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Why the Beasts Fail to Understand Israeli Happiness

It’s not that they feel themselves to be under the shadow of death, it’s that they’re carried along by life.

by
P. David Hornik

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June 2, 2013 - 7:00 am
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A recent, much-read article by Tiffanie Wen in the Daily Beast tried to figure out “Why are the Israelis so Damn Happy?” It based itself on an OECD study of 36 democratic countries, which found that while Israel doesn’t score very high on some major parameters like housing, income, job security, and education, it does score high — eighth on the list — for happiness. (Israel also got a high happiness score on other studies, such as this one.)

Considering that Israel has also experienced far more war and terrorism than any other democratic country since its founding in 1948, that result may seem puzzling. Wen, in fact, claims that “war has quite a lot to do with it” and goes on to say:

Think about it. How would you act if you woke up every morning thinking that this day could be your last? Or at least took a moment to imagine how you would be eulogized at your funeral?…

The point is this: you’d enjoy the day you had. And if you continued to survive until the next morning, this daily exercise might develop into a mantra for how you lived your life. And you might bother to take that beach day, or spend more time with your family. You might grow a pair and launch that startup you’ve been thinking about (Boom: Silicon Wadi) or stop a beautiful woman on the street and insist that she have lunch with you….

First of all, there’s a measure of truth to this. It’s true that a sense of living with threats in the background concentrates the mind on the small pleasures, the good stuff. And Wen also notes a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicating that Israelis — who are more toughened by bad stuff — “recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more quickly than people of other Western nations.”

But beyond this limited measure of truth, Wen’s description verges on caricature. I’ve never known an Israeli in normal circumstances who wakes up every morning thinking the day could be his or her last. If one wants to understand why Israelis score high on happiness, “I could be dead any minute so I might as well enjoy myself” won’t get you very far.

Wen, an Asian-American from San Francisco currently living in Tel Aviv, acknowledges being “a non-Jew who doesn’t identify with the historic narrative of persecution; a non-Israeli who is unaccustomed to living under the threat of war; and an American that has come to ‘expect more and pay less.’…”

In other words, while it’s nice that she wants to try living with us, she’s not in a great position to understand a lot about the country. Even that phrase “the historic narrative of persecution” doesn’t sit well; while such a narrative exists in the Jewish ethos, so do a lot of other, more positive themes that hold more promise when it comes to answering the question Wen raises.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Few countries in modern times have earned the right to exist as much as Israel has. They are happy because they are an accomplished people, which is a source of their pride and its resulting happiness. If Israel ceased to exist, the loss to the world would be huge. Few nations have contributed so much with so few to the world in almost every positive human endeavour. All those reasons alone justify Israel's continued existence. There is no need to add any historical or biblical context to justify Israel. Can we say the same about its immediate neighbors?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All that happiness right on the border of a few Arab states probably irks the sh&t out of the arabs.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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The reasons for our happiness are as simple as they are profound.
All life is connected and shares certain basic traits that are immutable.
When my wife plants her garden she buys special potting soil for the flowers. She says, and she has been proven right time and again, she knows when her flowers are , " happy ", and when they are not. Planting a vine in the wrong soil always fails. The Jewish Nation and it's Land are connected in a way that expresses both the loftiest of concepts, Freedom , Justice, Worship, Family, G-d, and also the simplest - life grows better when it takes root in the appropriate soil.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Taking another look at the official statistics (and they definitely have issues; I understand you can apply to be surveyed) I find the Israeli non-Jews are also quite happy, with only the secular non-Jews having a significant drop-off. Of course, the Arabs have a much higher religious percentage, although it seems to be going down slightly, while Jewish religiosity seems to be rising slightly.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Local polls also indicate that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs prefer living in Israel over any Arab state. Whenever there's been talk of dividing Jerusalem as part of a "peace settlement" one witnesses a spike in requests for Israeli citizenship from PA Arabs and a move to settle in "Jewish" western Jerusalem.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
However, one support for your thesis is that the gov't statistics show a positive correlation between religiosity and happiness, although everyone seems pretty happy. Chareidim (so-called ultra-Orthodox) even consider themselves healthier than other groups, in spite of having less funds to spend on health care.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I mean, than other groups consider themselves.

It's all at www1.cbs.gov.il; have fun.

Of Arabs are close to 60% religious, but this seems to decline a bit with age, while for Jews it's the opposite.

(Ultra-Orthodox is like ultra-conservative; it's a pejorative term meaning "too Orthodox". The NYT in the early 40's actually referred tot he Religious Zionists as ultra-Orthodox.)
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The secular birthrate is not 2.6. That's the non-Chareidi birthrate, most religious Jews are not Chareidim (at least from ago 20 up), although I am. That figure includes Religious Zionist, as well as Traditional and Secular. Note that there are about 1/2 million "no religion" including "patrilineal Jews" who would be listed as Jewish in the US.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Secular" in this context refers to a category of people who unequivocally identify with the state. It includes religious Zionists--who in any case are only about 10% of the nonharedi population. My own anecdotal impression is that the birthrate among the traditional and secular is high as well. It would have to be high to arrive at the 2.6, because the religious-Zionist are only a small proportion.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
My impression too, but the dati is higher. (Strangely, David's source has the R.Z. at 17%, which is hard to believe given the official statistics.) And some secular do not identify, although most leftists I see are Zionist.

