The Jewish concept of simcha (joy), is our call to be joyful, and to strive to exist in our most genuine state. The most beautiful thing to me about simcha is that there are SO many different kinds of joy we can feel. A few of my favorites, as they appear in the Talmud, include Ditza (joy from the act of dancing) and Ranan (joy that is so uncontainable that you have to yell it out to the world).
Not long ago, I experienced a truly joyful moment. I was standing on the sidelines watching kids and counselors bop up and down to whatever top 40s song was playing at our summer camp’s end of the week dance. Suddenly, one of my friends sidled up next to me and started dancing. He was moving in the most ridiculously joyous way, and I started to feel a longing, wishing I could let go and move freely with no abandon like him. Soon enough I was coaxed onto the dance floor, where I threw my hands up in the air and my inhibitions went with them. It only lasted a minute, but I will never forget how intensely happy I was just to feel free.
At that moment, I existed for the sole purpose of being joyful.
Many of us, instead of pursuing joy, pursue whatever outside sources say should bring us fulfillment. Then, when the end result doesn’t provide the satisfaction we were promised, we feel cheated, or as if we have failed.
That's where Jewish wisdom is here to help us.
Our ancient sages realized that happiness and joy come in many different shapes and sizes. We don't have to achieve a crazy milestone, fall in love, or meet someone else’s expectations in order to feel joy. You can find joy in every small nook and cranny of your life.
We are even commanded in Devarim (Deuteronomy 16:14) to designate time to find that joy! The words of this verse in Hebrew reads V’samachta b’hagecha, which means “you shall rejoice in your holidays.” On Shabbat we are supposed to take this to heart, slow down and embrace simcha.
When I first heard of this concept I felt discouraged. I saw a huge list of all the ways that I could be joyful and I was sobered by the fact that I could hardly remember a time when I felt these kinds of joy. I always wondered if I would ever “breakthrough” to the other side. I wished to be able to find joy every day, to revel in music, to dance unabashedly, to laugh with abandon.
Last year one of my professors had us read a piece by Audra Lorde, a civil rights activist, and legendary feminist writer. In one of her writings, Audra speaks about the concept of living erotically, and No! this isn’t necessarily sexual. She claims that to live erotically is to live in a way that is open to seeking and finding depth of feeling.
In her article she mentions joy as one of those key feelings, saying, “that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible.”
“When we allow ourselves to exist in a joyful state (aka a place of simcha) we let ourselves see what is possible. ”
I was stunned by this simple, but elusive concept: When we allow ourselves to exist in a joyful state (aka a place of simcha) we let ourselves see what is possible. It lets us see what our life could be like if we choose to be joyful all the time. Studies have even proven that happiness contributes to our physical well being. The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey discovered that happiness reduces the risk of heart disease, and University College London found that living in happiness can increase life longevity.
We can find simcha in any aspect of our lives if we open ourselves up to it - even in the most mundane things! I've found that I get super joyful when dancing around my kitchen, or playing a card game with my siblings. If we can try to model these acts of simcha, and just try to exist in joy, then we get one step closer to becoming happier, more whole people, and in turn, we will have the capacity to bring that joy to others.