Monday, January 24, 2011

You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Be Happy But It Helps

Jews are the happiest people in America. At least according to the just released Gallup–¬Healthways Well¬¬–Being Index.

The Index questioned 550,000 Americans over a seven month period, and found that Jews ranked number 1 in well–being followed by atheists, agnostics and other nonreligious folk, who themselves are followed by Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and those of other nonProtestant faiths. Protestants came in dead last.

This curious statistic demands parsing. Are Jews happiest because they are the most religious? Not at all. While it is true that among these happy Jews the religious are the most happy, even atheist Jews are happier than atheist non-Jews.

So why do Jews win the happiness prize? Maybe it has to do with our history: it sucks. Our motto is, “It could always get worse.” With that idea stuck in your head, no matter how bad it is today you figure it could be worse tomorrow, so you better be happy now. Or maybe it’s because religious or not, Jews are big on community, and having a community is somehow uplifting. Or maybe it is because Jews, even religious Jews, just don’t worry about the after–life, and therefore tend to make the best of this life. Which may explain why Protestants come in last in happiness: the Protestants I know worry a lot about the afterlife. Of course if they’re right that only they get to go to heaven, they will be happy a lot longer in heaven than we Jews are here on earth.

On the other hand, neither Martin Luther or John Calvin, sort of the founders of Protestantism, strike me as very happy people. Martin Luther thought his Church had gone to the dogs, and Calvin was convinced that humans are totally depraved. Not much to be happy about in either case. Maybe a steady dose of “you are sinner in the hands of an angry God” is enough to depress anybody.

Jews concerned with growing the tribe should use this study in their marketing. Every intermarrying couple ought to get a copy of the survey with a banner headline saying, “Want Happy Kids? Raise them as Jews!” Or how about huge billboards on highways that read, “Be Happy. Be Holy. Be Jewish.” Or maybe an anti–drug campaign like, “Don’t Smoke That Lid, Just be a Yid.”

15 comments:

eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

Bravo!!!

Wholeness,
Jordan

OUR WORLD IS PUZZLING said...

Maybe its me but I don't see this in my community.I would rate it as needs improvement/negative. I go to orthodox synagogue with lifeless, boring people who prefer to be elsewhere. Granted there are some bright spots.

Karen said...

I grew up protestant - no drinking, no dancing, wedding receptions that consisted of cake and punch and polite chatter. Besides being told you are a sinner all the time. No wonder they are last!

Grégoire said...

I'm a little surprised that Protestants ranked behind Catholics. Protestants get everything for free, after all. Think about it: You can do pretty much anything and depend upon some nebulous "grace" to save the day.

My Catholic friends are always going to confession, mass, etc., chasing something that resembles a carrot on a string, just out of reach, and the Jesus on their backs has a whip in his other hand.

Then again, why would they do that sort of thing if it didn't bring them at least a modicum of joy...

Good article.

eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

You quipped: “Want Happy Kids? Raise them as Jews!”

Habad has a kishke level understanding of and commitment to what this means. There is no analogue amongst self identifying non orthodox Jews. So....

For non orthodox Jews or anyone else for that matter, what does "raise them as Jews" mean?

Wholeness,
Jordan

9:43 PM

Claire said...

What does raising your kids as Jews mean if you're not Orthodox, Jordan asks? Here's some of the things we did:

It means raising them with knowledge and pride in their ancestors, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

It means teaching them Jewish melodies, because when the words don't speak to do, the melodies can be a path back to practice.

It means having a Shabbat with your family. That doesn't mean you do (or don't do) what the Orthodox consider to be appropriate. Driving to the trailhead and going on a hike together is definitely a Shabbos activity.

You have Shabbos dinner - candles are lit, and blessings recited. Their great great grandmother's hand-tatted challah cover from the old country is used.

You teach your children menschlichkeit. You teach them take responsibility for yourself. You teach them to take responsibility for those less fortunate. You teach them to take responsibility for the environment - including tidying up your room, for heaven's sake.

You connect the holidays to the turning of the wheel of the seasons. You have Passover with extended family. (Because Passover isn't a week of utter deprivation, it's actually fun.) You build and decorate sukkot. Everyone puts on costumes for Purim, boos when they hear Haman's name, and acts a little silly. On Tu B'Shevat you walk through the forest. You light candles on Chanukah, but you don't make a big bloated thing out of it. There's not piles of presents - this is not a rigged contest with Christmas.

Your kids can come with you to religious services if they want. They can go to Hebrew school if they want. They have the choice of pursuing study towards a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. They don't have to do any of this, though. There is no forced religion in the house.

My kids are now 16 and 18. We'll see if they turn out.

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for all the comments. Claire's response to Jordan was wonderful. Yet Chabad is compelling for some. I was attracted to it and even spent time at Kvar Chabad in Israel back in 1970. But it isn't for the vast majority of Jews. I don't see that any denomination has captured the hearts and minds of the majority of Jews. The one thing Orthodoxy has joining for it is that they seem to produce more babies that liberal Jews and will eventually be the dominant demographic. If this is what Jews choose to do, it is fine with me.

eashtov said...

Shalom Claire,

Thanks for your response to my question. Your final two sentences are: "My kids are now 16 and 18. We'll see if they turn out."

How would you measure the success of your program of Jewish cultural immersion?

Wholeness,
Jordan

Claire said...

Jordan -

My post had a number of clerical errors and worse, and I didn't have a good way to edit after posting.

The ones that were the worst were:

"because when the words don't speak to do..."

should have been

"because when the words don't speak to you..."

The other one was the way I ended it. I was thinking not, will they have a Jewish identity, but rather, will they turn out to be happy, the other half of Rabbi Rami's posting.

But, since you ask, right now, one of my daughters identifies as an agnostic rather than a Jew. The other one identifies probably the most with Star Trek, but Shatner and Nimoy were Jews, anyway. Even one of the lighting techs on that show, now elderly and long retired, attends our shul. She wanted her bat mitzvah at the Las Vegas Hilton where they used to have their Star Trek adventure. (Answer to that request: no)

I don't see it as their responsibility to keep the Jewish people going. If folks really were serious about that, they'd make it much easier to convert, and be much more accepting of both converts and the non-Jews that have intermarried, and their kids. The snobby, you're insufficiently Jewish enough attitude of many is the most effective way to keep the number of Jews tiny and shrinking. Acting like we got something good going here, and we'll share it with you if you'd like, and embrace you - ah, it's like a warm bath compared to a cold shower.

eashtov said...

Shalom Claire,

Thanks again.

I guess my question could have been clearer. It should have been, "By what measure will you know that your efforts were successful?"

You wrote: "I don't see it as their (Claire's children) responsibility to keep the Jewish people going."

Did/Do you see it as your "responsibility to keep the
Jewish people going?" If not, then why did you bother with the cultural immersion program you described?

Wholeness,
Jordan

Claire said...

Thank you Jordan, for your questions.

I don't think that this was "a cultural immersion program" for them - I am/was doing it for me. I like having a day set aside for reconnection and mindfulness once a week. While they were in their religion school classes, I was in adult Torah study. I like building and decorating a sukkah, so they got to build and decorate with me.

They also learned how to ride bicycles and paddle a canoe, and x-c ski and snow shoe, because those are things I like to do too.

I also taught them to meditate, because I think it's a really helpful skill. It's saved my life and soul several times - it might come in handy for them, too.

Joan Adamak said...

I loved your humor in this particular article.