It’s thanks to both the wars and the weather, and those Friday night dinners that keep us from feeling lonely.
By Allison Kaplan Sommer, Ha’aretz
It’s happened again. An international survey has been published showing that Israelis are, compared to their counterparts in other Western countries, very happy and content people. That information confounds everyone, not least Israelis themselves.
How in the world can it be, we ask ourselves, that citizens of a tiny embattled nation, surrounded by enemies, targeted by boycotts, officially and unofficially loathed by a major portion of the world, with compulsory army service, where regularly scheduled wars and “operations” take place at least once every few years, where complaining about the “situation” is a national pastime, can feel so fine and dandy? It makes no sense.
It’s reached the point where even the stories reporting the news of these polls suggest that the Israelis taking the survey must be lying. The latest survey, as relayed in Tuesday’s report, Haaretz suggested as much, and the journalists writing the piece sounded utterly confounded:
“Israelis are among the most content people in the Western world, even though the country doesn’t measure up by many of the criteria in a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. … It’s not clear why Israelis are so happy, despite a relatively poor showing on measures such as housing, income, job security, community support and education. It could be that what makes the average Norwegian happy doesn’t do the trick in Israel. Or maybe Israelis try to appear happy even when they’re not and respond to pollsters accordingly.”
While I understand the writer’s skepticism, I really don’t think people are lying to the pollsters. It just can’t be that the same results, survey after survey, among different organizations with different sample groups, time after time, are fraudulent. Nobody can lie that consistently. I think we are just going to have to make peace with the crazy fact that for the most part, Israelis are comparatively happy campers. We just have to figure out why.
A few years ago, I discussed the topic with the leading world expert on happiness, Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, who famously taught the most popular course at Harvard on positive psychology, earning the nickname “Professor Happiness” and who, despite his tremendous success in the United States, moved back to Israel with his family because he was, well, happier living here.
His explanations for the Israeli happiness factor are helpful in understanding the situation. Ben Shahar believes that the top predictor of happiness is spending time with people we care about and who care about us. With Israel being so geographically small, there is little that stands between Israelis and their close friends and family. Friday night dinners with extended family are a matter of course, even for the young and hip. And in the typical Israeli community, there are a lot of people who care about us — if anything, who care too much. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, the guy who runs the …read more