Positive Vision - Day 20
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 20 - Choosing Happiness - It’s Up to You
Yesterday we mentioned that the internal condition, the mindset, that makes one vulnerable to tumah is yiush and atzvus (hopelessness and depression). Falling into this mode, even minimally, is extremely dangerous. Let’s take a minute to understand why.
Three factors combine to create this witches’ brew of vulnerability:
A depressed person seeks an escape from his agonizing situation - or to be more precise - from his agonizing mindset and thought patterns. By indulging in the exciting thoughts and sights of tumah his depression is momentarily forgotten. Of course, as soon as he is done, the guilt adds to his depression to make him exponentially more despondent. But for the moment, he experiences some gratification. He is like the person who is depressed about being overweight, who binges because he is depressed about his weight, which of course only aggravates the problem.
Even under normal conditions, it takes large reserves of energy and willpower to overcome ta'avah. A depressed person simply lacks the energy needed to put up a good fight.
There is nothing that assures defeat more than the belief you cannot win. If you think you’re a loser, you’ll lose. A depressed person generally has a defeatist attitude and this itself guarantees his failing.
It is therefore absolutely critical that we remain upbeat at all times. If you see the bad mood or negative thoughts coming, take steps to boost your mood as soon as possible. Granted, this is easier said than done, but here are some tools and general guidelines. [We are referring here only to mild depression or “the blues.” It is critical that a seriously depressed person go for professional help.]
The Steipler Gaon writes that he deals with mildly depressed people by telling them that their agony is passing, and it will not remain forever. Depression is alleviated when a person can hope and look forward to its passing.
Everyone has problems. At some point every person suffers from something, be it poverty, neighbors, family, children, health etc. Suffering is normal. If a depressed person realizes that he is not alone in suffering it takes the edge off the suffering, as the saying goes, “the suffering of many is itself a partial consolation.”
Exercise. Physical exercise releases endorphins that make a person happy. After running, for example, people describe a euphoria known as “runner’s high.” Exercise creates a positive and energizing outlook on life. Of course, when you’re depressed you’re unlikely to exercise, so the trick is to start before you are in the throes of despair.
But it is really deeper than all this. The “happiness” or “sadness” factor in most events is subject to interpretation. We superimpose upon the events of our lives a subjective interpretation. A happy person focuses on the positive and interprets these events to conform to his perspective. He, as they say, “counts his blessings.” As such, his life is, in fact, a happy life. A depressed person focuses on the negative and his life is, in fact, depressing. His problem, then, is not “out there,” it is “in here,” in his interpretation of the events and what he chooses to focus on. A depressed person must learn to reorient his thinking and learn how to be happy. How can he learn to do so? By associating with people whom he identifies as being happy. By keeping their company and understanding how they think, he can absorb, both consciously and by osmosis, the proper and healthy way of interpreting events.
Let’s face it.
We are instructed to serve Hashem with happiness, which must mean that we have the capacity to determine our state of mind. We can choose happiness. While we cannot control our emotions directly, we must realize that our emotions are generated by our thoughts. We can choose what to think about. If we learn to think correctly, to focus on the good, then we can learn to feel positive and happy.