Last August 20, Haaretz, one of the best newspapers in Israel published a report about the reason behind Israel’s continued showing on the list of happiest countries in the world despite all the political dangers surrounding it, the high cost of living, low wages and the multiplicity of wars in the region?
It is currently ranked 11th on the United Nations list of 2018, ahead of America, France, Britain and Germany, so how can this be understood?
The editor Amir Mandel says that 65% of Israelis consider themselves non-religious or even atheist since atheism is deeply rooted in the Israeli society, and many other Jews practice some religious rituals, but tend to be secularists.
He added he presents the result of the international report and knows, like his other colleagues that many have left Israel for more stable, more advanced, less dangerous and better-off countries.
It is therefore puzzling, in the light of these facts to understand the United Nations report which has been launched since in 2012 placing Israel in slot No 11 of the happiest countries. Richard Layard, one of the three economics professors who has compiled the report conducted by Gallup International, says this ranking is not a coincidence or a statistical mistake, but according to the parameters the report measures, Israel is a good place to live.
The World Happiness Report is based on data from the Gallup World Poll, which measures 14 key areas relating to quality of life around the world. Some are rather objective and easy to measure. Others, more subjective and complex, are based on observations, indexes from the social sciences and, mostly, on questionnaires completed by sample groups.
The six key variables used in the report are: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The latest annual report, for 2018 stated that the top 10 happiest nations were: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. These were the same top 10 countries in 2017 too, with small changes in the order.
The migrants to these countries are happier than others. Number 11 in the rankings has remained quite stable over the past three years for Israel. Israel’s good showing was not a one-off result and not an accident, and every year when the Happiness Report is released, it arouses a wave of reactions, generally of two types.
One is shock, which resounds on the social networks: “Why exactly is everyone here so happy? After all, housing is expensive, security is awful, corruption reigns and everything is insufferable,” writes one Israeli.
The other, opposite viewpoint comes out in opinion pieces and blogs; it says all the alleged negative things are just a figment of the media’s imagination – and Israel really has a stable economy, long life expectancy, excellent health services and a solid social and family framework that gives the individual a feeling of security and belonging.
An interesting question is how the happiness index can be so high in a country in which even the debate over indexes themselves is so polarized and political. Social support, freedom and generosity are not characteristics we intuitively ascribe to the divided Israeli society, where life is pictured more as an ongoing mass brawl. In addition, it seems that everyone complains, mostly about the high cost of living. So then what brings Israel consistently to such a high ranking on the international happiness scale, the author wonders.
The report is long and complex, and can be read on the newspaper’s website. If the three survey criteria were applied to the economic, health and social issues in Kuwait, it would be clear why Kuwait came in at 39th place despite all the welfare the majority enjoys.
By Ahmad Al-Sarraf