The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude
by Susan Leem, associate producer
How we feel about where we are today affects how we remember and regret the past. The question illustrator Hanan Harchol is trying to understand: what is the relationship between happiness and gratitude? If you can feel gratitude for what you have, it can render those bad decisions unimportant, even not so bad.
And what does this do for regret? It can help you move on and stop ruminating about the “one that got away” or the job you should have taken, and make better decisions in the future.
In this animated video, Harchol shares a Jewish folktale in which a farmer complains about his home being too small. The cagy, local rabbi advises the farmer to bring goats into his small home for a while. Then, the farmer sees how small his home really could be.
Thankfully, we can replicate this advice as a thought experiment. This may sound like a grandma reminding us, “Oh, it could always be worse.” But it’s easier to realize how good life is once you imagine how hard it could be. Isn’t it easier to see a bronze medal as a gift rather than a failed attempt at a gold if you imagine that you might’ve come in 4th place? If the ability to feel gratitude is like building a muscle, maybe the workout starts here.
Animated Shorts on the Lessons of Forgiveness and Repentance for the High Holy Days
by Susan Leem, associate producer + Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The son of an Israeli nuclear physicist, the artist Hanan Harchol moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. And it’s his father’s accent that Harchol impersonates and argues with in these two humorous and enlightening animated shorts for the High Holy Days.
But, these illustrated videos mining a deeper understanding of the Jewish concepts of teshuva (repentance) and slicha (forgiveness), Harchol says, weren’t inspired by a personal sense of devotion or religiosity. Just the opposite, in fact. The requirements of the project stipulated that he immerse himself in the texts, and through studying them he reevaluated the essence and spirit of Jewish teachings he had ignored or rejected for many years:
“I spent my life gravitating towards, and making, narrative art that explores the human condition from a psychological, philosophical, and existential perspective. While Judaism offers thousands of years of wisdom on the human condition, I avoided it as a source because of what I perceived to be its preachy, judgmental, and shaming tone.
Then, in 2009, I was commissioned to create a short artistic animation that interpreted the eating of bitter herbs during Passover. As part of the project, I was mandated to participate in a monthly Jewish study group under the leadership of a dynamic and brilliant rabbi named Leon Morris. To my surprise, I discovered that the human themes we were discussing and wrestling with in the study group were precisely the kind I had always been exploring in my personal artmaking. Even the process itself of sitting around a table, debating and wrestling with these human concepts (a process I did regularly with my friends and in my artmaking) proved to be a fundamental part of the Jewish study and learning process.
I became filled with questions about how much my Jewish heritage had influenced how I was raised, how I behaved, how I thought, and even who I was as a person and an artist. What I discovered was a wealth of wisdom. Within the Jewish texts were crucial teachings and lessons that applied as much to our contemporary lives as they did when they were written. By avoiding the Jewish writings because of their religious nature and tone, I was missing out on thousands of years of deep thought and study on the human condition itself. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water.”