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.”