The Key To Happiness Is…Family
On Shabbat we were in a community called Tel Mond staying at good friends that we know well from when we lived in Australia, who made aliya exactly a year ago. We went to their synagogue and met many people who we had grown up with from South Africa and who had made aliya as a group to Tel Mond over a decade ago. I was observing the crowd of people thinking how many people had left their friends and families to come to Israel to live a life that is idealistic, full of purpose, and matches their values and dreams.
I was talking with our host about the dilemma of leaving family. My brother lives in Australia and I have seen him 5 times in 12 years. Our kids hardly know their cousins. My mom emailed recently saying she feels that she knows so little of my life. Yes we talk often and we see my parents twice a year but she was comparing to her friends who live (often literally) around the corner from grandchildren and who are involved in their lives on a daily basis.
In South Africa we grew up living extremely privileged lives, living in beautiful homes in idyllic suburbs with nannies and gardeners. But then things starting changing – violent crime and carjacking became commonplace and more than half the community immigrated, and every family has one or two members living far away – Australia, Israel, Canada and the US.
On self-reported life satisfaction studies, Israelis have repeatedly rated themselves much happier than people living in the US. Israelis, in general have less materially, and of course kids go the army. There is a constant threat of war, social polarization, and many other daily stresses. There have been many reasons and theories put forward to explain this greater satisfaction with life, but of these theories I find one to be most intriguing. If you take a walk on the promenade of Tel Aviv beach on a Saturday, you will see three or four generations of family sitting together – family (even for the secular beach goers of Tel Aviv) is critically important. And I think that this is an extremely important factor contributing to Israeli happiness.
Most people in the US move out of their parents’ home at 18 and many see their parents only a few times a year. From age 18 to whenever they get married, our singles live solitary and self-focused lives. They will call it freedom, but I’m not so sure that it is such a good thing because it severs the bond with family during the critical years of becoming an adult. In Israel (and in South Africa) for that matter, it is common for children to stay at home at least during the first few years of their college years.
We aren’t always in control of how much time we spend with our family – immigration, being accepted into a college far away, and numerous other factors come into play. But I think that we should recognize the critical importance of the family and extended family structure and take this into account when we make important life decisions. After all, as the saying goes, “you don’t choose your family”. That important decision is entrusted to a Higher Authority!
Originally published: August 15, 2012
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