Last Monday, the Daily Beast, a popular American website, published a blog post titled, "Why are the Israelis so damn happy?" The timing – Israel's Remembrance Day – was not particularly successful, but the argument made me read it.
The writer, Tiffanie Wen, is a journalist from San Francisco who has temporarily settled in Tel Aviv in order to write a book about love in the Middle East.
Wen's argument is based on scientific research. Professor Zahava Solomon of Tel Aviv University explained to her what the Israeli-Arab conflict did to the Israelis. On the one hand, they are constantly aware of their potential demise; on the other hand, they are fearless. Because they have so many reasons to be afraid, they fear nothing.
She quotes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study compared Israelis' reaction to the wave of terror during the Second Intifada to New Yorkers' reaction to the 9/11 attacks. The amount of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was similar immediately after those events, but after a month or two the Israelis' recovery level was much higher.
Other studies have shown that while the level of anxiety among Israelis is higher than in other Western nations, the level of clinical anxiety remains very low. "Israelis are braver," Wen says.
Wen provides her readers with a long list of daily hardships Israelis suffer from, starting with the cost of living, unaffordable apartments and the difficultly to find a good job, through the raging summer heat to the rockets fired from Gaza. "Like everyone else in this country I’ll either have to adapt and be happy or get out," she concludes.
The journalist from San Francisco appears to be confusing two different concepts: Israelis have been blessed with strength; they have an absorption capacity and adaptability; they are alert, active and resourceful. That doesn't make them happy; Jews and happiness don't go together; neither do Arabs and happiness.
That doesn't mean that Israelis don’t suffer from anxieties: Those can be seen, among other things, in parents who insist on driving their kids to school and back every day, and in mothers who must receive an hourly update on their cell phone about the wellbeing of each child, even if that child is 30 years old.
Social psychology experts usually put Denmark at the top of the world happiness list. Indeed, life in Denmark is happy: Relaxed, leisurely, stable. In Israel, on the other hand, life is good: Interesting, dynamic, calling for involvement. Most Israelis, it seems, prefer the good life.