Those of us that are religious Jews know its benefits. Those benefits are instilled in us from day one. We are taught that by serving God we will fare better in this world and in the next. That idea is expressed numerous times in the Torah as explained by its commentators.
But what about increasing our longevity and our state of happiness? Does being religious make one happier in life? Do we live longer as religious Jews? The answer apparently is yes to both questions. At least according to a new study by the Taub Center for Social Studies as reported in the Jewish Press.
What is even more remarkable about this study is that it only applies to religious Jews. People of other religions do not necessarily do better if they are more religious. And to further complicate matters, it seems that Charedim fare best of all on these 2 issues.
The question is why? Why does being a religious Jew – especially a Charedi Jew make one happier and live longer?
The Jewish Press mentions one of this study’s answers to these questions – Which I think is food for thought:
It is important to note that the relatively positive self-reports of Hareidim may also be due to a social norm that frowns on complaining, and would particularly disapprove of ‘airing one’s dirty laundry’ in the context of a secular survey.
That suggests that they are not as happy as they say they are. But it might also be that because the dirty laundry is not aired, not too many people know about it. Hiding dirty laundry gives the community as a whole a more positive feeling about itself. I suppose one might say, ‘What one doesn’t know, won’t hurt them’. But what does that do to a victim of that ‘dirty laundry’. If people sweep all that stuff under the rug that means the victim is at best ignored and at worst is treated like a pariah.
Often they end up feeling like discarded baggage. In matters such as sex abuse - that can lead to depression, drug and/or alcohol abuse, and in some cases suicide. Statistics stating our overall improved lifestyles and longevity ignore the very real fact that not everyone ends up that way. The numbers of people that suffer as a result of that silence are probably statistically insignificant. But they are people too.
So I have to ask, is the overall improved sense of well being and the statistical probably that you will live longer worth sacrificing the welfare of those among us suffering the after-effects of abuse and enforced silence?
I don’t think so. In my view we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. You do not sacrifice the individual for the good of the whole. Especially if that welfare is based on statistics without any proof of a causal relationship.
Nor does it speak to other aspects of why religious people live longer.
Religious Jews - says the Taub Study - are more satisfied with their lives. Why? Maybe because there is less confusion in how to live one’s life. Confusion breeds anxiety. Perhaps leading the structured life required of a religious Jew makes one calmer. Calmer about the present and calmer about the future. Including a future that includes an afterlife. To the extent that one focuses more on these things is to the extent that one can feel more satisfied with life.
No one focuses more on the religion than Charedim do. And for those Charedim that are completely isolated from the rest of the world (like the Chasidim of New Square or Kiryas Joel) their sense of well being is entirely influenced by the purity of their lifestyles to the exclusion of all outside influences.(As long as they can keep them out.)
Focusing on religion is paramount in Orthodox Judaism. Most religious Jews realize that they must transmit that focus to their children, Hence the emphasis on Jewish education from just about cradle to grave. If you are religious your children are educated that way and will likely choose more or less the same religious path you have. They will likely get married and have families of their own – living very similar religious lives. Thus perpetuating your ideals into their children. And so on.
There are therefore probably far less Orthodox Jews seeking esoteric, far out lifestyles and living lives that are far from the way their parents did. Or searching meaning in life in Buddhism or Far Eastern religions. Or on the other hand seeking destructive hedonistic lifestyles of self indulgence that include drug use and sexual promiscuity – without the ressponsibilty of marriage or children. In short in the case of the Orthodox Jew - the apple will not fall far from the tree.
True - there is an alarming increase in Orthodox children going OTD (…there’s that word again –can’t help it). But as a rule the vast majority children raised in Orthodox families will pretty much follow in their footsteps. Even if they change their Hashkafos to the right or the left. So that statistically the percentages of Orthodox Jews that are happy with their lives and the lives of their children is going to be very high. It is therefore not too surprising (all other things being equal) that the more satisfied with life one is, the longer they will live.
What about Christians or Muslims that are religious? Why are their lives not statistically longer than Orthodox Jews?
I can’t answer that question. But there are differences between Judaism and Christianity beyond the obvious ones. One of which is the vast number of Halachos that govern Orthodox Jewish lives. There are many ‘don’ts’ and many ‘dos’ that Christians do not have. Not even close. Religious Jews must constantly be aware how Judaism applies in any given situation. By contrast Christians (and I include Catholics here) do not have anywhere near as many situations like that. Thus their religion is not on their minds as much. I don’t know if this impacts longevity or happiness. But it is true that a devout Jew has a lot more to think about than a Christian.
I don’t know about Muslims. I have no clue how much their religion impacts their daily lives. I wonder if they have as many Mitzvos and Issurim (acts forbidden by Halacha) as Jews do?
But even if there is, there is another reason their happiness is negatively affected. It is in how the world sees them now. Fairly or unfairly – if you are a Muslim you are going to be seen suspiciously by the civilized world these days. Most people will look at them differently and not in a positive way - whether they admit it publicly or not. You will be profiled negatively by government agencies. Some political candidates will single you out for discrimination.
Even if as a Muslim you abhor the tactics of fellow Muslims like ISIS (as most Muslims most probably do) you will still be suspect. Because it is Muslims (albeit radical ones) that are for the most part terrorizing the world right now. Not Jews. And not Christians. So if you are a Muslim - that can’t be good for your sense of well being and happiness.
These are some of my off the cuff thoughts. What are yours?