Keeping the flame of optimism burning

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December 4, 2013 14:41

Science helps explain Israelis’ anomalous optimism; Hanukkah shows how to preserve it




Israeli youth celebrate outside the Damascus gate on Jerusalem Day

Israeli youth celebrate on Jerusalem day 370. (photo credit:REUTERS)

In a column last year titled “Israelis’ anomalous optimism,” I discussed the surprising fact that Israelis consistently score high on surveys of wellbeing despite many problems that would seem inimical to wellbeing. According to the Gallup polling company, for instance, peace and stability usually correlate strongly with feelings of wellbeing, but Israel ranks high in wellbeing despite lack of peace and an unstable neighborhood. Similarly, high scores on Gallup’s Negative Experience Index, which measures whether respondents experienced physical pain, worry, sadness, stress or anger over the past day, often correlate with lower wellbeing, yet Israel ranks high in wellbeing despite also ranking high in negative experiences.

At the time, I posited that this anomaly stems from Israelis’ commitment to something bigger than themselves, for which “they are willing to pay in the coin of pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger and lack of peace” – the grand project of building, developing and improving the first sovereign Jewish state in 2,000 years. It now turns out that there’s scientific evidence for this thesis.

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