But they are a larger proportion - in the statistics, anyway, than the Chareidi. Anyway, it is kind of strange to include, say, the late Rabbi Modrdechai Eliyahu, who opposed National Service for religious women and told soldiers that they should refuse a direct order to go to hear a woman sing - as "secular". To be honest, the entire thing comes out of anti-Chareidi paranoia, where people mix up kids attending secular schools run by Chareidim with actual Chareidim. Those kids are more likely to go to the army - the boys, anyway - than the graduates of Ironi Aleph (PHS 1) in Tel Aviv. In fact, there is an article on those very schools at the site from which this came.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The situation with Ironi Aleph and similar Tel Aviv schools is a matter of controversy--I've seen some reports that conscription rates have actually been high in the last couple of years. Few may be going into combat units, but not a few are going into important intelligence units, if what I read is right.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Judaism has no doctrine that includes eternal damnation. Instead the Torah says, "Choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19). There is also no clear Jewish view about an afterlife. Psalm 115:17 syas "The dead do not praise the Lord."
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is completely and totally false. In fact, we just read about eternal damnation (generally reserved for people who were observant and became heretics) at the end of the reading from the prophets last Sabbath. What confuses Christians is that the rabbis called purgatory and hell by the same name, and the Christian Bible uses rabbinic terminology.

Resurrection and the afterlife are required beliefs in Judaism; where to you think the Christians got it from? However, there is no requirement as to the exact details, but the most basic theme in the entire Jewish Bible is Reward and Punishment, including eternal life.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice summation, Mr. Hornik.
But, you can't apply your thesis to the preceding 7 countries on the "happiness list".
Although I do believe you have isolated a few important points for Israels happiness quotient, a more comprehensive study including the other 7 countries, could identify unique factors with a high degree of parallel to Israel, and vice versa.
How could such a study not be worthwhile, especially when you are compensated for the dissertation?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, I don't know those other seven countries nearly as well as I know Israe.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh; I guess they are some of the "beasts" you are talking about in the headline.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The "beasts" referred to the people in the Daily Beast, from which the article is taken.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
" And you will rejoice in your festivals and you will be a happy nation." That blessing has been fulfilled in Israel for the Jews as it was fulfilled here in America for the Puritan Pilgrims who closely followed Jewish custom. (The miserable sobriety of pilgrim life is a malicious myth.) As Americans distance themselves from the Puritan ethic and become more secular and more dependent, we become a less happy nation.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry to say but Israel has now the miracle of the 10 "lost" tribes sweezed like sardines in a can in their land whereas USA has the great blood line of King David and King Solomon here blessed with so much blessed land made for the two tribe 'Kingdom" bringing great blessing as light to all the nations. Still we will bring you the 13 heavens on Mount Hermon to show grace to the 10 lost tribes now found.
And we allow travel of the 10 tribes to USA because we like you and we even allow people who hate you and WACKOS who hate us to have freedom of speech as long as they not yelling fire in crowded movie
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I live on mount Carmel myself. (Really.)
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mount Carmel
The place where the Prophet of The True God Elijah defeated the Jezebel prophets
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is how it is with me after I enter with my own will yesterday ,the land of the Faeries and then for the first time in my life I saw one: Did I sin against you my God for going there? And then I have a dialogue with God about what I did and when I come out looking snow white and blessed by the True God who cares if other religious call be an idolater . Then I take it a step further: Was it your will my God I enter that place or should I stay away from there?
The answer is from God comes easy since the pathway leads right to such a great saint who understood Isaiah 53.
So the question the people in Israel must ask: are we just like the Afrikaners, Dutch Cavlinists, German and french Huguenots who thought they were chosen to be in the land but when the secular took over any idea of being chosen disappeared. If 1% of the people are happy and 99% are unhappy in a circle around you what does that mean?
The Christian were called to deliver a message to the hopeless in the world but they chose to conquer the lands with much shedding of blood.
Why did God allow faithful Abel to be murdered by wicked Cain?
I imagine the Orthodox think about so many questions on God's approval just being a happy people one wonders if that lasts and I think how the Hobits were attacked by the dragon and the elves would not help them one can see how difficult it is to love your enemies as Jesus said and being brought into a land of great trauma can lead to great mental illness
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The official government statistics show that the religious (even the secular in Israel are mostly "Orthodox") are happier, and the right-wing Orthodox even more so. Or at least we claim to be.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like how the Orthodox do not mind the Abraham tent in the White Mountains and when they dance not a woman in sight

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOIEBU1RkrY
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
personal footnote
I remember my 10 years of great happiness from age 14 to 24. Then it became impossible to endure . My training for those 10 years about God made the impossible become possible
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
They have a love of life which breeds happiness in all its many forms and yet they are surrounded by peoples that have a love of death, murder of innocents, and wanton indescriminate destruction as their ultimate goals for all. Even when the muslims rule ALL the land as far as they can see, they fight, bomb, and kill each other when no others are around.

As a rule of thumb, islam is a mental illness that is allowed to continue because without evil in this world it would be a paradise! So thank satan that islam still exsists and will until god returns to earth to set things right again.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Israelis are happy because they believe in God, in family, and in themselves. They also are more or less united in the face of multiple existential threats.

We as a people are less happy as we believe less in God, the family and ourselves. We are divided in part because we refuse to see the existential threats facing us.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Muslims believe in a God too, their God is Allah. So contrary to your statements, simply believing in a God, does not bring happiness.

Also, many Israelis are neither Jewish nor religious and as the articles states, many Jews are secular.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
You make the mistake of thinking that the Allah they worship is the same God as that described in the Hebrew or Christian bible. There is a massive difference between the two.
Believing Allah is also God means very little when compared to the phenomenal character differences between Allah and Yahweh.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
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