Opinion: Why are Israelis so happy, and why isn’t it newsworthy?

The latest World Happiness Report shows Israel moving up 5 positions to number 4.

By Jacob Sivak, The Algemeiner

In 2017, when I first became aware of the World Happiness Report, I read that Israel was ranked the 11th happiest country in the world in a survey of more than 150 countries.

The report, a creation of the United Nations, is published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network using data collected from citizens of each country by Gallup. Each report is a comprehensive document compiled by a team of experts.

The report, issued yearly from 2012, takes into account gross domestic product (GDP), social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. The results are based on self-reported evaluations by those surveyed, and each year’s numbers are calculated as averages of three years, the current year and two previous ones. The numbers represent all citizens, including, in Israel’s case, two million Arab citizens.

In the 2022 rankings, Israel moved up to number 9, with the northern European countries dominating the list. Finland ranked number one.

But the big surprise is the latest report, for 2023. In it, Israel moved up 5 positions to number 4, behind Finland (number one for the sixth year in a row), Denmark, and Iceland. Canada was number 13 and the US number 15.

Virtually every Israeli news service, as well as Jewish ones in the Diaspora, reported this startling result.

The most compelling interpretation was given by Miriam Shaviv in The Jewish Chronicle. She asks how residents of a country subject to wars, existential threats, terrorist attacks, and internal tensions, can be so happy?

The answer lies in the exceptional level of social support, characterized by strong family and community ties, experienced by Israelis: “Even secular Israelis will have Friday night dinner together regularly and come together to celebrate festivals, Independence Day, births, bar and bat mitzvahs and huge weddings.”

Shaviv points out that the latest report is based on data collected before the recent judicial review protests engulfed Israel. While it is possible that the rankings will go down, she doubts it. To her, the protests are indicative of the strength of Israel’s social fabric, and the demonstrations have only re-enforced the sense of solidarity and kinship among its citizens.

A number of mainstream media outlets have reported the latest Happiness Report results, but there has been little or no notice of the substantial jump in ranking for Israel. The New York Times recently published an article on Finland’s consistent number one happiness position, but nothing about Israel.

News stories predicting doom and gloom for the Zionist enterprise are not uncommon. Just look at the titles of recent articles published in The New York Times by Thomas Friedman and Isabel Kirshner. Are these merely examples of good critical journalism, or is there more to it? What is it that makes bad news about Israel so engrossing, while good news is not welcome?

Jacob Sivak, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a retired professor, University of Waterloo.