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J
udaism stresses that the ultimate goal of man is serving and
cleaving to G-d. As King David said, One thing I ask of
Hashem, that shall I seek: Would that I dwell in the presence
of Hashem all the days of my life (Tehillim 27:4). Shlomo,
his son, noted that mans whole duty is to fear G-d and keep His
commandments (Kohelet 12:13). As opposed to other philosophies,
Judaism does not view happiness as the goal in life; rather, the goal
should be to do what is right in G-ds eyes. Although this is the
case, Judaism recognizes happiness as an obvious result of fulflling
the ultimate goal of serving and cleaving to G-d.
The happiness derived from coming close to G-d is discussed
throughout Jewish liturgy. Zechariah (2:14) declared, Sing and be
glad, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell
in your midst - the word of Hashem. From this verse, it appears
that the presence of Hashem rouses happiness amongst the Jewish
people. Devrei HaYamim (16:10) confrms this connection with the
words, The heart of those who seek Hashem will be happy.
From the Jewish perspective, following G-ds word also creates
happiness in the heart. Tehillim (19: 8-9) states, The Torah of
Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul, the testimony of Hashem
is trustworthy, making the simple wise; the orders of Hashem are
upright, gladdening the heart Furthermore, later in Tehillim
(97:11) it is written, Light is sown for the righteous, for the upright
of heart, gladness. This verse again emphasizes the relationship
between piety and happiness.
Ramchal connects the concepts of following the Torah and G-ds
presence in his work Mesillat Yesharim. As he writes in Chapter
1, True perfection is only cleaving to G-dbut for man to merit
this good, it is ftting he should frst workwith the strength of his
actions that produce this result and these [actions] are the mitzvot.
In other words, doing mitzvot creates a spiritual proximity to G-d.
Therefore, these actions lead to happiness, while they are aimed at
a greater goal. Hence, according to the Jewish perspective, serving
G-d is the source of true happiness.
There is empirical data that seems to point toward the positive
effect of Torah observance. Professor Jeremy D. Kark, M.D. Ph.D.,
et al. noted that mortality in 11 secular kibbutzim between 1970
and 1985 was nearly twice that of 11 matched religious kibbutzim
[1]. They conducted a cross sectional study on 10 of these
kibbutzim and concluded that the fndings are consistent with an
interpretation that Jewish religious observance may enhance the
formation of certain protective personality characteristics. This
study suggests an association between Jewish religiosity and a lower
kibbutz mortality rate.
Does Performing Mitzvot Make Us Happy?
Emily Chase
Professor Jeff Levin reported on fndings of the 2009 Israel Social
Survey, which involved 6,056 Jewish participants [2]. Religious
indicators were found by asking the participants questions about
their Jewish religious knowledge, their preservation of Jewish
tradition, their synagogue attendance, and how important they
viewed Jewish observance. The amount of knowledge regarding
Jewish religion and tradition was positively correlated with
greater well-being. Well-being was measured with the help of
self-assessment questions regarding health, functional health, and
life satisfaction. Synagogue attendance showed a large positive
relationship with overall life satisfaction, as did the preservation of
Jewish religious tradition. The importance of Jewish observance
seemed to have no effect. Datim and Haredim self-reported to have
the greatest levels of well-being. Overall, Professor Levin found
that greater Jewish religious observance is signifcantly associated
with higher scores on indicators of self-rated health, functional
health, and life satisfaction.
Two studies were conducted by Professor Leslie J. Francis et al.
on religiosity, personality, and happiness, one study among 203
Israeli male and one study among 298 female undergraduates
[3, 4]. Religiosity was measured using the Katz-Francis Scale of
Attitude toward Judaism, a questionnaire analyzing their responses
to G-d, Bible, prayer, synagogue, and the Jewish religion. By taking
personality into account, a signifcant positive correlation between
religiosity and happiness was noted.
These studies suggest that feelings of connection to G-d and
observance of Jewish customs are associated with increased
levels of happiness and other positive qualities. However, Judaism
understands the element of personal choice as well. For example,
in Tehillim (100:2), we are told to take initiative to serve Hashem
with happiness, come before Him with joyous song. In fact, the
Jewish people were warned regarding what would happen if they
did not add the personal dimension of happiness to their service,
with the words Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d,
amid happiness and goodness of heartso you will serve your
enemies whom Hashem will send against you, in hunger and in
thirst, in nakedness and without anything... (Devarim 28: 47-48).
In the Jewish view, though there is a necessary element of personal
connection to the mitzvot, happiness is still ultimately derived from
service and relationship with G-d, and empirical evidence seems to
support this belief. Through their connection and service of G-d,
people can attain an inward happiness, based on something beyond
themselves.
Derech Hateva
Acknowledgements
I would like to express my appreciation to Hashem for making this article possible. Thank you Dr. Babich for your continued support throughout the
process of writing this article. A special thanks to my dad, Dr. Daniel Chase, who helped with the editing.
References
[1] Kark, J.D., Carmel, S., Sinnreich, R., Goldberger, N. and Friedlander, Y. (1996). Psychological Factors Among Members of Religious and Secular Kib-
butzim. Israel Journal of Medical Sciences 32: 185-194.
[2] Levin, J. (2013). Religious Observance and Well-Being among Israeli Jewish Adults: Findings from the Israel Social Survey. Religions. 4:469-484.
[3] Francis, L.J., Yaacov J.K., Yablon, Y. and Robbins, M. (2004). Religiosity, Personality, and Happiness: A Study Among Israeli Male Students. Journal of
Happiness Studies. 5: 315-333
[4] Moberg, D.O. and Piedmont, R.L. (2003). Research in the Social Scientifc Study of Religion. Brill, Leiden. 13: 75-86.