Fun vs. Joy by Aviva Meshwork


An actor, dressed up as a blind man, went out into the streets of some Australian city to conduct a social experiment.  Holding a $100 bill, he asked people if they wouldn’t mind giving him change for $5. He pretended not to realize that he was mistakenly holding $100 and not the $5 that he was asking change for.  According to this study, many of the passersby could not believe their good fortune. Rather then correcting the blind man and telling him that he was indeed holding $100 and not $5, some gave him change for the $5 and pocketed the $100, while others just took the $100 outright! An Israeli student decided to conduct the same experiment here in Israel and another actor, dressed up as a blind man, set out to do the same thing.  This time the ‘blind’ man was given 100 or 200 shekels to hold while asking strangers to break his ‘20’ shekels.  Amazingly, not only did Israelis not take advantage of the ‘blind’ man, but ALL of them assisted him and advised him that he was holding a much larger bill than he thought.

I found this experiment to be deeply profound.  Here they were, human beings, faced with a decision to do something that most people might have some fun with and instead chose to take the road less traveled.  In their quick, ‘should I or shouldn’t’ I’ moment, they chose honesty.  It was a decisive choice to do the right thing and one that has lasting effects on their character and way of life.

This experiment got me thinking about another choice we are free to actively make on a daily basis- the choice of happiness.  Helen Keller was quoted saying; “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”  You have to keep yourself in the direction of happiness so that you don’t stray from it.  Keeping yourself there is an active choice. 

But, how do we keep our faces ‘to the sunshine’, when many of us would agree that there are times in life when being happy seems to be a very hard thing to choose? 

The answer came to me when I once listened to a lecture by a well-spoken and wise Rabbi named Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz.  He spoke about matters of happiness and said that that there is no word for ‘fun’ in the Hebrew language! What?!  How could it be?  The great Rabbi went on to explain that while the word ‘fun’ may be missing from the Hebrew lexicon, there are a multitude of ways for saying ‘joy.’

Joy yes, fun no. 

I was a bit troubled by that because I had never had any issue with fun before.  After all, fun is, well…fun!  There are a lot of positive feelings associated with having fun and many activities that I had done that would constitute as fun.  I often wished people a fun time whenever they left to go somewhere; ‘ Have fun!” with a wave of the hand or a farewell hug. How often do you hear people say to one another, ‘have joy and be sure to call!’

The issue with fun is that it is fleeting.  Fun times are just that – limited moments of brief pleasure.  Fun may provide us with a thrill, but when the fun stops so does that feeling, only to be achieved again by the next fun experience. In reality, the only long-term effects that fun may have on us could in fact be negative ones.  Ever have ‘fun’ at a party and wake up the next day wishing you hadn’t?  Have you ever spoken some juicy gossip about someone, taking in all the exciting details, only to feel like you cheapened yourself by wasting your time listening to something so trivial?  Have you ever done X, all in the name of ‘fun’, only to feel regret and remorse after?  If you have, you are in good company, as many of us have been duped by a culture that believes that fun is an essential part of living well, and that fun is good.  However, it neglects to mention that generally fun just feels good. Temporarily.

Luckily we have our own guide to living well, and it is called the Torah-  which doesn’t even recognize fun- but it does recognize happiness. "It's a great mitzvah to be happy always!”  These famous words from Rebbe Nachman tell us that it is incumbent on us to be happy! It implies that it is not necessarily natural to be happy but rather happiness is something we must seek. So if it is happiness that we are after and fleeting fun isn’t the way to achieve it, then what is?  How do we ‘turn our faces to the sun?’ The answer is we turn to joy. 

It is a mitzvah to be joyful, says our Talmud (Shabbos, 30b) and it is written in Psalms that we should ‘serve G-d with gladness….come before Him with joyful song” (Psalms 100:2). However, achieving joy is often a journey and it doesn’t come without its challenges and some self-sacrifice.  No pain, no gain. Looking for the good in our lives and being thankful for it, spending quality time with the people that truly matter despite ‘other things to do’, striving to connect with our Creator and learning and growing towards becoming a better person are but a few examples of often challenging things that if stuck to, will lead to lasting joy.  Do you think the Australians in the social experiment felt joyous after stealing money from a blind man?  Do you think the Israelis experienced fun when they passed up making a quick buck off a man who would have never known the difference? I doubt it.  But, they were left with a feeling of something deeper- a satisfying feeling that comes from overcoming temptation coupled with knowing that they helped someone more vulnerable than they (which they did without any fanfare). The joy they must have felt for doing the right thing, no matter how difficult it may have been, can simply not be measured. 

We have now entered the Jewish month of Adar, which is often referred to as the ‘happy month’.  Adar comes from the Hebrew word Adir, which means ‘strength’ and ‘power’ both of which come from within, as does happiness.  These are achievements found at the end of a journey and are maintained by great personal effort on our parts.  Happiness requires a powerful inner strength and is an active, ongoing process.  While it is not always easy to choose happiness, the joy we are left with is worth the effort


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