If You’re Happy and You Know It

March 10, 2024

Raise your hand if you know the popular children’s song If you’re happy and you know It clap your hands. Now, raise your hand – or should I say, clap your hands – if that song will likely be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Me too! 

But imagine if every time you were happy, for the next two months, you were obligated to clap. Imagine that you’re literally commanded to be that happy. You must be in a state of constant happiness for the next sixty days. Shout hurray for that!

If that sounds strange – well, that’s the Hebrew month of Adar. It is such a happy month, there is an actual commandment to increase our joy during this time. And this year, because of the Jewish leap year, there are not one, but two months of Adar – and for sixty days straight we have to be happier than usual. Let’s give that a full round of applause!

But how can we be required to be happy? Can happiness be commanded? Is it even humanly possible to have sustained joy for such a long period of time? 

The Jewish month of Adar is the epitome of joy in Jewish tradition, for in Adar we celebrate the holiday of Purim. On Purim, Jews across the world celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people from Haman’s evil plot to destroy them. And while in a typical lunar calendar cycle, the month of Adar only happens once, when a Jewish leap year occurs – as it does this year – the month of Adar happens twice. Thankfully, we only celebrate Purim once (no need to cook two holiday meals! Can you imagine having to host two back-to-back Thanksgiving feasts?). Still, we are obligated to be joyous for both months of Adar. 

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, an iconic twenty-first-century religious scholar and philosopher, shares that joy “connects us to others and to God. [It] is the ability to celebrate life as such, knowing that whatever tomorrow may bring, we are here today, under God’s heaven, in the universe He made, to which He has invited us as His guests.” Consider how important this concept is: joy, or the Hebrew equivalent simcha (sim-kha), is mentioned in various grammatical forms no less than 154 times in the Bible. By contrast, the concept of “sadness” doesn’t have a consistently used word, let alone that level of prevalence in the Hebrew Bible (often the Hebrew word for “tears” is used instead).”

Happiness is more than a fleeting emotion

In the Biblical tradition, joy is not just a fleeting emotion. A two-month-long marathon of laughter simply isn’t sustainable. Rather, joy is an exercise in consistency and mindfulness. Joy, in fact, is a deliberate response to life’s uncertainties and challenges. There’s a Jewish saying that pokes lighthearted fun at the theme of many Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us but didn’t succeed. Let’s eat!”  But in a more serious sense, it’s true – Jewish tradition chooses to celebrate past successes, even if it is mixed with past or present adversity.

How to be Joyful

But we’re still left with the question of how to express this unique type of joy. Of course, much of it does involve outward celebration – during Adar, Jews across the world engage in song, dance, and festivities. But underlying that first layer of joy is a second one, more steadfast and consistent. It is engaging in acts of communal kindness, such as giving charity and gifts. It is connecting with a larger story of survival and liberation, by engaging in traditions, rituals, and family celebrations. It is embracing faith and confidence in the protection of the Almighty. And consider yourself warned! Practicing happiness this way might make you an even happier person all year long.

Joy is not just a feeling you have; it’s a lively and shared way of being that you can actively work on and grow. By adopting habits and a positive mindset that promote real joy, you’ll make meaningful connections with others and with the divine. It’s like unwrapping a gift every day, especially when facing life’s challenges.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

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