Israel ranked 14th in the United Nations’ first World Happiness Report. The list is headed by Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, the paradises of political correctness, welfare, anti-war, ultra-liberal and anti-nationalistic feelings, beacons which, according to the Global Peace Index, topped the list of the most “peaceful” places in the world.
So how can we explain the happiness of Israel, the only civilized country under mortal danger, the only nation without recognized borders and globally selected to be an emblem of evil?
To people who don’t live in Israel, this is a mystery. Many Israelis probably can’t figure it out, either. How is it possible that a population living under a perpetual emotional strain and ghettoizing itself behind new Maginot lines is so happy?
How can the Jews be happy when Iran is going nuclear and threatening to wipe them off the map? How can they be happy when the Arabs are firing rockets every day at civilians in Ashkelon, Beersheba, Ashdod and Sderot? What are the sources of the happiness of the only UN member condemned to death and boycotted all over the world?
Israel is much happier than all the European countries that experienced their last war six decades ago. The Jewish state’s population exceeds 7.5 million, nine times that of 1948, the year of the state’s creation. Israelis are happy because they succeeded demographically; considering the Diaspora’s low birth rates and high assimilation rates, it may not be long before most of the world’s Jews will be Israelis.
Despite Jewish heroism and Israeli collectivism giving way to Western individualism, self-criticism and frivolous hedonism, Israeli happiness is much more than the American dream of a large house and a nice car. It lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning, “a nation like all other nations” but also “a light unto the nations.”
Belief in God
Israelis, which have one of the longest life expectancies of any nation in the world, are happy because their country has a history of scintillating enlightenment, with the highest production of scientific publications per capita in the world, more museums per capita and the highest worldwide publication of new books. In a war-ravaged country like Israel, the past few years saw five Israeli Nobel Prize winners.
Another reason is economic success. No other industrialized country does it better, especially for a nation that doesn’t have natural resources and has a population roughly half of Belgium’s. Israel’s high-tech industry is flourishing, making the country known as “start-up nation.”
While Israel’s social fabric is deeply divided between ultra-Orthodox Jews and “Hellenistic” Israelis, nationalists and leftists, two-thirds of Israelis believe in God, therefore maintaining the hope and feeling that there is higher meaning and purpose to their lives. There is also the attachment to the Jewish land, while love for one’s land is a nationalistic taboo in the West.
Overall, Israel’s population is very resilient. A new governmental study just found that Intifada-era violence did nothing to affect Israel’s national morale. Israelis are also happy because they know that Dimona and the IDF are there to protect them, even if the army lost some of its famous deterrence.
In Israel, the celebrations of life are far more numerous than the memories of death. That's Israel’s secret for happiness: it's a lighthouse of life on the border between survival and destruction. Ultimately, life will prevail over death.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism