Are you happier than an Israeli?

12 Apr

The United Nations recently published its “2013 World Happiness Report.” Consider yourself lucky If you’re sitting in a Copenhagen cafe and sipping a latte, enjoying a Danish.  Denmark was ranked as No.1 in the Happiness Index.  The Danish people avoid conflict; they did not take sides during World War II, they value the environment and they help each other out.  Makes you want to throw them all into the Atlantic.

2013 United Nations "World Happiness Report"

2013 United Nations “World Happiness Report”

But if they’re No. 1, what about the rest of us?

First off, we must define “Happiness.”  I’m not a social psychologist, but the United Nations report attempted to evaluate people’s happiness on two levels: 1.  Emotion: “Were you happy yesterday?”  2.  Evaluation: “Are you happy with your life as a whole?”

Researchers recognize that Happiness has “changed” over time.  In the days of the Greek philosophers it had more to do with a person’s moral character and whether that person had “purpose,” “passion,” and “thrived.”  Since 1800, Happiness has shifted and has more to do with material conditions: income, money, and consumption.

I think it was billionaire Donald Trump who was once told that money can’t buy happiness.  His response?  “You just don’t know where to shop.”

So the United Nations went out and interviewed thousands in each of the 156 countries in the report.  People were asked if they felt good today and how they felt about their lives 5 years down the road.  Some “thrived,” some “struggled” and some “suffered” – all based on answers to questions on health, income, education, social support.

Jews in Israel complain, bitch & moan, kvetch.  So it’s a surprise that Israel came in at…number 11.happy face

Other than Northern European countries, Israel came out ahead of Mexico (16), USA (17), England (22), France (25), Germany (26), Spain (38), Italy (45), Russia (68), China (93), India (111).

So, why are Israelis happy?

One measure was longevity.  Israelis live longer.  Healthcare is decent and affordable.  Standard of living was another.  Although home prices are skyrocketing, homeownership is high.  But the number 1 contributor to happiness, according to the UN report, is “social support.”

The social support, the connectedness, are engrained in the Jewish and Israeli DNA.  They look out for one another.  I assume it has to do with history.  To survive, they always had to stick together.

Israelis complain, but hey, at least they complain together.

I teach English in Nazareth and in Zefat.  During a night class, the school security guard comes into class.  “Your car lights are fading off,” he says.  “You’re battery’s dead.”  The students immediately offer help and suggestions.  One woman student gets on her cell phone.  She’s calling her husband and from the tone of her voice it doesn’t appear he has a choice.  Five minutes later, in the parking lot, the student’s husband jump starts my car, and before long, he tells me his life’s story and plans.

In onion field with my dog Max

In onion field with my dog Max

Israelis connect with ease at home and overseas. I’m at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.  There’s a map of pre-war Europe on the wall.  A man next to me points at Germany.  Within minutes, we strike up a conversation, debate.  We’re no longer in a foreign land but rather at a street corner in Israel.

Don’t get me wrong.  All this “togetherness” has its price.  There are times that you do want some privacy, a chance to breathe, a moment without someone offering opinions, asked for or not.  You might be a renowned doctor and an Israeli plumber will tell you how to perform by-pass surgery.  You might be a great criminal lawyer, but an Israeli law student will tell you how to defend your client.

Israelis know better.

But at the end of the day, it’s familiar, like an old sweater.

I’m sitting at a cafe in Galilee, Israel.  I’m sipping Turkish coffee (77) and munching on a bar of Swiss chocolate (3).  Can’t be all bad.

Are you happy?


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at

or at



10 Responses to “Are you happier than an Israeli?”

  1. Katherine April 12, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    I think I remember you moved to Israel because of the social connection. I’ve always felt in America we are too formal about entertaining versus making spur of the moment connections or just dropping by. Does Israel do more of the casual entertaining? Don’t knock on our door because we are too busy multitasking in our pajamas.

    • Maurice Labi April 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

      Pajamas? No problem. The Israelis will come by your house, fluff up your pillows, tuck you in bed.

  2. rachel bar April 12, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    I read the same survey and I agree. However, there was another type of survey where Mexico came in first place, so I’m not sure anymore…

    • Maurice Labi April 12, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

      Rachel, since you know my family history – that would make my two oldest daughters the happiest on earth…

      • rachel bar April 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

        It said Mexico, not Sacramento…

  3. Sandy Galfas April 13, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    I have no idea. Are You?

    • Maurice Labi April 13, 2014 at 5:18 am #

      But just bringing up the question, it appears we’re happy, or at least, we strive. “Better to be an unhappy man than a happy pig” by British philosopher John Mill explores the age-old question. Thanks, Sandy, for following me around Israel and beyond

  4. Mark Bernhard April 13, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    Enjoyed your blog this month. It’s especially timely for Pesach. We’re all happy not to be in Mitzraim, either physically, psychologically or spirtually. Hopefully we won’t find something else to kvetch about either.
    Chag someach.

  5. Adi Harari April 13, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    How can you listen to Mizrahi music and not be happy? Tan na na nam nam tam na na na

  6. WALLY April 24, 2014 at 5:25 am #

    i am almist always hay thats because i am not to bright-thats rhe way ro go

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