Israel is a small, embattled nation occupying some of the most dangerous real estate in the world–some of its neighbors routinely vow to wipe it off the face of the earth. They aren't kidding.
And yet Israel scores 11th out of 156 countries on the World Happiness Report for 2016. Both Jews and Arabs were included in the survey.
First, we should be skeptical of a U.N. report on "global happiness" that includes income redistribution as a factor. Many of the ideas underlying the Happiness Report would make me for one very unhappy. Predictably, Denmark topped the list, no doubt because its policies appeal to the sort of people who set criteria for the survey. (The U.S. came in 13th.)
Yet it is still interesting that Israel did so well. Avinoam Bar-Yosef, head of a think tank and former Israeli journalist stationed in Washington, addresses the paradox of Israeli happiness in this morning's Wall Street Journal:
Israel was the fifth-most innovative country in the 2015 Bloomberg Innovation Index, and a 2014 OECD study ranked it fourth in the percentage of adults with a higher education.
So what explains the Israeli paradox? Do Israelis only become stupid when thinking about their own happiness?
The explanation probably lies in indicators not considered in standard surveys. For instance, a new study by my organization, the Jewish People Policy Institute, looked at pluralism in Israel and found that 83% of Israel’s Jewish citizens consider their nationality “significant” to their identity. Eighty percent mention that Jewish culture is also “significant.” More than two-thirds (69%) mention Jewish tradition as important. Strong families and long friendships stretching back to army service as young adults, or even to childhood, also foster a sense of well-being. All of these factors bolster the Jewish state’s raison d’être.
This year, May 12 will mark the 68th anniversary of Israel’s founding, when a nation was created against all odds. The enormous challenges never eroded Israelis’ energy, or hope.
. . .
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died in 2014, once recalled that after finishing a day’s work with his father in their Kfar Malal fields, he had pointed out in frustration how much was left to be plowed. His father, Samuel, told him to turn around and take in how much they had done.
In every aspect of Israel’s existence there is plenty left to be plowed—plenty of room for improvement. Yet Israelis take comfort in looking back and savoring how much has been achieved, how sovereignty over the land of their forefathers was reclaimed. At least 60% of the Israeli population, now eight million, are Jewish immigrants or their children. Jews from more than 90 countries, of all colors and walks of life, are united in one society. They cherish the sense of self-determination.
And it isn’t just Jews. Go to any beach or shopping mall and—despite the frictions—you will see Jews and Arabs peacefully coexisting. They all can take pride in their country’s accomplishments, as when Israel faced a water crisis a decade ago and launched a desalination project that is now the envy of the world.
No doubt one reason that Israel (slightly) outranked the U.S. is that it has adopted more policies approved of by the type of bureaucrats who do reports of this nature.
Nevertheless, Israel's happiness and the roots of it–including a belief it the country's traditions–are things to ponder as we in the U.S. are heading into a summer and winter of discontent and political confusion,