Since 2013, 193 UN member states, two observer states and 11 territories have celebrated International Day of Happiness on March 20. Based on a yearly survey, Israel consistently scores as one of the best countries in the world in health and happiness. This year, Israel ranked fifth in healthy longevity and 11th in happiness.
Is Israel’s secret to success found in Bible liturgy and the Hebrew language?
“In spite of, or perhaps because Israel is a war-torn country, Israelis are deeply connected to their families, their friends, their land and God,” explained Roni Segal, an academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, an online Hebrew language and Biblical studies organization, to Breaking Israel News. “Even the Hebrew language reflects our connection to health and happiness.”
A recently published National Geographic Travel article noted that Israelis have pioneered a lifestyle that cultivates feelings of fulfillment and promotes health and wellness. Additionally, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that the majority of Israelis (73.5%) describe their personal situation as good and believe that Israel is a good place to live (84%).
Anthropologists have long concluded that language reflects people’s beliefs, culture, expectations, shared values, customs and rituals. For example, Alaskans have many words for snow.
The Hebrew language is replete with words for happiness.
The synonyms for happiness in Hebrew are:
- Geela– גִּלָּה
- Ditza– דִּיצָה
- Chedva– חֶדְוָה
- Tzahala– צַהֲלָה
- Reena– רִנָּה
- Sassone– שָׂשׂוֹן
Even with a history of persecution and exile, maintaining happiness remains ingrained in Jewish culture. The Talmud even states that God’s spirit is found where there is joy and not where there is sadness.
In terms of health, Shoshanna Harrari, a health educator and author of, “Seven Healing Fruits of Israel,” claims that if one only eats the seven foods the Land of Israel is praised for in the Bible, “a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and [date] honey” אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ־זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ-Eretz cheeta, oo-sa-oora, ve-geffen, oo-teyna, ve-reemone, eretz zayit shemen oo-dvash (Deuteronomy 8:8), one would live a full and healthful life.
Additionally, “kosher- כָּשֵׁר” food is not only food that is “fit” to eat but also the word used in modern Hebrew for exercise.
Those who visit Israel quickly note the friendliness of Israelis. It is common in Israeli culture to sit at cafes for hours on end with friends and join family in the traditional Sabbath meals. Perhaps this seize-the-day attitude and atmosphere is ingrained in Jewish DNA as the Bible says, “Choose life” בָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים-bacharta ba-chaim (Deuteronomy 30:19).
“People were created to be social beings,” noted Segal. “Strong relationships are connected to both happiness and health and the Bible clearly states, ‘It is not good for man should be alone’ לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ-lo tov hayote ha-adam l’va-doe (Genesis 2:18).”
Even the way that Israelis greet and say good-bye, shalom-שָׁלוֹם, which translates as peace, reflects happiness and health. Shalom is from the Hebrew root shaleim-שָׁלֵם, complete. A happy and healthy person is someone who feels at peace and whole, both physically and spiritually.
In modern Hebrew, when asking how someone is doing, one asks, “Ma shlomcha? מַה שְּׁלוֹמְךָ?” literally, “How complete are you?”
All these Biblical and Hebrew-language factors are actually included in the National Geographic Travel report: Israelis eat a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet replete in olive oil and other plant-based foods, have strong ties with family and friends, and proud cultural values.
To learn more about Biblical Hebrew, please click here.
Written in coordination with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies.