only happy because he pretends he has no problems, denying the fact that they in actual fact do exist.

This joy can be found in unhealthy or drunk people. This is a dependant and dangerous joy.

ששון (Soson) – internal and external joy, this kind of joy is a positive joy.

שמחה (Simcha) – only internal joy, this is a type of joy where one would not be able to see that someone is happy, from the outside. For example, the prayers on Yom Kippur.

This is also a positive joy, which is a great way to serve the creator.

We should live our lives and serve G-D with ששון and שמחה.

I do not find it necessary to outline proofs why one should conduct himself in a joyous manner nor why one should live happily. We all see with our own eyes (also proven by medical professors) that people who are truly happy live healthier and longer lives both emotionally and physically.

Why is this? Because joy gladdens the heart and expands the mind and with more thinking space, one is able to accomplish more and be productive.

Being depressed is worse than committing a single transgression. This is because depression is a recipe to only make one slope downwards. As the Alter Rebbe explains in Chapter 26 of Tanya that even becoming sad about a sin you have done is forbidden since this won’t lead to good, but rather it will make you feel unaccomplished and counterproductive. There are specific times for us to think about and feel regret for our sins such as the month of Elul and parts of Tishrei, every night etc.

At every other moment in our lives we don’t have a reason to be sad.

When we have done a sin, we should be bothered that we did it, but only for a short moment and then make sure that you also learn from your mistakes. When you decide to try and do better by doing Teshuvah, be happy and thank G-D for the opportunity you have to always return to Him!

If one is depressed because of sinful thoughts and desires, know that you should be happy because you are fulfilling the commandment of “do not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray.”

As the Alter Rebbe writes in Chapter 26 a parable about two people on a wrestling match.

There is one mighty and very experienced man who is coming for another wrestle yet again after countless amount of times of winning the match, yet the other has never done this before but he is still hopeful he will win.

In the end the one who is weaker and more inexperienced indeed won. This is because of his positive attitude and this shows us that a happy, positive attitude really affects the physical outcome. Victory depends not on physical ability but on your outlook and perspective.

We see in Tanach (the Bible) how the sages would behave with happiness.

In Mishnah it is said that one who did not see the joy of the simchas Beis Hashoeva in the Beis hamikdosh did not see real joy!

At weddings sages would make the bride and groom happy, by dancing and juggling, doing all kinds of things that would not seem appropriate or befitting to a Torah scholar and yet when it came to simchah, there was no boundaries, and they went below their dignity.

As it says in the Talmud, ‘Joy breaks all boundaries.’

Applying chassidus with examples:

It used to be that when I had one of those hard days when I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, the day would end up going downhill growing more worse as the day wore on. First, I woke up late, I got to school late and whilst in my rush to school I dropped some very important papers on the road (and did not find them later) Lots of things happened to make my day turn out terrible and make me in a rotten mood, I would come home, feel useless and totally unachieved of anything the entire day!

After I had learned all about joy and what it means, those days changed. The same problems and hardships came my way but the way I dealt with them changed.

When the day started out bad and I woke up late, I would pause a moment (although I was in a rush) and think. I’ve been through something hard, but I would tell myself “RESTART.”

Something didn’t go the way I liked, it’s annoying, but let’s see if I can restart and continue my day as if that didn’t happen. Every time something like this happened and I reminded myself “restart,” those moments started happening less and it started to become more a part of me, to accept how things turned out, and move on.

Of course, there are days that go by like my first experience and I feel like that day was not productive at all and a waste of a day, but we are human and sometimes we trip and fall but as long as we are trying to move forward, that’s great.

We see hard situations as bad, but they are really good because they come from such a high level of G-D that they had to be very concealed in order for us to see it and therefore we see it as bad.

The power of thought is tremendous! The way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects the way you speak and behave.

If we think positively, that will affect our feelings and our actions too!

When someone has a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning they are sure something will happen, that thought actually brings about what actually happens, so if you think that only good, happy things will happen, this will bring it into actuality.

Joy expands the mind causing us to be more productive

How to apply it: (steps)

First think and contemplate how lucky we are that we are in this world and it’s not by chance. G-D chose me to be in this world to accomplish something (even though we may not know what it is) But if we look at this as an opportunity to accomplish whatever we can during our lifetime, this will make us so much happier. In fact, we can accomplish more than the angels in heaven can!

Thank G-D for everything he does for us because we realise everything that we have and all that makes us who we are is all from Him.

This will make us appreciate all that we have in life and we will no longer take things for granted. This will lower our expectations too.

Given all the above, we come to a level of Bittul (humility) which means that we forget what we need and focus on what we are needed for.

Another way to attain a level of true joy is ‘Fake it till you make it’ If you act in a certain way (in our case – a joyous spirit) it will eventually become a part of us.

Being busy decreases a chance of depression, because when not occupied you have time to focus on the small details of life and things that bother you.

Take away message:

Keep working hard at it, no one is perfect. The more we work on it, think about it and spend time on it, the more part of us it will become. We will feel happier and less worried because when we can’t change something we realise that we just have to trust in Hashem and leave it up to Him.

Keep reminding ourselves to think positive! Don’t dwell on negative things that will weaken our will to improve.

The trick is to find one thing, be it big or small but at least one thing positive about the situation. Why? This thinking good affects the way we feel, so if we think good, two things happen:

  1. Things turn out good, as Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch says “think good and it will be good”
  2. We will start feeling good too, since thought affects emotion and as a result of positive, joyous feelings this then causes us to act in a way of joy. Positivity is contagious. if you are happy, show it (of course only when appropriate) spread the joy, the light, the enthusiasm and excitement. It will catch on to others! What a great accomplishment starting from one positive thought in a hard Situation.

Lots of things can give us joy-food, music, social life, intellectual stimulation etc. But those won’t last forever. When you acquire a joy ‘the Torah way’ this is a lasting joy, one that will remain eternal. The joy will not be dependent which will make it constant because nothing will affect or damage the joy.

Hopefully after we keep on working on being positive and happy, we will not even see a reason to be depressed. We will feel lucky and appreciative of what we have. We will feel more accomplished and productive.

Turn the challenging situations that you find yourself in, into an opportunity to grow.

When we are used to something, it becomes part of you. We don’t think twice about what we’re doing (like tying our shoelaces)

If we keep working hard on keeping a cheerful, positive and happy demeanour, it will, with G-Ds help, eventually become a part of us and we will no longer have to put in lots of effort to be happy, because we will see no reason to be sad.

We will feel wanted and appreciate the fact that we are so fortunate to have a chance to be in this world and do our own individual part in helping to prepare this world as a dwelling place for G-D.