On Happiness

 Posted by on July 17, 2012
Jul 172012
 
A Rabbi asks a shiksa under a lie detector whether she's happy

“And they lived unhappily ever after”.

So ends the famous Hasidic fairy tale titled “Goldy Lox Goes Off the Path”, a well-known bedtime story in which bad girl Goldy runs after her heart’s desire and winds up deep in the woods, lost, eating porridge with wild animals of the first order, sleeping with them, and in the end, being eaten and chased and defiled by the beasts. Goldy ends up living, or dying, or something, unhappily ever after.

It’s the classic story of the person who left the beaten path and wound up miserable. Although the Goldy story per se may have been a bit invented by me, the lesson certainly wasn’t. It is common knowledge among Hasidim that those who leave are then unhappy forever. They run, they look, they search — what for they don’t even know!! — but they are always seeking, never happy.

Since I left, people often ask me “so are you happy now? are you even happy?”. Let me see: On the particular moment you ask me it may be raining, my five-pound weight loss plan may have inverted itself, my homework seems impossible. Am I happy? Get the hell out of here, that’s what I am! I am human, and sometimes I’m happy and sometimes I’m not. But I know this: this life can make me happy. The other day, while my son and I were having a popcorn picnic in the backyard, and he was lying comfortably on my lap, laughing at Amelia Badelia’s antics, I looked at his browned face and golden hair and I suddenly felt a wonderful, deep rise within my whole heart. It was happiness.

But then again, what do I know? One wise commenter named Stanley had summarized it best. He said “Despite reaching the pits, Shpitz is also in a state of denial where she earnestly believes she has reached a state of salvation, happiness, and newfound freedom in her transition to secularism.”

So that was denial I felt after all.

It’s ironic that Hasidim even ask this question, because theirs is not a society driven by and for happiness. While the highest ideals in the secular world may be happiness and money and success, that’s not what Hasidim strive for. Theirs is a world that values honor and good community standing much more than happiness. Respectability is one of the most desired things in the community, and people hope to do good matches, have money and good health and be sufficiently pious and learned mostly to that end. Happiness, while a part of life, is not the ultimate prize.

What’s this fuss about happiness suddenly, then? There are many things to life besides happiness. Freedom, for one. I would rather be unhappy and free than a happy prisoner. I would rather be knowledgeable and grouchy than ignorant and “blissed”. I would rather work hard for my family and friends than exchange that for a moment of gratification. I didn’t leave because I am looking for happiness, but in the process of pursuing what I need in life, yes, I find happiness. When all the stars align right.

Frieda Vizel

In between raising her son, racing triathlons and cramming for graduate school, Frieda keeps busy by doodling and writing essays about her transition from Hasidism to life as a woman who charts her own creative path, trials, blessings and all.

  23 Responses to “On Happiness”

  1. Well said!!

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  2. happy, shmappy.. its so overrated.. ;)

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  3. Well written, the truth is the ultimate goal in yiddishkait is happiness but hasidim believe that the true path to ultimate happiness is by following the will of the one who created them.

    In regards to the hasidic belief that your not truly happy otd, I think what they mean to convey is that if someone goes otd it usually means he feels his personal needs are not being fulfilled and is therefore searching elsewhere, but sometimes the answer to our struggles are not jumping ship but finding inner peace from within, hence you get asked “are you happy” meaning did you really solve life’s problems by changing your lifestyle? And if not did you really have to throw away torah judasim.

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  4. The problem by chassidim is the judgin and the intolerance of ppl who are just diffrent than them. Happiness is so individual. Who dares to decide what makes who happy!!!

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  5. That’s a very interesting point. The real question that should be asked is – what IS one’s goal? What’s the thing or things that one should strive for? “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” sounds lofty and all, but are those the things we want? According to the well-known Mesillas Yeshorim pleasure is indeed the goal of life (just that he defines true pleasure as what comes after death – how he knows this with any certainty is a good guess – maybe someone came back to tell him?). So – is it pleasure or happiness that we are supposed to strive for? Or what should we be striving for? And why? And who decides?

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  6. “So that was denial I felt after all.”

    Hilarious!!!!

    Kevin comments: “the truth is the ultimate goal in yiddishkait is happiness but hasidim believe that the true path to ultimate happiness is by following the will of the one who created them.”

    Really? Of course everyone would like to be happy. But how many people’s lives have been turned into a living hell by their parents and in-laws, spouses and rabbis, schools and congregations – because she wanted to shrink her hat szie or because he wanted to go on vacation where ס’פאסט נישט פאר א חסידישע אינגערמאן. Hassidic coercion has nothing to do with what makes an individual happy and everything to do with what makes everyone else in the family and community satisfied.

    But all of a sudden, when one leaves it’s all about “Are you happy?” Did one ever ask that person “before” leaving if he or she is happy? No! The sudden interest in one’s happiness is a red herring. And it’s not even a question that seeks an answer; it’s a rhetorical question declaring a belief that he or she isn’t and can’t be happy (see the witty cartoon). To answer the question of “Are you happy?” in the affirmative, one is faced with an insurmountable task and in the end, a futile task. “Deep down you know that you’re not happy.” As Shpitz said, the argument goes from the philosophical to mere semantics. “It’s not happiness but denial.” And the difference is?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. I disagree. It’s no question that people who really believe are more happy and relaxed. They feel like they are doing major things every single day; they are helping with the ultimate goal, bringing Messiah and oilem habba. And they have the relaxation of knowing that god takes care of them, every bad thing that happens is actually a good thing.

