Israelis Off The Happiness Chart

Article Summary
Israelis can’t make ends meet and are afraid of an Iranian bomb, but despite it all, rank themselves high in the happiness index. While some correlate a high happiness index with general social apathy, Yehuda Sharoni writes that it's still great to live in Israel.

A new report on quality of life in OECD countries, released on the eve of Shavuot, ranks Israelis eighth in terms of “life satisfaction” and relatively high (20th) in the rankings of quality of life out of the 36 countries in the organization. The survey was comprised of 11 categories, including jobs, education, health and safety. In another report on the "happiness index," published last month, Israeli citizens were in seventh place.

There are people who will say that something doesn’t seem right, that the chart is lying. How could it be that despite the security situation and deteriorating personal safety, we are among the happiest nations in the world?

The flattering happiness figures indeed seem to contradict the negative mood and public discourse. Not a day goes by without the daily news including a high dose of the Iranian bomb, threats from Hezbollah and economic trouble. But most people still say that it’s fun to live here. Intuitively, this is a predictable conclusion, even if migrant workers from Eritrea and Sudan weren’t included in the survey.

The feeling that “all Jews are responsible for one another,” as the saying goes, doesn’t exist in any other country in the world. Israel is more anxious about the well-being of its citizens (not to mention its soldiers) than any other country. A traveler suspected of setting fire to a forest in Chile, or an Israeli who gets caught in an earthquake some far-flung country, will enjoy regular media coverage. When citizens get stuck in a war in Georgia, the foreign ministry sets up a situation room to manage all of the logistics required to rescue them. The extensive concern for the citizen, which could be characterized as patronage, is also found in the parliament. Knesset Members are strangling us with bill proposals, from what’s allowed and not allowed in Photoshop to requiring bicycliststo remove their headphones. It’s true that phenomena like drunkenness and violence in clubs is eating away at the public’s sense of security, but the polls show that most Israelis still feel safe walking alone at night.

New Yorkers may ignore a bystander collapsing in a strange alley, but here such behavior would cause a commotion. When drivers ignored the body of a motorcyclist who was run over and killed roughly two years ago, the media was infuriated. Thankfully, we still don’t need to whip out our insurance policy when we are taken away in an ambulance after an accident. Unlike in Scandinavian countries, whose citizens suffer from lack of sunlight, the comfortable climate here does wonders for the mood. It’s no wonder that the origin of the word “tsunami” is Japanese, and earthquakes are, for now, topics for theoretical study only.

Then what is the source of this suspicion that there’s no correlation between the flattering surveys and the feeling that life stinks? Why is the sought-after green card still a dream for so many Israelis?

It’s true that in the last decade, the state has invested less in education, health and transportation, in terms of public spending as a percentage of the GDP. It is also true that the cost of housing and food makes it hard to make ends meet each month. But let’s admit that high employment figures at least enable starting out the month before having to figure out how to close it. The Israeli citizen enjoys solid public services. The life expectancy in Israel (80.7 years) is among the highest in the world.

In one of his columns for the Maariv weekend supplement, Yehonatan Geffen (an Israeli journalist, songwriter, playwright and poet) wrote that he hates the army, but loves his friends from the military reserves. Similarly, the Israeli citizen hates paying taxes and loves to complain, but he is “crazy” about the country. The protesters complain that the growing income gap and inequality are proof of the government’s evasion of responsibility, and express their frustration in shows of deprivation and grumbling.

Many, including the country’s wealthiest, have the option to move their children and themselves abroad. But despite all of the complaints, they won’t replace Israel, and say that they want to raise their children here. Rumors of this happiness have reached abroad, and more and more Israelis are packing up and moving home.

Found in: oecd, israel, happiness index

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