Israelis are unhappy about being happy during trying times - opinion

Reflective thoughts on Independence Day during times of turmoil for the nation.

 A NIGHT out at the bars of Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem: Unhappy Israelis learned that they are the most joyous they’ve ever been since the index was first established 11 years ago. (photo credit: Liba Farkash/Flash90)
A NIGHT out at the bars of Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem: Unhappy Israelis learned that they are the most joyous they’ve ever been since the index was first established 11 years ago.
(photo credit: Liba Farkash/Flash90)

On March 20, amid an unprecedented domestic political crisis over judicial reform, divided, worried, and angry Israelis received yet another blow to their already diminished sense of national well-being. That day, the 2023 World Happiness Report informed the much-perturbed Israelis that they are the fourth happiest people in the world, up from ninth place in 2022.

Worse still, unhappy Israelis learned that they are the most joyous they’ve ever been since the index was first established 11 years ago.

Unhappy Israelis were particularly miserable as the report’s documentation of their bliss came from the UN, an institution renowned for never saying anything positive about Israel.

And especially disquieting, the report has an ironclad methodology applied uniformly to all the nations surveyed.

The citizens of 137 countries were asked an identical set of questions in a poll designed to ascertain the respondents’ self-perception of their own lives on a range of issues – from physical and mental health to levels of social support, from freedom to make life choices to perceptions of corruption. Those answers were then synthesized with statistical data such as GDP per capita and life expectancy, all of which were then aggregated into the index.

The breakdown of unhappiness

Unhappy Israelis simply could not accept that the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which penned the report, could find them to be so cheerful, upbeat, and satisfied with their lives.

Let us break down the numbers:

Unhappy liberal Israelis, concerned about the imminent slide into dictatorship that will stem from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s constitutional revolution, were shocked to be told that they are more chipper than the global freedom index’s top tier democracies Switzerland (#8 in the happiness index), New Zealand (#9), and Estonia (#31).

Unhappy right-wing Israelis, who endlessly gripe about Israel’s hegemonical, leftist media brainwashing the public, were distraught to comprehend that they are more buoyant than the citizens of countries where trust in the press is the highest – Portugal (#56), South Africa (#85), and Kenya (#111).

Unhappy security-obsessed Israelis, who constantly fear the perils emanating from an unstable and hostile Middle East, were ashamed to observe they are more jovial than others facing not dissimilar existential threats, including Taiwanese (#27), Latvians (#41), and South Koreans (#57).

Unhappy feminist Israelis, who dread a conservative ultra-Orthodox patriarchy determined to enforce female subjugation, were awestruck to read that they are apparently more gratified than their sisters in gender-equality leaders Australia (#12), Canada (#13), and Germany (#16).

Unhappy green Israelis, anxious about the destruction of their country’s natural habitat and global climate change, were riled to recognize that they are merrier than the inhabitants of the environmentally conscious Netherlands (#5), Luxembourg (#9), and United Kingdom (#19).

Unhappy Israeli Arabs – those who self-identify as Palestinian nationalists and see the Jewish state as institutionally racist – were horrified to discern that they are more content than the citizens of the sovereign Arab and energy rich UAE (#26), Saudi Arabia (#30), and Kuwait (#46).

Unhappy homosexual Israelis, convinced that reactionary homophobes in government are conspiring to deny them their rights, were amazed to hear they are gayer than their LGBTQ siblings in socially progressive Sweden (#6), Ireland (#14), and Spain (#32).

UNHAPPY PIOUS Israelis, uneasy about the decline of traditional faith and respect for established spiritual authority, were aghast to discover that they remain more blissful than places where believers predominate, like the USA (#15), Mexico (#36), and Brazil (#49).

Unhappy secular Israelis, distressed over the growing clericalism in their country and the march towards a Jewish theocracy, were dismayed when informed that they are more pepper than the post-religious atheistic and agnostic Norway (#7), Japan (#47), and Vietnam (#65).

Unhappy upright Israelis, appalled by allegations of corruption at the highest levels of their government, were astounded to grasp that they are more jubilant than the inhabitants of the famously straight and narrow Belgium (#17), Singapore (#25), and Hong Kong (#80).

Unhappy puritanical Israelis, frightened by their country’s growing hedonism and rampant sexual immorality, were disillusioned upon finding that they are jollier than the promiscuous Austrians (#11), Lithuanians (#20), and Slovenes (#22).

Even unhappy Israeli drivers, condemned for hours to be stuck in ubiquitous traffic congestion, were stunned to note that they remain more optimistic than the tremendously gridlocked French (#21), Italians (#33), and Filipinos (#76).

Perhaps all these unhappy Israelis could find solace in the grief of those unsuccessfully laboring to inflict injury on them.

The Iranian regime comes to mind. It must be particularly disappointing that despite all the blood and treasure invested into making the lives of Israelis intolerable, those efforts appear fruitless – unless Tehran chooses to believe the Zionist media over a UN report.

Similarly, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas’s Yehiya Sinwar, and their many disciples, seek to terrorize and demoralize the Israeli people. Their entire life’s work has been devoted to our torment – an endless quest to make Israelis feel bereft. Maybe it’s time for these militants to seek vocational counseling?

BDS activists worldwide seek to enhance our misfortune. They boo visiting Israeli sports teams, disrupt Israeli cultural performances, and claim to boycott Israeli products – including lifesaving medical equipment. They too must be a touch discouraged considering the abject failure of their battle to make Israelis gloomy.

It appears that all those committed to making us depressed can only wallow in their own impotence.

Like it or not, the UN’s index pronounces Israelis a joyful lot. We live in a creative, dynamic, energetic, entrepreneurial, innovative, and pluralist society, while enjoying a sense of belonging, community, and social solidarity.

And despite Israel’s many failings, including the current political polarization, from a historic perspective, the overall trajectory is unmistakably positive: Israel continues to grow demographically, thrive economically, boom technologically, flourish culturally, progress diplomatically, and be stronger militarily.

Of course, Israelis are a self-critical people, and finding fault in our national behavior is a pervasive social more. But perhaps never being pleased with our country’s performance is one of the secrets behind Israel’s almost unparalleled story of success.

This Independence Day, all the unhappy Israelis may find consolation in Israel’s many achievements. And if those are not enough, they can find comfort in the fact that out of the 137 countries studied in the UN report, there are still three nations deemed to be happier than us.

We can offer a vote of thanks to Finland (#1), Denmark (#2), and Iceland (#3), without whom we would be truly despondent.

Happy Independence Day.

The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister, is chair of the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy at Reichman University. Connect with him on LinkedIn, @Ambassador Mark Regev.