    When someone goes OTD, he losses a purpose in life and the drugs to calm him down.

    I’m not saying that every frum person is happy and every non-frummie is depressed. I’m just saying that believing in god is a גשמי more than a רוחני.

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  8. Nuch – Depends on your personality type. For many it is a constant worry – aveiros, mitzvos, bitul toireh, netzach and all that jazz.

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  9. I wonder what it is with some who left the fold still have the need to look back.What does it say,happy or not?

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  10. Meir, it says that they are human beings. Can you shut off 18 or 25 years of thoughts, memories, connections and relationships? If you can, you are not only the rare person, but probably a very unfeeling one.

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  11. In other words,Reality check, they have nostalgia missing many things they enjoyed before and don’t have now.No family gathering to a nice warm shabbas meal not being involved in family preparations to a sisters wedding not enjoying a purim not enjoying a nice chanukah family gathering and so on.Of course they enjoy other things in their new found life but why look back talking bad about the community they were raised in writing about their faults,gossiping,slandering and pandering to the new friends they found knowing their family is hurt by all this?

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  12. Why does the community deserve that it’s various forms of injustice and cruelties to people who cannot conform for whatever reason remain hidden?

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  13. They don’t deserve it,granted.But isn’t the secular community more mannered and tolerant of others than the chassidik community?Constant we hear how illiterate and uneducated chassidik people are,agreed they aren’t.
    But if a good secular education brings a person to defame a community as part of their life mission, who needs an education.

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  14. Right, shut up and leave and shut up. So we took your kid too. Shut up and leave and shut up.

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  15. You are right, I am an unhappy chusid, waiting for the moment I can leave.

    I have just this question:
    Why are all the leavers constantly discussing the life of Hasidim? if I would leave I don’t think I will glance back.
    All articles written by OTD is about how pity we are. Why? Write about your new friends, job, goal in life etc.

    Any answer?

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  16. Wonderful article. However I think you are mixing up happiness wit satisfaction.

    and this is where the “true believers (of anything)”have an advantage becuase satisfaction is something you can achieve by doing what you believe in and they have it all figure out…

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  17. “”””Since I left, people often ask me “so are you happy now? are you even happy?”…….

    “ The happiest people are those who are too busy to notice whether they are or not. ”
    — William Feather

    chasidim claim they are… here you got the answer Dear Shpitz… love you

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  18. “I would rather work hard for my family and friends than exchange that for a moment of gratification.” Brilliant!

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  19. Nuch wrote: “It’s no question that people who really believe are more happy and relaxed. They feel like they are doing major things every single day; they are helping with the ultimate goal, bringing Messiah and oilem habba. And they have the relaxation of knowing that god takes care of them, every bad thing that happens is actually a good thing.

    “When someone goes OTD, he losses a purpose in life and the drugs to calm him down.”

    You are absolutely correct, Nuch, but not entirely on point. You’re juxtaposing a true believer and a full-fledged OTD. There, you’re correct that believers often have the opium of religion to keep them going. However, for someone who isn’t a believer and therefore can’t enjoy the hope and purpose religion offers, yet has to live the lifestyle anyway, is he or she more or less happy than when he or she would have taken a different path? There might be elements of pain and satisfaction on either side, but for some people one side is more painful or satisfactory than the other. In the end, the answer is, I think, that it depends on so many factors and it boils down to a cost benefit analysis tailored specifically for each individual. אית ואית.

    Meir wrote. “No family gathering to a nice warm shabbas meal not being involved in family preparations to a sisters wedding not enjoying a purim not enjoying a nice chanukah family gathering and so on.”

    Again, this may be true but still is incomplete and even faulty. For even those who do enjoy a Purim, Pasach, Tishah B’av, Chanukah and Shuvevum, that amounts to only 10% of the year. And if 90% of the year is painful to live (something I suspect you and most Chasidim might never fully understand), one might make a decision if it’s worth giving up one for the other. And, again, it depends on so many factors. That’s before even considering that many OTD people will enjoy a good shabbes meal, or Pasach festival, and Chanukeh party – the social part of it that makes it so enjoyable. It depends on one’s level of nostalgia, memories, style, etc.

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  20. asking says:
    “Why are all the leavers constantly discussing the life of Hasidim? if I would leave I don’t think I will glance back.
    All articles written by OTD is about how pity we are. Why? Write about your new friends, job, goal in life etc.”

    Some OTD leave completely, that is they cut off ALL their old family and friends who are still in the cult, and never talk or meet them again even on once-in-a-lifetime events. Such OTD don’t have to look back or blog about Hasidim. Most OTD are not able or can’t completely cut off their old life. They may have living parents and siblings which they still meet. They may have a child which is still in the cult. They may have a spouse with visiting rights. Every time they meet those people they are being judged and criticized and reminded of how intolerant Hasidim are and why they left. That is why they continue to blog about the crazies.

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  21. >it’s ironic that Hasidim even ask this question, because theirs is not a society driven by and for happiness.

    True, and the people who ask this question are in effect admitting that at least for some a state of happiness is difficult to attain from within the fold. They are saying, you were not happy here, are you happier outside? So inside is perhaps by their own admission not such a wholesome place to be.

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  22. Some people admit to not being happy while chassidish, but also convince themselves that they will not be happier if they leave. It just depends what is causing the unhappiness. A depressed human being will be depressed either way, unless the religion is the cause of it.

    A quote I have seen “Before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you’re not just surrounded by jerks”. this is really about people who depress you.. but can be interpreted for whatever unpleasantness one has in their life.

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  23. Happiness, puberty and liberty.

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