Happiness is an
emotion; how can we decide to be happy?
According to Judaism, we are
obliged to control what we do and say, and what we think and feel, too. A
famous Chassidic saying is that 'the mind controls the heart,' which means
that our intellect is capable of directing and choosing the emotions that
we feel. We are not slaves to our emotions as they arise compelling us to
feel angry or sad or silly.
Imagine if we saw a person smiling and giggling at a funeral service. We
would consider his attitude very inappropriate and ask him to control
himself. Indeed, that man is capable of altering his behavior by
immediately refocusing himself on the situation at hand and refusing to
allow any humorous thoughts to enter his mind. By controlling his
thoughts, that man is not is denial of what he feels; rather he is
choosing what is a correct emotion to feel in a given situation and
ignoring what is an improper emotion.
So it is with deciding to be happy. A person is annoyed at something that
happened to him at work. He cannot change what already happened. What he
can do is choose whether to dwell on his annoyance for the duration of the
day, or avert his thoughts from those unpleasant feelings and think about
other happier things. Let's say that immediately after the annoying event,
he finds out that his favorite aunt is coming in town, and he is excited
about the visit. Does this mean that he suppresses or is in denial of his
earlier negative feelings? No, since he erased those negative feeling from
existence and replaced them with positive emotions, there is nothing to
repress or deny. He is only allowing happy thoughts to occupy his mind.
Even without the news about an aunt's visit, that man could block out the
negativity and permit himself only happy feelings. All he has to do is
decide what to feel.
Choosing how we feel is a tremendous power that G-d has given us, but
there is a technique to it. Let's say bad feelings come knocking on our
heart's door. We open up a mental round table discussion about what to do,
how to get rid of them, contemplate all the cons about allowing ourselves
to feel bad, etc., then we have welcomed those negative emotions into our
heart to some extent for the duration of this mental process. The correct
response to negative thoughts is to ignore them entirely. Do not answer
the 'door'. Instead, immediately think about something else positive. This
is a habit forming process and fewer and fewer bad feelings will come to
visit. As we get in the habit of inviting over happy feelings, they will
start visiting us even without an invitation.