"Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination", the philosopher Immanuel Kant once said. Perhaps this explains the fact that Israel, despite all the threats, social gaps, and pressures from within and without, scores particularly high every year in the UN's World Happiness Report.
Last year, we were ranked 9th, and this year - in the 2023 report - we jumped to the very respectable 4th place, out of 137 countries.
This is especially surprising in view of the growing social protests, the dissatisfaction of many in the country with current conditions, and the increase in the number of terror attacks. Not to mention the erosion of the shekel, u-turns by investors due to the uncertainty, and the record-breaking number of layoffs.
While the ranking is undoubtedly flattering, it should be noted that the report’s data are drawn from an average of responses collected in each country included, between 2020-2022.
So, in order to compare how happy we are right now, compared to other countries, we will have to wait for March 2024.
Nevertheless, the last three years have seen quite a few lows for the State of Israel that could well have affected the happiness levels of its citizens: the detrimental effects of the COVID pandemic, Operation Guardian of the Walls and the rise of antisemitism in the western world, concern for Ukrainian Jewry, endless rounds of elections, and the cost of living, to name a few.
How, then, does Israel continue to rank so highly every year in the World Happiness Report?
To find the answer to this question, one must dive a little into the details of the report itself, which, as mentioned above, presents an average of the subjective feelings of happiness held by approximately 1,000 citizens in each country, over the past three years.
Most of the data comes from the polling company Gallup’s “Life Evaluations” annual global survey. The data collected include the levels of satisfaction of those surveyed on a scale of 1 to 10 towards the following areas: social support, income, health, freedom, generosity, and the absence of corruption.
The report, which also takes into account objective data (the country's GDP and its average life expectancy) asks questions such as, "If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?", "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?", "Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?", and even "Did you laugh during a lot of the day yesterday?".
If we look at the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, it is now possible to understand why Israel is ranked so high: the pandemic, which took a toll on all of us, also united the Israeli people, and beyond the national resilience that was manifested in the world-class vaccination drive, we rediscovered our strength and social cohesion.
2020 and 2021 were also record years for the Israeli economy, with 2021 being the most successful year as more and more unicorns were announced, and dizzying business success stories appeared every day in the newspapers.
Let us not forget the signing of the Abraham Accords during this time, which heralded a new era in the Middle East and hope for the future to come. In fact, 2020-2022 were a golden era for Israel, despite all the difficulties, challenges, and concerns for the future.
And while Israel faces much more significant challenges than Finland, Denmark, or Iceland (ranked first, second and third in the 2023 report), it turns out that Israelis have a greater sense of appreciation for what we do have going for us, and as a result, we are happier than the 133 countries ranked after us.
At the same time, Israel's exceptionally high ranking should also sound an alarm for what is to come: as the first quarter of 2023 comes to an end, our precious country appears to be imploding, with hundreds of thousands protesting every week, and conversations on social networks, TV studios, at Shabbat dinners and on the streets, reaching an all-time low.
2023 may be the year that civil war breaks out in Israel. Having achieved so much in the first 75 years of our existence that has led us to become one of the top five happiest countries in the world, we must now demand answers from our leadership as to what the future holds.
How will they preserve our happiness in the years to come? Because, to continue Kant’s line of thought, even imagination has its limits.
Joanna Landau is an expert in country branding and marketing, the founder of Vibe Israel, and the co-author of international best-seller “Ethical Tribing: Connecting the Next Generation to Israel in the Digital Era”.