the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

Benny the psychiatrist got a post card one "frimorgn" (morning) from one of his patients.  It was postmarked Boynton Beach, Florida, and read, "Having a 'vunderlekh' time.  Wish you were here so you could tell me why."

Then there's the story about a blind man who was begging in a city park.  Someone approached him and asked him whether people were giving generously.  The blind man shook the nearly empty tin.

The visitor said to him, "Let me write something on your card."  The blind man agreed.

Several hours later, the visitor returned, and the blind man showed him a tin full of money and asked, "What on earth did you write on my card?"

"Oh," the visitor said, "I merely wrote,  'Today is a spring day and I am blind.'"

The coins put into the blind man's cup were expressions of gratitude for their ability to see a beautiful spring day.         Source:  Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

In 2008, 4,000 books were published on the topic of happiness, while only 50 books on this topic were released in the year 2000. One book, "Happiness is always a delusion" by Adam Phillips, says that anybody in this culture who watches the news and can be happy - there's something wrong with them.

According to some measures, as a nation we've grown sadder and more anxious ("umruik") during the same years that the happiness movement has flourished.

Carlin Flora ("The Pursuit of Happiness"), writes, "You think happiness would arrive if you were to win the lottery, or would fade away if your home were destroyed in a flood.  But human beings are remarkably adaptable. After a variable period of adjustment, we bounce back to our previous level of happiness, no matter what happens.

I grew up hearing the Yiddish expression, "Yeder trakht zikh az bay yenem lakht zikh."  (One always thinks that others are happy.)

"Happiness" was even a topic for a Brandeis lecture given by Brandeis University Professor Derek M. Isaacowitz.

In 2006, researchers at Britain's Univ. of Leicester said that if you're feeling sad, you might just be in the wrong country.  According to Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist, who developed the first "World Map of Happiness," Denmark is the happiest nation in the world.

Switzerland, Austria, and Iceland came out in the top 10, while Zimbabwe and Burundi pulled up the bottom.

Not surprising, the countries that are happiest are those that are healthy, wealthy, and wise ("gezunt," "raykh" and "klug").  The most significant factors were health, the level of poverty and access to basic education.  Smaller countries with greater social cohesion and a stronger sense of national identity tended to score better, while those with the largest populations fared worse.  China came in No. 82, India ranked 125, and Russia was 167.  The U. S. came in at 23.

Other studies suggest that married people are happier than single people.  People who like to be with other people are happier than unsocial people.  And people who have sex a lot are happier than people who do not.  Other findings  are less expected:  People with children are equally as happy as couples without children.  And wealthier people are only a little ("bisl") happier than poorer people.

I've just finished reading the wonderful book, "How To Live - A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still On This Earth)" by Henry Alford. 

He writes about how he made his mother "totally happy."  Alford decides to take his 79-year-old mom to the glamorous Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, for three nights, to starve off the harsh inequities of early January.

When the date arrives, however, his mom's flight is delayed due to bad weather.  He writes, "The weather in Florida is brusque and wintry--at one point, while we're walking around the hotel's premises looking at the pools it's too cold to swim in, I notice that the fierce winds are blowing Mom's cotton cover-up behind her at a ninety-degree angle.  Mom chips one of her front teeth at dinner and must be persuaded not to try to Superglue it back on.  The hotel management leaves a semithreatening message when other guests realize that Mom is smoking in the room.  Mom finds a duvet cover that she loves at the Pratesi store--an embroidered expanse of turquoise-colored cotton and scalloped edging whose thread count threatens to burst our brain capillaries-- but when the clerk tells her that it's $1,300, Mom's expression crumbles, and we scurry off empty-handed."

They visit the Norton Museum of Art and eat lunch at the museum's cafe.  The food is good and they engage in people-watching.

Alford continues, "We waft out into the still-dark day, slightly drunk from the art, and Mom asks if I'd mind stopping at Pioneer Linens, a store she's heard about from the concierge at the hotel.  I don't.  I drop Mom off there and continue on by myself to look for parking.  When, six minutes later, I join Mom in the store, she is already at the cash register, duvet cover in hand  She shows it to me.  The color is not the rich turquoise hue of the Pratesi. Its thread count does not cause the mind to reel or stagger.  Its edges are not scalloped but, rather, crab-caked.  And yet Mom shows it to me as if she were exposing me for the first time to the treasure of her newborn child.  She is beaming.  Hers, shopping is not hope, shoppping is rising above crappy circumstances, shopping is reclamation.  It occurs to me that Buddha and Socrates had it easy--all they had to do to make a mark in the annals of wisdom was show up, because they were drawing the map.  But the rest of us have to struggle every day to make any kind of contribution whatsoever.

"Wow, first the museum and now this!" Mom says to me excitedly as she scoops up the package, endorphins coursing through her veins like a school of tiny, silvery fish.

We push open the door of the store and walk out into the damp and unforgiving grimness of the January day.  Mom announces,"I'm totally happy now."


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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