The holiday of Sukkot is known as a time of joy -- v’samachta b’chageicha, v’hayita ach sameach, which means you should rejoice in your festival and be fully happy.
This celebration comes only four days after profound reflection during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, shifting from a solemn atmosphere to one of joy and thanksgiving as we start a new season: autumn.
Autumn is the backdrop of Sukkot, and it fits perfectly with the gathering of summer crops and fruits—a period that is ripe with joy.
We shift from the introspection of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which prompts us to look inward, to Sukkot, which encourages outward joy and gratitude for the earth's abundance. It's only natural to rejoice in the blessings bestowed upon us as we gather our crops.
Sukkot is the ultimate holiday to practice mindfulness --okay, every holiday is a perfect time to practice mindfulness! As we sit in our booth (sukkah) we are literally surrounded by reminders all around which help us focus and be mindful of one of the main messages of the holiday: gratitude.
Many of us are probably not connected to the daily rhythms of weather and the agricultural cycle. Sukkot serves as a reminder to be mindful and appreciate agricultural blessings, even for those who are not close to the farming lifestyle.
To help us really feel this connection, the symbolic "four species" (arba minim) that we hold during Sukkot—a citron (etrog), date-palm branch (lulav), myrtle leaves (hadassim), and willow branches (aravot)—echo the themes of planting and harvesting and our connection to the land.
We smell the four species and shake them back and forth as an expression of our thanksgiving to G-d for the abundance we receive from the land.
And Sukkot is also a natural opportunity to practice mindful eating. How much thought do most of us give to where our food came from– someone planted it, worked the field, prayed for just the right amount of sun and rain, harvested the crops and sorted them before they were sent to the warehouse, where they were packed and finally made their way to our supermarket. Take a moment the next time you sit down to eat to reflect on where your food came from.
Another reason to feel joy this holiday is that we have just finished Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of introspection and self improvement to fix our flaws or mend our ways.
Yom Kippur, despite its somber tone, can be a joyous occasion, offering us a chance to look inward, work on ourselves, and extend forgiveness to both ourselves and to others. What greater joy is there than being granted new opportunities and a fresh start?! Self-reflection is literally a gift we can give to ourselves.
Getting back to Sukkot, I always found it interesting that the emotion of joy is commanded on this holiday.
What is joy?
Is it fleeting happiness that comes and goes?
Is it stopping to “smell the roses?”
Is it partying until the wee hours or going to hear your favorite band?
Is it contentment, or being happy and grateful for what we have?
Is it having meaning in our lives?
Or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above?
To cultivate happiness, contentment and meaning we have to understand their essence.
We often associate being happy with being content. What's the difference? Contentment is being happy with what you have. It doesn’t mean that you don’t notice what is lacking in your life, but you are able to see and appreciate what you do have.
For example, maybe you dreamed of living in a big house, but instead live in a small apartment. You might learn to appreciate being surrounded by nice neighbors (hopefully) and not having the burden of taking care of a big house.
Gratitude is another component of joy.
Gratitude is acknowledging, recognizing and being thankful for what we have received and the goodness or support of others, and the beauty around us. It keeps us attuned to the gifts that have come our way.
And finally, meaning.
Meaning is the belief that your life matters, that it has purpose, that what you do is significant, and that you actively pursue what is important to you.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and founder of logotherapy, wrote that anything we do can be important, and meaning can be found everywhere.
Frankl believed that we are each responsible for finding our own meaning in our lives. Amidst the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, he found meaning among suffering. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote that we each bear the responsibility of finding purpose in our lives. Frankl believed that we can find meaning everywhere and at any time, whether in times of suffering or in joyous moments.
That's difficult to put into practice. Not all of us are able to find meaning in misery and suffering but most of us can find meaning in a job, with family or friends, or in everyday experiences such as taking a walk in nature or meeting a friend.
Clarifying your values and what matters to you will help you to find meaning.
Meaning is not just found in one place. It can be found all around us—in our relationships, work, and in spiritual and religious beliefs, as well as through appreciating life’s everyday moments.
Mindfulness practice facilitates growing and cultivating awareness of what is most important to us.
When the mind is at ease, our core essence and true nature can become more accessible.
And when we can accept the way things are without resisting them, we have more energy to plant seeds of gratitude and meaning in our lives.
Mindfulness based stress reduction can help us reduce stress and notice and appreciate moments of joy.
Joy can be found in noticing a calming breath or from an everyday routine activity.
However you define happiness or joy, how will you find it this new year?
Take the opportunity now to care for yourself and discover joy in the simplest of moments.