Why are Israelis so happy?

Israelis enjoy the sunshine on a Tel Aviv beach (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israelis enjoy the sunshine on a Tel Aviv beach
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In recent months, incendiary kites from Gaza destroyed 17,000 acres of farms and forests.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar says “all of the missiles… fired [at Israel] during the 51 days of the last war, [we] can fire in five minutes” and threatens “six months of rising and falling air raid sirens in the Tel Aviv area.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says “Israel is on the verge of collapse, a country in which its citizens are soft, fat and sassy.”
A deeply divided coalition government seems unable to agree on a law that would regulate drafting the ultra-Orthodox.
And as Russia dispatches a huge naval flotilla to its naval base in Syria, Iran deepens its entrenchment there and repeatedly threatens Israel with destruction.
So, if things are so bad, why are they so good?
Since 2012, the World Happiness Report has annually ranked 156 countries by their self-evaluated happiness levels. In 2018, Israel ranked 11th, within striking distance of the top 10 and well above the United States, which ranks 18th. This is no fluke. Israel has consistently ranked close to the top 10.
At the very top are the usual suspects: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Holland, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. One can understand why – these are social democratic countries with thriving market economies that take good care of children, elderly, ill people, unemployed and the disabled. And they are all in good geographical neighborhoods.
But Israel?
Here is why Israelis are happy, according to the report.
First, income. Other things being equal, happiness rises with per capita income, up to a point, about $35,000 or so – roughly Israel’s figure. Above that, added income doesn’t help much. It is likely that the added effort more income requires robs us of hours with family and friends.
Second, family and health. Israelis are healthy, with relatively high life expectancy. And Israeli families are strong and supportive, and since the country is relatively small, families can get together easily and often. Half of our grandchildren live in a community in the eastern Negev, while we live near Haifa – but we see them often, zipping down Highway 6 to arrive in only 90 minutes.
In an interview with Rotem Shtarkman in the daily Haaretz, Prof. Tal Shavit, dean of the Business School at the College of Management, observed: “One of the strongest elements among us is that we are a collective society. This is ‘social glue’ that does not exist in many countries. It creates a feeling of family-ness. Everyone knows everyone else. I always tell my students that when people often call you ‘bro’ (ach sheli, or my brother, in Hebrew), that just doesn’t exist in most other countries.”
When it comes to freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceived corruption, however, Israel is a bit weak, which explains why it doesn’t make the top 10.
Policymakers, take note. If you want us to be happier, worry less about economic growth and more about honest government, caring for the needy and expanding career choices.
And most importantly, care more about our neighbors. According to the report, the Palestinian Authority territories rank 104th in the world in happiness. If Israel is indeed a truly Jewish nation with Jewish values, it is intolerable that there is so much suffering on our borders, especially when we directly control the lives of millions of Palestinians.
It is unlikely that over the long haul, Israel will remain among the happiest of nations, while the Palestinians are among the most miserable. Look at Venezuela, a failed state where two million hungry, desperate Venezuelans have spilled over the borders of Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador and threaten to destabilize those relatively happy countries.
I do know for certain that Israelis are happy not because of what veteran Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy claims, nor his colleague Rogel Alpher.
Writing in Haaretz, Alpher argued in the subhead to his article that “Jews in Israel are satisfied with the systematically and consistently growing fascist nature of their country, unity against a common enemy is happiness.” The headline of his article, responding to the World Happiness Report, reads: “The secret to Israelis' happiness: state of perennial war.”
No, Mr. Alpher, we do not love war. We fight when we have to, and parents and grandparents lose sleep when children and grandchildren serve their country. On the night of October 6, 1973, I went off to war at 2 a.m., leaving behind a wife and two small children. I did not love war then, nor do I now, nor do any Israelis of any age love war.
Levy’s March 2 Haaretz article is also headlined “Israel loves war.” Levy, who for decades has doggedly spotlighted the plight of Palestinians, claimed that “since 1948, all the wars could have been prevented” and argues that “in the summer of Operation Protective Edge [2014], there was no reason for war.”
I believe there is a very large gap between allegedly not trying hard enough to prevent war, and actually loving it. Some words push free speech over the edge of ignominy.
The beginning of Rosh Hashanah 5779 is a time for taking personal stock and for counting our blessings. For me, one of my own greatest blessings is my country, Israel. This is a generally happy country, immensely creative, bursting with energy and vigor, young in spirit, with strong family bonds and citizens who, for the most part, care deeply for each other, especially in times of trouble (even though we often yell at each other, especially in the Knesset).
My adopted country, Israel gives meaning to my life, and is a source of deep happiness. Whatever the new year brings, good and bad, Israelis will embrace it, deal with it and remain against all odds among the world’s happiest people. 
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion, and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com