On Judaism/Religion/Happiness

I saw this at a bookstore in Auckland and it made me stop. It also made me giggle a little. Was the store implying that religion and happiness are one and the same? Were they just short on shelf space and had to consolidate?

Religion is an interesting thing to me. Personally, I was raised Jewish… and Catholic, simultaneously. Think Star of David atop your Christmas tree and that was essentially my upbringing.

For me, it was hard to believe that either religion was “right” when I was raised as both. If Judaism was the word, why did we also practice Catholicism, and vice versa? Today, I’m a 25-year-old who identifies as Jewish, but only culturally. I feel a little gross writing that out to be honest.

When I see people going to church, or talking about their religion, I almost feel a twinge of jealousy. How nice it must be to truly believe that there is a power above you, guiding your life. How peaceful it must be to know that there’s more to life, after life!

I don’t have that. I have a lot of confusion about religion. In my head, Judaism and Catholicism swirls into a gross cone of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, that was left in the sun for a bit. Who was Moses again? Why is 12 a good coming of year age for a girl?

My brother and I in Israel

When I was 20, I went on my Birthright. Birthright is a trip sponsored by insanely rich Jewish homies (as well as the government) that brings Jewish kiddos from around the world to Israel for 10 day. To prove your Jewish roots, all you have to do is write a little blurb about it. My grandmother was active in the Jewish community and a big supporter of Magen David Adom. My family has a decent number of rabbis. My last name was Feldman. I was Jewish enough to pass.

To be Jewish goes beyond a religion. It’s an ethnicity too, which makes it quite interesting in terms of religions.

Going there, part of me expected to be thrown into the Jewish religion, but instead, I came home with a newfound appreciation for my Jewish culture. I could be Jewish without synagogue. I am Jewish every damn day because of my ancestors. I am Jewish in the same way that someone could be Swedish. That trip helped me settle into myself and my identity a bit.

The Israeli flag

Since that trip, I have been back to Israel twice more. Each time, I feel a bit more connected. I’ve found best friends who are Jewish who help me to understand my roots. I’ve developed an understanding for the intricacies of Israeli culture. Every time I go, I come home with a better understanding of myself and my ancestors.

All the hummus

I think there is a beauty in the Jewish culture that I hope to pass on to my children one day. The family time, the holidays, the time for thought. I love it. Parts of me wish that I was raised “more” Jewish so I could appreciate these more. From what I understand, pillars like these are in most religions, and it makes sense why people follow them.

Humans want to belong. Religion is a group that gives them that, and promises that life will go the way it is meant to go. It gives people hope and grounding. I understand that desire.

Am I religious? No. So I need to find my hope and grounding elsewhere. Do I think that religion means happiness? No. I think that if one relies solely on religion, they’re living quite a naive life. Do I understand and respect why people turn to religion? Yes, I do.

Sparking Joy

International Happiness Day: Where Do We Stand?!

The World Happiness Report came out today, on International Happiness Day, and the United States is the 19th happiest country. Last year, we were the 18th happiest country, and the year before that, we were the 14th happiest. So… what’s happening? Why are we, a developed country, failing at happiness? What even is happiness?! How can I be happier?

Happiness is the feeling of contentment and pleasure. Okay, so it makes some sense why we’re not happy. We live in a country where we’re constantly replacing things with new editions, and never content. We also are obsessed with social media – I’m always seeing friends, acquaintances and strangers living their “best life” and comparing it to my own. But what about the other countries that are on the list? They have access to the same new tech that we do, and I’m sure they’re just as Insta obsessed.

American culture doesn’t believe in “happiness” in the way that other parts of the world do. We don’t value work life balance. In fact, I often hear people bragging about how much they’ve put into work: “YO BRO – I put in 50 hours of overtime last week and I got FREE dinner every night.” I’ve heard similar things while eavesdropping over the years.

Fortunately, I work in a place that gives me great work life balance. I work from eight to three, and am usually home by four in the afternoon. I don’t even have work e-mail on my phone, and the atmosphere at work is relaxed and not stress inducing. So I don’t need to do much in that area to be a happier person. ON TO THE NEXT SUBJECT.

Countries all over the world have times of rest. Italy, Spain and the Philippines have siestas where the shops and businesses close down so people can have a break in the afternoon. The U.K. gives workers a mandatory 28 days of paid vacation annually. The average American? We get 10 paid days off per year, and even with that, most Americans don’t use them all! As a teacher, who works 208 days of the year, I could not fathom a life where I have to work 50 weeks a year. No wonder we’re not happy!

There’s also the fact that most of the happiest countries in the world are countries that are pretty mono-cultured. The four happiest are Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland – countries that have a pretty high percentage of citizens from the same culture. This probably gives them a sense of belonging that can be difficult to find the in the melting pot that is the United States. Along that note, we also have a government who is trying to make things work for people across cultures, backgrounds, education levels and economic ranges. It appears impossible to please everyone.

So what can we do?

Let’s zoom in. Focus on our own day to day happiness. It’s going to be hard to make changes that make everyone in this country happy, but it’s a whole lot easier to make changes to your day to day life.

Maybe we can start by saying no more often. I’ve started to do this, and I see my own happiness growing. Unless it’s something I want to do, or that I see as a advantageous, I typically say no. I used to say yes to everything, and would inevitably find myself crying about how overwhelmed and unhappy I was. Give it a try, guys!

Efficiency can help too. Take a look at how you’re using your time. Is the two hours a night you sit on your couch something that truly brings you joy? If it is – go for it girlfriend! If not – use that time better! Pick up a new hobby. Spend time making your home cozy. Read a damn book. DO SOMETHING THAT PLEASES YOU!

I don’t have the answers, but I’m on the constant search for them. I want to hear from you! What do you do to be happy? On a scale of 1-10, how happy would you say you typically are? How do you get yourself out of an unhappy rut?

Head + Heart = Hustle

My Values Aren’t For the Greater Good

Last weekend, I went to session two of the work on purpose fellowship and I discovered both my strengths and my values.

To catch ya’ll up: my top five strengths were harmony, communication, empathy, input and consistency. My top three values… are non-compliance (hahaha), physical health, and humor.

This weekend, I, Jeanette, learned that I am not as good of a person as I thought I was. AND I’M OKAY WITH THAT! In all honesty, anyone who writes that they value world peace and global warming more than anything else in the world is a damn liar. Maybe Elon Musk is on that level of selflessness, but he was able to achieve selfish goals already.

My values and my strengths make me who I am, and after examining them, I understand why I operate the way that I do. I also totally get why my pet peeves are present. My strength is consistency, so if you say you’ll do something and you don’t… I don’t have faith in you anymore. I value input, so reading makes me feel so damn good, because I get to put some information in my noggin. My value of non-compliance… I get why I question everything that is asked of me.

I think it’s critical that I understand these parts of myself. Before analyzing this, I thought of myself as a “nice” person who does things for others, when really my values are pretty damn self centered. Taking my values and strengths, and putting them against what I do in my current job, makes me understand why I am not thrilled to go to work everyday. Teachers don’t really have room for non-conformity – there’s too many protocols we need to follow. I don’t input all that much into myself at work because the academics I teach are so rudimentary.

After this weekend, I’ve been thinking extensively about happiness and careers and strengths and all that good stuff. I’m curious, how many people are pursuing careers that truly suit them? How is their happiness correlated to that? How can I use my strengths and values, and couple them with my passions, to find my dream job? Is that even possible?