Me’shenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha
In Adar, happiness is supposed to increase. In fact, this year we have two Adars! It can seem like a lot of pressure to be happy, especially when one is suffering from depression or other mental illness. Throughout the year we have various occasions where our happiness is “supposed to be” greater. I think it can be hard for anyone to truly be able to tap into the spirituality of a holiday/the time of year, to access the increased joy, but even more so for someone who is already battling clinical depression or something similar.
Difficulty Being Happy
When OKclarity asked me to write this article about how to overcome depression in the month of increased simcha (happiness), I felt stuck. To me it seemed invalidating towards those suffering from depression to suggest that they can beat their depression with some tips in favor of the potential joy during this time of year. If someone could snap out of their depression, he would. People don’t want to be depressed!
I’m sure that there is a lot to say regarding why this month holds so much joy. When Chazal tell us that Adar brings with it increased happiness, it is really up to us to learn what it’s all about and apply it to our lives. My role here is to address the psychological aspect of this dilemma, while I leave the Torah aspect for someone more qualified.
It’s supposed to be a happy time, yet it’s so hard for so many to feel this joy. Perhaps it’s not even just people dealing with depression who find accessing this happiness difficult. It’s hard for anyone, really, who is dealing with any sort of challenge in their life.
Adversity often gives us tunnel-vision and the inability to focus on anything else. The hardship tells us that nothing else is worth very much. It says, “If I can’t have —fill in the blank— then I can’t be happy no matter what.” It’s so easy to focus on the negative; we’re actually hardwired to do that. It’s a survival mechanism that allows us to try to fix what is wrong. When you recognize what isn’t working, you can then change it. However, we often get stuck there, in only noticing what is not going as planned. We notice the negative but not in a way for us to use it to make our lives better. In fact, it makes our lives harder! We only see what is wrong, and we can’t see what there is to be happy about.
I was trying to stay away from any one specific tip, because there are so many self-help articles out there that you can find if you’re looking for “things to do to beat depression.” Many of you know the bits of advice: exercise and stay active especially when you don’t feel like it, set goals and break them down to bite size tasks, challenge your negative thinking, do nice things for yourself, eat well, sleep enough, reach out to others, and the list goes on.
If I am going to give tips, however, I need to mention one thing that has changed so many people’s lives:
Keeping a gratitude journal.
It’s the small things: “I got to work on time today; there wasn’t any traffic.”
It’s the type of thing we don’t notice until it goes wrong. When someone sits in traffic for forty-five minutes he notices next time that he got to work in a quarter of the time. Maybe it can be as simple as remembering to bring your lunch to work or school. It’s about noticing that there is good (however small it seems), as well as challenge, in your life.
Tips are great, and if you can apply this gratitude one, all the better. It has the potential to change your life.
However, that wasn’t really the point of this article. The message I want to deliver is about ACCEPTANCE.
What if it’s okay to be sad? Maybe we can overcome depression by accepting it. That’s not to say that everyone who is sad is doomed to be sad. Rather, even if it’s a month of increased joy, it’s okay if you’re not feeling it. Sometimes doing small things to try to feel the happiness of holiday is all you can do. Learn something about Adar and Purim; engage in something about the holiday that you find fun.
If we can move away from denial and avoidance (either in the sense that someone is deceiving himself that he is struggling to be happy, or denying that it’s going to be Purim again), that in and of itself can bring happiness closer. Accepting sadness/adversity can be really freeing. Rather than making believe it’s not there, or that it’s not a special time of year to be happy, we can see the feeling for what it is. It’s something that you’re struggling with. But, it doesn’t have to color everything.
Can I feel happy if I’m sad, depressed, or down?
While it may seem counterintuitive, it is important to realize that it is not. You can be sad on one hand and still feel happiness at the same time. The cool thing about feelings is that they’re not mutually exclusive. You can hold two seemingly opposing feelings inside of you at once if you allow yourself to do so. Honoring what you’re dealing with allows you to compartmentalize the sadness or listlessness and leaves even just a little more space for that joy. Recognizing that you have a unique situation can really help. There’s no need to feel pressure to feel happy. Judging yourself for how you feel compounds the sadness and makes it even harder to feel happy.
Recognize all your feelings.
Maybe there’s sadness, maybe there’s fear, maybe there’s anger, maybe there’s longing. And maybe there’s a small spark of hope and happiness. Can you fan that spark? Make a little bit more space for it? After all, in the times of Purim it certainly looked bleak for the Jews, and in the end there was a tremendous geula (redemption)!
To Sum It Up
While Adar is a month of increased joy, and while it may seem impossible to feel happy just because it’s that time of year again, perhaps the more attainable goal is acceptance. You may not be overflowing with joy and good cheer, but acknowledging a mental illness or a challenge can help you break out of the tunnel-vision that tells you that you can’t be happy at all. Carving out space for the sadness allows space for happiness as well.
Find some more joy and clarity here: