Sukkot – A Time of Happiness
More than any other festival, Sukkot is known as the festival of rejoicing. It is zman simchateinu, the time of our happiness. This is largely because of the season during which it occurs, the autumn (northern hemisphere). The harvest has taken place and the storehouses are filled with produce and food for the upcoming winter. Satisfied landowners can take a well earned rest and share the joy with family and community. Another reason is that it immediately follows the holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Confident that our atonement was achieved, we emerge from Yom Kippur with a great sense of joy and therefore the following festival of Sukkot is an exceptionally jubilant time.
An article in the Washington Post features a study on factors that contribute to happiness. A correlation was found between religion and happiness, showing that members of religious faiths are typically happier than those of no faith. The research focused on four questions:
1) volunteering or working with a charity; 2) taking educational courses; 3) participating in religious organizations; 4) participating in a political or community organization.
While most of the above activities were found to boost happiness in the short term, only the third area, participation in religious activities, showed sustained happiness resulting. Researchers were unsure whether the community and sense of belonging is the cause of greater happiness or whether it was the religion itself that contributed to sustained happiness.
I suspect that both of those elements contribute to one’s happiness. The sense of belonging derived from membership in a communal organization has great benefits, while religion often serves to infuse meaning and purpose into the everyday activities of life. A sense of purpose is arguably one of the greatest motivators. It usually promotes satisfaction as well from one’s life and pursuits.
Psychological studies show that in the long term we gain little happiness from big windfalls. Winning the lottery or receiving a large bonus generates euphoria, but that is short lived. We get used to having the extra cash and then it ceases to generate the high that it caused initially. Psychologists recommend that employers give many small bonuses over the course of a year rather than one large bonus, as the small bonuses each generate the same enthusiasm and motivation as the one large bonus. Giving quarterly, small bonuses therefore achieves four times the benefit for the same cost.
Studies also show that losing something does not detract from one’s happiness in the long term. Losing a limb can be very a very difficult and painful ordeal. It causes a lifetime handicap. Yet, after an initial period of depression such handicaps cease to have any impact on one’s relative happiness.
The result of these studies indicate, therefore, that neither pain nor gain have significant impacts on one’s overall happiness in life. Both cause momentary ups or downs which later equalize. Which brings us back to the study on happiness and the indication that participation in a religious organization brings happiness that is not short lived or ephemeral. The sense of equilibrium coming from faith has no parallel. Performing rituals to enact this faith infuses everything with a sense of deep and profound meaning. When we shake the lulav we are expressing gratitude for the bounty and prosperity that we have, expressing also that God is the benefactor of all this. When we sit in the Sukkah, in that flimsy and clumsily built structure which hardly serves to block the wind, we express our belief that protection comes from God alone.
With certain exceptions man is not capable of maintaining a positive outlook and a sense of serenity at all times. Having faith in principle is not enough, that faith has to be exercised and expressed from time to time to move it from dormant to active. We accomplish that through the Mitzvot that express faith in God. Sukkot is a time that focuses on such expression and therefore it is, more than any other time, a true zman simchateinu, a time of joy and happiness.