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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?
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (26)
All Comments   (26)
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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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.)
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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."
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, I don't know those other seven countries nearly as well as I know Israe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh; I guess they are some of the "beasts" you are talking about in the headline.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The "beasts" referred to the people in the Daily Beast, from which the article is taken.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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