According to Judaism, we are obliged to control what we do and say, and what we think and feel, too. A famous Chassidic saying is that ‘the mind controls the heart,’ which means that our intellect is capable of directing and choosing the emotions that we feel. We are not slaves to our emotions as they arise compelling us to feel angry or sad or silly.
Imagine if we saw a person smiling and giggling at a funeral service. We would consider his attitude very inappropriate and ask him to control himself. Indeed, that man is capable of altering his behavior by immediately refocusing himself on the situation at hand and refusing to allow any humorous thoughts to enter his mind. By controlling his thoughts, that man is not is denial of what he feels; rather he is choosing what is a correct emotion to feel in a given situation and ignoring what is an improper emotion.
So it is with deciding to be happy. A person is annoyed at something that happened to him at work. He cannot change what already happened. What he can do is choose whether to dwell on his annoyance for the duration of the day, or avert his thoughts from those unpleasant feelings and think about other happier things. Let’s say that immediately after the annoying event, he finds out that his favorite aunt is coming in town, and he is excited about the visit. Does this mean that he suppresses or is in denial of his earlier negative feelings? No, since he erased those negative feeling from existence and replaced them with positive emotions, there is nothing to repress or deny. He is only allowing happy thoughts to occupy his mind. Even without the news about an aunt’s visit, that man could block out the negativity and permit himself only happy feelings. All he has to do is decide what to feel.
Choosing how we feel is a tremendous power that G-d has given us, but there is a technique to it. Let’s say bad feelings come knocking on our heart’s door. We open up a mental round table discussion about what to do, how to get rid of them, contemplate all the cons about allowing ourselves to feel bad, etc., then we have welcomed those negative emotions into our heart to some extent for the duration of this mental process. The correct response to negative thoughts is to ignore them entirely. Do not answer the ‘door’. Instead, immediately think about something else positive. This is a habit forming process and fewer and fewer bad feelings will come to visit. As we get in the habit of inviting over happy feelings, they will start visiting us even without an invitation.
Mrs. Nechama Kumer