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Why Israelis Are so Happy, Despite the Challenges

Israelis rank among the happiest nations in the world, despite living in a hostile region, and the explanation why “probably lies in indicators not considered in standard surveys, ” Avinoam Bar-Yosef wrote (Google link) in The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Bar-Yosef, a former chief diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, and currently founding director and president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, observed that the Jewish state only ranks “24th in GDP per capita, and comes in at No. 30 of the 36 OECD countries on security and personal safety. Israel has only the 17th-highest per capita income in the world.” It also operates in a state of “endless conflict with the Palestinians and under the threat of nuclear annihilation by Iran, ” Bar-Yosef wrote.

After dismissing the possibility that Israelis simply “become stupid” when thinking about their life satisfaction, Bar-Yosef noted that measuring happiness by traditional indexes can lead to overlooking many critical factors.

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.

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These findings correlate with a recent poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post, which found that family, history, and the bible are what motivate most Israelis to build their lives in the state.

While acknowledging that there’s still room for improvement, Bar-Yosef wrote that Israelis can “take comfort in looking back and savoring how much has been achieved, how sovereignty over the land of their forefathers was reclaimed.” When Israel was facing a water crisis, he noted, the country “launched a desalination project that is now the envy of the world.”

“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, ” he added. And while Jews make up the majority of Israelis across the state,  Arabs and Jews overall coexist peacefully,  “despite the frictions.”

“These kinds of things make Israelis proud and happy, ” Bar-Yosef noted. “If the global happiness and satisfaction index could measure them, we might get a better grip on the Israeli paradox.”




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