I believe strongly that we have an affirmative obligation to be as happy as we possibly can under ordinary circumstances. That last clause, of course, means that ISIS-held Yazidi sex slaves don’t have to be happy — their circumstances are hardly ordinary. However, ordinary, average middle class women and college students, to name just two types of people in America, need to make every effort to define their lives as happy ones. And no, I’m not being fatuous. Moreover, this is not something I just say; it’s something I live every day.
I was raised in a home that wasn’t particularly distinguished by happiness. Certainly my parents’ own lives weren’t templates for joy.
My father never knew his own father who went to America in 1919 and whose mother then refused to follow. By age five, Dad was in an orphanage in Weimar Berlin, something that was actually better than the slum in which he’d previously lived. By age 16, at the invitation of a teacher who had one extra visa, he left his mother and sister to make aliyah to Palestine. At 19, Dad enlisted in the Royal Air Force, and spent the next 5 years doing battle as an infantryman all over the Mediterranean theater. (And no, I don’t know why an RAF man would be fighting in infantry.) At 28, he got married; at 29, he was involved in another war, this time for Israel’s independence. At 35, he came to a new country, where he did raise a family, but never succeeded in making a meaningful living. He was a good man, loyal and steadfast; he was also deeply depressed and very angry most of the time.
My mother’s life wasn’t a picnic either, at least not after she turned 10. Up until 10, Mom enjoyed tremendous European affluence . . . and then her parents’ marriage fell apart. With the marriage gone, so was that economic security. When she was 12, Mom moved with her father to Tel Aviv because, although non-religious, he was an ardent Zionist. He was also an ardent womanizer, which made for an unhappy home life. When she was 19, Mom ended up in a Japanese concentration camp, where she lived for the next three-and-a-half years. Liberated at 22, she was repatriated to Palestine where (a) she married my Dad and (b) ended up fighting in a second war. Then, at age 31, she too immigrated to a new country and tried to make a life.