Mishenichnas Adar, marbim besimcha.
When the month of Adar arrives, our joy increases.
Isn't it strange to have the instruction to increase our joy during this particular Hebrew month? Just like the Sukkot holiday is called "z'man simchateinu", "time of our happiness", how can our tradition dictate how we feel? How can we be told to be happy? If we don't feel particularly happy, are we supposed to pretend, or force happiness? Wouldn't we feel a bit fake, like the Disney characters at the Attraction Parks who are supposed to smile, according to their contract?
Before dismissing the idea of forcing joy into our lives, maybe we should look into it. The question is: "What is the natural response to happiness?" The answer is: "Smile."
Smiles happen when we witness a silly situation for example, or when we meet a good friend that we haven't seen in a long time at the airport, or when we find out, when we're about to pay, that the shirt we are buying is in fact 50% off.
In 1984, an article in the journal Science showed that when people mimic different emotional expressions, their bodies produce physiological changes that reflect the emotion, such as changes in heart and breathing rate. Another study found that people felt happy just by imitating a smile.
However, let's remember that the research goes both ways. When the people frowned, they felt less happy, and people who imitated a pout felt unhappy. So it turns out that the simple act of smiling sends a message to our brain that we are happy. And when we're happy, our body produces all kinds of healing endorphins. Then maybe the injunction to increase joy, even pretending, simply means to try smiling. And this just might make us feel better and happier!
Years ago, sitting in the back of a bus in Paris, a young woman started laughing by herself. She was obviously remembering something very funny. Within a minute, someone else stating giggling, which made someone else giggle as well. At that point, everyone was smiling. The amazing thing is that a few moments later, the entire back of the bus was roaring with laughter. While I loved that situation, I only found out later that a research revealed that smiling is contagious. Studies show that something as simple as seeing a friend smile can activate the muscles in our face to make that same expression. Maybe this is what it means when we say that in the month of Adar, our joy increases. Imagine if even one person decides to force a smile on his or her face, this smile, being contagious, may "contaminate" countless people, therefore increasing joy in the community!
A few thousand years ago, King David wrote in the Psalms: "Ivdu et Hashem besimcha, bo'u lefanav birnana", "Serve God with gladness, come before Him with joyous song." It's the Hebrew month of Adar. So why not try it now. Smile. Make yourself happy, and someone else too at the same time. It's the Jewish thing to do!