Why Is Israel One of the Top 10 Happiest Countries in the World?
Despite the daily dangers, Israelis are remarkably happy. Here’s a Jewish secret to happiness.
This week four Israelis were killed and several others were injured, in a terrorist stabbing attack at a shopping center and gas station in Be’er Sheva. Beautiful, innocent souls were murdered in cold blood, reminding us yet again how our brothers and sisters in Israel live with constant threats and dangers.
One would think a country whose citizens face terror regularly and are surrounded by hostile enemies who seek their extermination would be paralyzed by fear and would be debilitated by distress. Instead, despite the daily dangers, Israelis are remarkably happy.
At number 9, Israelis are happier than Canadians (15), Americans (16) and the people of the United Kingdom (17).
According to this year’s World Happiness Report that was just released, Israel has climbed to its highest ranking yet, breaking into the top 10 happiest countries in the world. Finland came in first for the fifth year in a row, while Afghanistan placed last at No. 146. At number 9, Israelis are happier than Canadians (15), Americans (16) and the people of the United Kingdom (17).
When the Founding Fathers included the “pursuit of happiness” as an American right, it’s almost as if there was an inherent concession that happiness can be pursued, but it is hard to ever attain. For many, that pursuit has grown tiring and indeed, they have given up. In 2006, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote a book called “Stumbling on Happiness.” In it, he argues that the things and experiences we typically predict and imagine will bring us happiness rarely do. Rather, he says, happiness is elusive, and while there are efforts we can make, our best bet is to hope to stumble upon it.
Judaism disagrees. Happiness, simcha, is not something that we stumble or trip upon by accident. It’s the result of a conscious decision, a determined attitude. In Path of the Just, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes that being happy and joyful is not a luxury or simply preferable; they are critical components of a meaningful life.
Power of Smiling
We tend to think that when we are happy we smile, but it turns out to be the opposite. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling, engaging the micro muscles involved, can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system, and even prolong your life. When you smile, your brain releases neuropeptides to help fight stress. Dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released that relieve pain and bring pleasure.
As a result, choosing to smile is choosing happiness, not only for you but for the people around you. Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School, found that misery is not alone in liking company; happiness is also contagious. Knowing someone who is happy makes you 15.3% more likely to be happy yourself. A happy friend of a friend increases your odds of happiness by 9.8%, and even your neighbor’s sister’s friend can give you a 5.6% boost.
Happiness occurs when we make the decision to focus on the blessings in our lives, no matter how challenging or formidable the struggles we face
Happiness occurs when we make the decision to focus on the blessings in our lives, no matter how challenging or formidable the struggles we face. If our happiness results from the blessings we already have, we can always find happiness, because we always have at least something. But if our happiness is determined by what we don’t have — “If only I had more money, a nicer house, a better job, a more loving spouse, more loyal children” — we will never be happy because we can always have more and therefore by definition there will always be something we don’t have.
In a recent class, I challenged everyone to make the conscious effort to smile more, even—or especially—when we don’t feel like it. Smile before walking into the house. Smile when the children come into the car at carpool. Smile when greeting your family at the end of the day. Be intentional, create the habit and routine of smiling in the moments that will create the mood and introduce the energy.
People told me how it changed their lives.
Don’t believe me – try it yourself.
Don’t stumble on happiness, choose it by smiling more.