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Via Matt Yglesias , David Brooks argues in favor of the communal and slightly chaotic over the comfortable and over-refined. He describes this kind of joyous messiness with the Yiddish word “haimish”:

Often, as we spend more on something, what we gain in privacy and elegance we lose in spontaneous sociability.

I once visited a university that had a large, lavishly financed Hillel House to serve as a Jewish center on campus. But the students told me they preferred the Chabad House nearby, which was run by the orthodox Lubavitchers. At the Chabad house, the sofas were tattered and the rooms cramped, but, the students said, it was more haimish.

Restaurants and bars can exist on either side of the Haimish Line. At some diners and family restaurants, people are more comfortable leaning back, laughing loud, interrupting more and sweeping one another up in a collective euphoria. They talk more to the servers, and even across tables. At nicer restaurants, the food is better, the atmosphere is more refined, but there is a tighter code about what is permissible.

Right now the church I grew up in is planning a new youth center with special facilities and designated spaces for socializing and worship. The plans look impressive, sure, but also much less fun than the cramped, ramshackle building with tattered couches and hideously muraled walls where they used to let the youth run amok. The danger here is that the church will spend more and get less with its new state-of-the-art facilities.

Brooks concludes with some good advice:

I can’t resist concluding this column with some kernels of consumption advice accumulated by the prominent scholars Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson. Surveying the vast literature of happiness research,  they suggest : Buy experiences instead of things; buy many small pleasures instead of a few big ones; pay now for things you can look forward to and enjoy later.

It’s a bit silly that we have to rely  on surveys to reach these commonsense conclusions, of course, but that’s what social science at its best can do: by quantifying reality make it impossible to ignore what should have been obvious in the first place.

P.S. I can’t think of any common English word with a meaning quite like “haimish.” Which English words and phrases come closest to expressing the idea?

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