Israel 11th in Happiness Rankings
by Shira Sorko-Ram
Israelis live in a country that much of the world says doesn’t belong to them. The United Nations spends hundreds of millions of dollars on hundreds of branch offices and organizations that work to delegitimize, demonize, boycott, sanction and strangle Israel economically. Muslims, numbering 1.6 billion spend enormous treasure and blood planning Israel’s demise.
Terrorist organizations and lone wolves spend their days and nights dreaming up new ways to attack and destroy Israel and Israelis, wherever they may be. And the Israeli government spends their days and nights trying to dream up one more way to squeeze taxes out of its citizens to fund its enormous yearly $15 billion defense bill.
So how can it be that out of 157 countries in the world, Israelis are the 11th happiest people in the world!?! A typical Israeli reaction is that “we must be lying to ourselves!”
But even the most cynical of journalists don’t think people are lying to the pollsters.
“It just can’t be that the same results in survey after survey among different organizations with different sample groups, time after time, are fraudulent…” We just have to figure out why we are so happy! (www.haaretz.com)
But journalists are truly mystified:
“How in the world can it be, we ask ourselves, that citizens of a tiny embattled nation, surrounded by enemies, targeted by boycotts, officially and unofficially loathed by a major portion of the world, with compulsory army service, where regularly scheduled wars and “operations” take place at least once every few years, where complaining about the “situation” is a national pastime, can feel so fine and dandy…it makes no sense.” (www.haaretz.com)
Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, nicknamed “Professor Happiness,” taught a course at Harvard on positive psychology – known as the most popular course on campus. (He has since returned to Israel where, perhaps, he is happier.) Dr. Shahar believes the top predictor of happiness is spending time with people we care about and who care about us. In Israel, Friday night Shabbat dinners with extended family are a matter of course, even for the young and hip. After all, isolation is known to be a leading cause of unhappiness.
“It’s because of our focus on relationships,” the professor notes. “Friends and family are very high up on our value scale, and quality time with them is given a priority. Time we spend with people we care about and who care about us is the number one predictor of happiness.” (www.israel21c.org)
One Israeli observed: “There’s warmth, family, friends, everything you need,” says the 42-year-old Jerusalemite. “There’s the sea, archaeology, history, good food, a population made up of so many different cultures and communities. It’s like a tiny America. There’s nothing missing.” (www.israel21c.org)
Professor Ben Shahar points out that “happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.” Israelis may run low on pleasure, but they are never short on meaning.
Simply living in the state of Israel and making it through the day, no matter how humdrum, is meaningful, he remarks. For the religious, they believe that living out the Zionist dream is a part of God’s plan for the Jewish people.
Blogger Tifannie Wen believes war has quite a bit to do with it. “The fact is that Israel has been in a perpetual state of war – or under threat of war – since David Ben-Gurion declared independence in May 1948 – the only Western country in the world in which this is the case.” (www.thedailybeast.com)
Professor Zahava Solomon of Tel Aviv University adds that the culture of conflict has made Israelis constantly aware of their potential demise. On the other hand, it makes them virtually fearless. They have a lot to fear, therefore they fear nothing.
Being raised in Israel, he says, lends a unique mental capacity for overcoming hardship unlike any other Western country in the world. When you’re living in a place where people regularly threaten to wipe you off the map, you cultivate a mindset that slugs through lesser difficulties like finding that job or paying your rent.
Wen suggests that even though Israelis are painfully aware of the never-ending threats, they’re also braver because of them. By experiencing more anxiety on a daily basis, they’ve become inoculated against bad things when they do occur, and recover quickly. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that Israelis recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more quickly than people of other Western nations. (www.thedailybeast.com)
Trying to track what actually causes happiness, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focused their research on the 34 OECD (mainly wealthier Western democratic) member nations, as well as Brazil and the Russian Federation, on 22 similar variables – including income, education, housing, health, life expectancy, community and life satisfaction.
ISRAELIS – NOT SO RICH
Although Israel regularly ranks very high in all “happiness” surveys, the reason is not because Israelis are particularly rich.
