On Happiness

On Happiness

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.

  • Loren N Kaplan
    Posted at 22:58h, 17 July Reply

    Well said!!

  • Chana Gittel Meyerowitzerbaum
    Posted at 23:43h, 17 July Reply

    happy, shmappy.. its so overrated.. 😉

  • Kevin
    Posted at 00:04h, 18 July Reply

    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.

  • Mechl
    Posted at 05:07h, 18 July Reply

    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!!!

  • chaynobody
    Posted at 08:16h, 18 July Reply

    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?

  • Pini Friedman
    Posted at 10:13h, 18 July Reply

    “So that was denial I felt after all.”
    Kevin comments:

  • Nuch A Chusid
    Posted at 10:42h, 18 July Reply

    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.

  • J.
    Posted at 12:43h, 18 July Reply

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

  • Meir
    Posted at 15:02h, 18 July Reply

    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?

  • Reality check
    Posted at 15:05h, 18 July Reply

    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.

  • Meir
    Posted at 16:11h, 18 July Reply

    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?

  • Reality check
    Posted at 16:38h, 18 July Reply

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

  • Meir
    Posted at 17:16h, 18 July Reply

    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.

  • Reality check
    Posted at 17:22h, 18 July Reply

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

  • asking
    Posted at 19:03h, 18 July Reply

    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?

  • Epicurus
    Posted at 19:19h, 18 July Reply

    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…

  • gadalye
    Posted at 19:47h, 18 July Reply

    “”””Since I left, people often ask me

  • Frimet Goldberger
    Posted at 10:54h, 19 July Reply

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

  • Pini Friedman
    Posted at 11:31h, 19 July Reply

    Nuch wrote: “It

  • Joel
    Posted at 11:45h, 19 July Reply

    asking says:
    “Why are all the leavers constantly discussing the life of Hasidim? if I would leave I don

  • PT
    Posted at 13:28h, 19 July Reply


  • Chana Gittel Meyerowitzerbaum
    Posted at 13:45h, 20 July Reply

    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.

  • droshke
    Posted at 11:54h, 22 July Reply

    Happiness, puberty and liberty.

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