A few days ago the results of the annual World Happiness index were published and Israel found itself recognized as the fourth happiest country in the entire world, its highest ranking since the index began in 2012.
To be clear, this was based on data collected from Israelis and about Israel well before the current government announced its plans for judicial overhaul and the country became intensely divided on this very sensitive issue.
But this doesn’t change the fact that Israelis have figured out how to be among the world’s happiest people despite the fact that they live in one of the most volatile regions in the world. The countries on either side of Israel on the list are all located in northern Europe, far away from the regional conflicts and successive wars that have characterized Israel’s reality since its establishment 75 years ago.
When I moved to Israel 20 years ago I noticed almost immediately that Israelis were very different from most of the people I was born and raised amongst in the US. Israelis seem to have more time to spend with their families and friends. After a few years of living here, I realized it’s not that Israelis have more time, they make the time for what’s important to them. And when you do what’s important to you, that creates happiness.
Living in Israel isn’t always easy. There are unique economic and security pressures here that amplify the regular challenges of life. Lower salaries, high cost of living, sending kids to the army, frequent terror attacks. All of these combined could easily, and probably would, cripple the citizens of any country. But they don’t here in Israel. Instead, they seem to have the opposite impact, making us more resilient and more adamant about enjoying and valuing life.
The Torah tells us to “choose life” and Israelis have internalized this ancient message and have made it a slogan of the modern Jewish state. If they didn’t, I’m not sure our country would still be here. Because to survive in this place, knowing how to be strong is not enough. You also have to know how to be happy.