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Putting Joy to the Test
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
 
"Announcements must be made about the importance of increasing simchah with the intent of bringing Moshiach. And if anyone questions the effectiveness of this proposal, let him put it to the test and he will see its effectiveness." - The Rebbe [1]



In the face of adversity, the Chassidic response is... joy.

futerfasA story is told of the legendary Lubavitcher Chassid, Mendel Futerfas (pictured right), who was exiled to Siberia during the communist era for the 'crime' of promoting Judaism. One winter's day, he immersed in an icy river as a spiritual preparation for prayer, but when he came out, he discovered that his captors had 'punished him' by confiscating his clothes.Naked and freezing, he started to dance. The officers figured he had gone mad, and returned his clothing. "Idiot! Why were you dancing? In a few minutes you could have collapsed and died!"
 
"True, but I also realized that things couldn't have gotten any worse. Doesn't it make you happy when you know things can only get better? And you see... I was right. After all, you did return my clothes."
 
We can only imagine what impact Reb Mendel's antics had on those dour communist jailors. It might have gotten them thinking about the confines of their own miserable lives, about their own capacity for joy and hope. They may have changed a bit. They may have told their friends. And their friends may have been influenced too. Who knows? Maybe a social 'chain reaction' from Reb Mendel's spontaneous expression of Chassidic joy provided the last straw to break the back of the Communist regime.
 
Does this sound too naïve? Too unrealistic?  Not any more.

Last week, the British Medical Journal published research measuring exactly how contagious happiness is. More than 5,000 people, plus their families, friends and neighbors, were studied over a period of 20 years by a team from Harvard Medical School and the University of California. [2][3]
 
They found that when a person is happy it tends to cause happiness in his social network of family, friends, co-workers and neighbors as well as their contacts up to three degrees of separation. On average, a person's friends were found to be 25% more likely to be happy as a result, his friends' friends were 10% more likely to be happy, and even his friends' friends were affected with 5.6% of them feeling happier as well, even if they don't know him at all.[4] dancing.chabad2
 
Another discovery they made is especially relevant in these times of financial insecurity. Receiving an unexpected cash bonus of $5,000 has only a 2% chance of shifting someone's mood higher on the happiness scale. That's less than the chance of catching  joy from a happy non-acquaintance in your distant social network.
 
There's a lot of talk lately about "Six Degrees of Separation," including books, plays, movies and TV shows. It's the idea that any two random people on this planet are connected by an average of 6 intermediate contacts.[5] There's hard research to back this up too. For example, last year scientists at Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft analyzed 30 billion conversations among 240 million MSN instant messaging users, and confirmed the six degrees concept.[6]  

So let's figure this out together. Given that happiness brings Moshiach and happiness reaches three degrees of separation and we are all connected by six degrees, so if two people at the opposite end of a six degree network are both happier today, that should reverberate across the whole social network between them!

 
The Rebbe teaches that "a chassid makes an environment"[7] and that with one deed we can tip the scales and bring Moshiach.[8] Is this something to take on faith? Absolutely. But now it's not only a matter of faith. Findings like this help us "open our eyes and see"[9] that the world is ready Moshiach Now. And isn't that cause for rejoicing?

Reprinted with permission from www.arniegotfryd.com

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] From a talk of the Rebbe cited in the book, "The Chassidic Approach to Joy" by R' Shloma Majesky
[2] British Medical Journal Article http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec04_2/a2338
[3] Online Source http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081205094506.htm
[4] For you skeptics out there, here's how they measured happiness: "We took happiness to consist of positive emotions and used aconventional measure... the Center for Epidemiological Studies depression scale(CES-D)...To measure happiness, we use four items from the CES-D in whichpeople were asked how often they experienced certain feelingsduring the previous week: "I felt hopeful about the future,""I was happy," "I enjoyed life," "I felt that I was just asgood as other people." This subcomponent of the CES-D has beenshown to be a valid instrument for measuring positive affect, and it has been taken as interchangeable with the conceptof happiness... We defined "happy" as a perfect score onall four questions, but we obtain similar results if we treathappiness as a linear 0-12 scale that sums answers to all fourquestions (data not shown), with 0=rarely or none of the time(<1 day/week), 1=some or a little of the time (1-2 days/week),2=occasionally or a moderate amount of the time (3-4 days/week),and 3=most or all the time (5-7 days/week). We performed confirmatoryfactor analysis and found that responses to these four questionswere highly correlated with one another and therefore couldbe treated as additive measures of a single "happiness" scale,as documented by previous research (see appendix on bmj.com)."
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation
[6] http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0803/0803.0939v1.pdf
[7] Hayom Yom for 30 Adar I
[8] Mainmonides, Laws of Repentance Ch.3, Par.4
[9] The Rebbe, e.g., talk of Shabbos Vayeitsei 5752 http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/as-a-new-day-breaks/17.htm

 

 

 


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