“Because you did not serve G‑d with joy and a happy heart…”—Deuteronomy 28:47.

In this week’s portion, we find a lengthy description of the dire consequences to be faced by G‑d‘s people should they fail to serve Him properly after entering the Land. The results for untoward behavior include: desolation, famine, war, illness and exile.

Among the transgressions which bring on all these troubles is unhappiness. Yes, unhappiness! “Because you did not serve G‑d with joy and a happy heart…”

But is being unhappy a sin? How can one be punished for a thing like that? If G‑d punishes people for being unhappy, that would rather seem like kicking a man when he’s down.

Happiness is a decision. And like all decisions, it has consequences these questions, however, only arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of what happiness is. We tend to see happiness as an indicator of outside conditions. If things are going well for us, we are happy. If things are rough, we are – or have cause to be – unhappy. The word itself implies that happiness is something that happens to us; that when we are happy, it’s due to good fortune. Conversely, whenever we are unhappy it is because we have caught a bad break and suffered some kind of mishap.

But G‑d tells us that this is not so. Happiness is a decision. And like all decisions, it has consequences. And G‑d does not punish people for being unhappy. He warns us about the trouble that unhappiness can bring.

We alcoholics and addicts can testify to the disastrous consequences of unhappiness. Why else did we keep coming back for more of a beating from alcohol other than the fact that we were fundamentally unhappy? We found life to be a frequent source of disappointment and aggravation. It was never good enough to make us feel content and at ease. We were “men and women… [who] are restless, irritable and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. xxvii)

Our spiritual program of recovery gives us the tools to change ourselves into people who are comfortable with life. It teaches us how to be happy; and that our happiness is not a result of what happens, but of the ideas, attitudes and actions we choose. If we do not use the tools of recovery, we find ourselves quickly growing weary and agitated with life. We steep in self-pity and rage and, eventually, we relapse. Then there is the resulting chaos, with the possible end results of destruction and death.

So, is unhappiness a sin? What difference does it make what you call it? The result is the same.

As for happiness, there is no limit to the blessings that being happy can bring.