Each season requires special behaviors and activities on our part to optimize for ourselves living a purposeful and happy life. We actually have to practice our positive emotions, just as the champion tennis player practices her swing. We have to try to use our mental capacities as fully as possible, our cognitive capacities for thought, and our emotional capacity to practice positive feelings and emotions. Actually, if we allow it, the seasons help us to live a full and meaningful life. The seasons even give us the ‘recipes for happiness’ that we can cook up if we just look around us and recognize what each time of year has to offer.
For example, autumn is a season of memory for most of us. Most people have attended the next grade in school growing up, as the first years begin to fall. For myself, not only do the turning leaves, the sight of a pumpkin, and the fresh, crisp, clear smell of a cool day conjure up positive memories of childhood, but symbols tied into traditions also inspire me. For many, the major symbols of a fall holiday are not until Halloween pumpkins begin to appear. But for those of us who are Jewish, the traditional symbols of our fall holidays almost always stir up good feelings and memories. In my case, I’m talking about positive memories that were not personally mine, but nevertheless I lived through them by my grandmother’s telling me of her childhood.
Every year I would make my grandmother tell me about the Sukkots they had when she was growing up in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The Sukkah is a hut or a room where the roof can be partly opened so that you can see the sky and the stars. Sukkots go back to biblical times. For the Jews, they represent memories of their wandering through the desert protected by clouds of glory.
My grandmother was the oldest of nine. They lived in a lovely home that my great-grandfather had built. Her best friend built the house next door, and it was a mirror image of my great-grandfather Isaac’s home! Every fall when it was time for Sukkot, an eight-day festival, my great-grandfather would roll back a tin ceiling that was attached to a pulley system in the kitchen. Once that was rolled back, branches were laid across the open space, and the children would hang vegetables and fruits from the branches. And so their Sukkah was created.
For my grandmother, it was a happy time, a week filled with treats and special delicious foods, like honey and apples, and sharing her father’s lap with one or two other children. She always looked happy when she talked about her Sukkah.
I grew up in the modem era. My parents moved away from these traditions, and I hadn’t even had the experience of walking into a Sukkah. However, there was something powerful and magnetic about my grandmother’s memories. In a sense, they were transferred to me as beacons of light of things I had yet to experience.
For many years, our neighbors and our family have built a little Sukkah. It has three sides with an open roof. The boys go across to the lake and find bamboo branches, and we string them up and then hang decorations. We’ve had friends over, as well as my parents, and we sit outside in the mellow autumn evening. One day as the Sukkot was drawing to a close, I sat alone one afternoon having a cup of coffee in the Sukkah. The weather was glorious, and everything around me seemed to be in perfect harmony. I felt so close to my grandmother and her memories. Her positive memories had finally come to fruition. I thought, “Look Grandma, I’m really sitting in a Sukkah!”
It’s important to realize that we have access to many positive memories, not only those that we ourselves have experienced. Our minds are magical and can take the happiness and stories of others and build from them, if we give ourselves half a chance.
Take a few moments and, instead of perhaps feeling sad or disappointed for something you never got to experience yourself in your life, think about a wonderful experience that someone else told you about. See if you can let their positive memories find a home in your memory bank.
Happy sharing of positive memories!