Poverty among families and children in Israel is currently the highest among OECD members (other than Mexico) according to calculations made by the NII (National Insurance Institute of Israel) based on OECD criteria. About one in three Israeli children live in poverty, according to a report released recently by the NII.
Over half of ultra-Orthodox families live below the poverty line because many male breadwinners choose to study Torah and Talmud in yeshivot rather than work. About the same percentage of Arab families are in the poverty category because only one in five Arab women work. (Fifty eight percent of Jewish women work.) In all, about 20% of Israelis live in poverty, including 23% of the elderly—not a pretty picture. So Israeli pundits continue to debate, why in the world are Israelis so happy?
ANOTHER REASON FOR HAPPINESS
There is another factor not particularly obvious to the casual viewer, but can be clearly discerned by the observant eye. Take a close look:
Israel ranks 11th out of 157 nations, according to the 2016 UN World Happiness Report. This places Israel above the United States.
The top 10 in the 2016 report were Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.
The U.S. came in at 13, Germany 16, the UK at 23, France at 32 and Italy at 50.
In looking at the list of 157 countries, the top 20 happiest countries in the world all come from a heritage of Christianity. All except one. Israel! The Jewish state of Israel.
In the top 13 richest countries, five Arab nations are listed: Qatar, Kuwait, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. None of these nations are listed in the top 20 happiest nations.
The first Islamic nation mentioned in the Happiness List is the United Arab Emirates, number 28. With a population of nine million, the average income is $40,000 and the gross national product a whopping $58,000 per capita.
What is so notable of the top 27 happy countries, all are Christian or post-Christian democratic nations – except Israel – and Singapore! Singapore, number 22, is also the third richest country in the world and the first non-Christian/Jewish country on the list. Without doubt, Singapore is a nation unlike any other in the world! In that tiny nation, freedom of religion has seen Christianity grow (now 19%) and Islam decrease (14%). (www.worldatlas.com)
CHRISTIANITY – A MAJOR REASON FOR HAPPINESS – IS WANING IN THE WEST
In summary, with few exceptions, only nations with a Christian or Jewish heritage are true democracies. Other religions tend to persecute those not like themselves. For instance, India has a democratic government, but Christians are sorely persecuted by local Hindus and Muslims. Even “nonreligions” like Communism intensely persecutes Christians, Jews and anyone else except atheists. And dictatorships don’t usually inspire happiness.
The huge story today is that the Christian faith is statistically decreasing in America and even more so in Western Europe. (It is increasing in areas such as Africa and China.) The UN survey, observing the decrease in religion in the West, urged that the world try to create “nonreligious” organizations that could take the place of Christianity – or as they call it “religion” – in making people happy! How sad. How fruitless.
Most shocking is to find that 52% of American Jews allege they are atheists according to a new survey by Harris Interactive. But in Israel, 80% of Jewish Israelis declare they believe in God.
Observance of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays constantly remind Israelis of the existence of God in their day-to-day activities. On the Sabbath, 84% spend time with their family, 69% have a special Shabbat meal and 60% even say a Kiddush prayer. Ninety percent celebrate Passover. In fact, since 1999, polls show that Israelis are becoming more traditional!
GARDEN OF EDEN WEATHER
There’s one more factor I must mention. The other day in early April, Ari and I went into the kitchen for our morning cup of coffee. We opened the back door to our little garden, and we breathed in the gorgeous air. It was 72 degrees with no wind. There could not have been a more perfect temperature in the Garden of Eden! As the morning turned into afternoon, the temperature rose to 79 degrees with a lovely breeze blowing. Towards sundown, as the temperature began to drop, we took our dog for a walk on a nearby two-mile pedestrian passageway, nestled between flowers and greenery. Yes, Israel is not yet the Garden of Eden, but for a majority of months out of the year, the weather is gorgeous. Especially spring and fall.
While Jerusalem in the Judean Hills is usually glorious all summer long, it is admittedly hot along the coast. But our Mediterranean beaches are glorious. Sitting with your feet in the water on a Tel Aviv beach as the sun goes down with a soft breeze blowing can revive almost any spirit! In fact, I think Ari and I should drive down to the beach right now! It’s just 15 minutes away…
The World Happiness Report published by the UN grades each nation on real GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.