It was the day before yesterday and I was meditating on a particular aspect of joy, when my friend came to rebuke me. Why? I guess I should explain.
As a religious Jew who promotes therapy through joy and happiness (positive psychology), I would be remiss if I did not post a blog about this holiday we are celebrating. You see, it is called “The time of our Happiness.” I have been studying the aspect of this holiday for about 40 years. I’ve learned about different types of happiness, different sources of happiness, and the mystical correlates of those variations of happiness. I am not an expert in the mystical studies by a long shot. I have spent too many years focusing on the psychological perspective. But the mix of the scientific and religious, along with experience helping others, has blessed me with a perspective that has proven helpful.
The holiday, most often called “Sukkot” is mentioned in the Bible as the time of harvest. That is the simplest reason to be happy. When we get what we need to survive and more so when we realize the wondrous manner in which we receive it. This is related to the positive psychology idea of “Positive emotions” or hedonistic (feel good) pleasures. But there is another “happiness” connected to the holiday. In ancient times there was a huge party at this time because water was poured on the altar. Usually wine was poured, but during this holiday it was water. Water is the most basic component of life and it was connected to Godliness. The happiness here is because each person can tap into a greater connection in even the most mundane aspect of his or her life. Positive psychology renders this type of happiness, “Meaning.” A third aspect of happiness can come from delving deep into a concept until, all else becomes (almost) non-existent. It was this aspect that I was thinking about when my friend came over to interrupt my reverie.
I shared with him some of my thoughts. He was unimpressed. “Now is the time for the feet. Not the head,” he said, as he dragged me to the circle of dancers.
That is the great lesson. Happiness is most easily induced with the body, not the mind. When you have an obligation to be happy now, do not allow yourself the leisure of meditation or intellectual contemplation. Get it through your body. Especially through your feet. Dance. Dance. And dance some more.
It was about 25 years ago when my greatest religious teacher, my Rebbe, told his followers that in contemporary times people need to learn how to dance. It was quite a strange statement, seeing as people were dancing all the time. To this day I am not really sure what he meant. But I know that I learned that dancing is one of the most powerful tools for emotional and spiritual health.
Dance has been used in treatment of victims of abuse for about 15 years. ( see: The Use of Dance in Child Psychiatry, by Rachel Elliott. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry 1998 3: 251). But I have not found research yet for the obvious contribution of dance to promoting positive emotion, particularly through being completely engaged in the activity (flow).
Should that stop us from using it to enhance or even induce positive feelings? Certainly not. It was about 20 years ago that I worked with a client who was suffering from bi-polar disorder. When he was depressed he would stay in bed for days and venture out only for therapy or to see a doctor. He was actually happily married, his wife was good to the point of being “saintly.” He also had three sons whom he loved dearly. But when he was down he wished himself dead, and had a hard time doing his tasks. Caring for his children was an activity that if he really pushed himself he could usually force himself to do. I talked to him about teaching his children to dance. He laughed at me. “How wonderful!” I said. “If talking about it can make you laugh, then actually doing it can work wonders!”
It took some convincing, but he promise to dance with his children (ages 2, 4, and 7) at least twice a week. Did it cure him? No. Not really. But he reported that he was out of his depression for about an hour after dancing with the kids.
Since then I have used dance as a tool on various occasions. It has proven useful. And it is something everybody can try. I have used it. Nothing like a dance for no reason with the wife.
That was what Rabbi S. was telling me. If it is time to be happy, it is time to dance.
PS. The picture is of my brothers dancing at my wedding 38 years ago.
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