Outside observers could reasonably conclude that Israel is a miserable country. International news reports tend to focus solely on the Middle Eastern conflict and acts of terror, while BDS protesters try to convince the world that Israelis are evil oppressors.
And yet Israel ranked 11th in the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report (above even the U.S.). This corresponds with my own daily reality, as I observe many cheerful and enthusiastic Israelis during my daily routine. For Israel’s 68th birthday (Yom Ha’atzmaut) it’s worthy asking: why are Israelis so happy?
- Life is meaningful in Israel. Today started out as Yom HaZikaron (the Day of Remembrance), which is a day to commemorate and honor Israel’s fallen soldiers. Unlike many other countries, Israel has a mandatory army and practically every family knows someone who was killed in a war or via a terror attack. This closeness to death can definitely be dispiriting, but it also reminds Israelis that life can be fleeting, so it’s important to enjoy it. Many Israelis believe that we are on the front-lines of the Islamic terror scourge that has also struck in London, Spain, New York, etc., and it’s important not to capitulate.
- Beautiful country and sunny weather. “Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.” –Talmud, Kiddushin 49b. Whether we are talking about the beaches of Eilat, the hilly grandeur of the Golan or Jerusalem’s uniqueness, Israel is a BEAUTIFUL country. And the constant sun doesn’t hurt, either.
- One big family. Israel is a small country where you seemingly can’t go three steps without bumping into someone you know, and people constantly look out for each other. “All of Israel is responsible for one another.” – Talmud, Shevuot 39a. I experienced this a few months ago. I stupidly tried to ride my bike through heavy mud at night, wrecking the chain and rendering the bike temporarily unusable. A man drove by and saw me (a large man late at night standing on the side of an isolated road, covered in mud). He stopped his car without thinking twice and gave me a ride home.
- Rituals are important. Thousands of years before the advent of positive psychology, the Rabbis understood the importance of ritual. Rituals such as the wedding chuppah, the Passover Seder and lighting the Hanukkah menorah connect us to our ancestors, relatives, fellow citizens and Jews around the world. When I read the Haggadah during Pesach, I am instantly transported to being a kid again reading from a wine-stained page at my grandfather’s house, and I smile. Secular Israelis also have rituals, such as riding bikes on the empty streets during Yom Kippur or barbecuing during tomorrow’s Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebrations.
- Innovation, Hard Work and Intelligence. As has been noted many times, Israel is a small country without a great deal of national resources. And yet it’s an economic powerhouse with a burgeoning high-tech scene. I’m blessed to work for a large Israeli high-tech company and every day I see innovative, hardworking and intelligent people. Israelis are renowned for their ability to improvise, change plans quickly and innovate. And for never taking “no” for an answer (which really helps in the business world). Living in a country with a vibrant economy provides people with opportunity and leisure, and thus increases happiness.
- Jews appreciate good humor and Judaism encourages it. The Talmud contains a fascinating story about an act that is apparently so important and noble that it GUARANTEES the one who performs it a spot in the World to Come (Heaven).A Rabbi was walking in a Persian marketplace when the Prophet Elijah himself appeared to him. The Rabbi asked Elijah, “Is there anyone in this marketplace who merits a place in the World to Come?” At first, Elijah said, “No.” But a short while later, two men walked by and Elijah told the Rabbi that the two men would be granted a spot. Burning with curiosity, the sage approached the two men and asked them what they did.“We are jesters,” they told him. “We cheer up those who are depressed.” – Talmud, Ta’anit 22a.
- Israel is a diverse and free country. Unlike our neighbors, we live here in a free democracy where all races, religions, sexual orientations, etc. have rights. Arab Israelis serve in the Knesset and even the Supreme Court. Israel is the only country I know that airlifted thousands of distressed Africans to safety and granted them full citizenship (see #1 and #3 above).
- Judaism emphasizes simcha (happiness). Simcha is a major element of holidays such as Purim and Sukkot. Every week at the end of the Shabbat, we quote from the Purim Megillah: “For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy and honor – so may it be for us!” And most weekdays during the morning prayer, we say, “Serve G-d with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” Despite the popular stereotype of the gloomy or worried Jew, the culture of Judaism is one of happiness. Whether Jews are clinking glasses for a L’Chaim (for life!), devouring some tasty food at a Kiddush table for a Bar Mitzva or bettering themselves through learning, you’ll usually see some smiles.
Making Aliyah (nearly 15 years ago) was the smartest thing I ever did. If you are considering it, do it! If you aren’t considering Aliyah, come for a visit. You’ll enjoy interacting with warm and happy Israelis. Happy Yom Ha’atzmaut and Happy 68th birthday, Israel!
Feel free to include your own reasons why Israelis are so happy in the comments section.