Israelis – according to international surveys – are the 11th-most-happy population, ahead of the US and many other advanced and richer countries. And there is a correlation between not being alone and feelings of happiness.
At social gatherings in Israel, complaining about the government, taxes, the price of gasoline, the “situation,” the quality of TV broadcasts, the refrigerator repairman and anything else is a national pastime. So, how can this happiness be explained?
Dr. Eyal Doron, head of the psychology and humanities division at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and an expert in creative thinking has just held a 10-day experiment about happiness. Taking advantage of the Science and Technology Ministry’s annual Night of Scientists event – in which residents are invited to institutions of higher learning around the country to meet researchers – he invited people to answer questions about their moods and feelings on the ministry’s website.
Although the 700 people who participated did not constitute a representative sample, Doron said it was large enough to reach conclusions.
Being married, well-educated and of pension age produced the highest happiness scores among participants. Even octogenarians are among the happiest people and expect their joy to grow.
The results showed that, as a rule, Israelis are happy: The average score of the happiness index developed in the experiment was 7.3 out of 10. “This is definitely a satisfying grade, but there is still even more to strive for,” said Doron.
In analyzing the answers to questions given on the ministry website, he found an interesting connection between Israelis’ sense of personal control over their lives and their level of happiness. The more they feel that the events in their lives are the result of their choices and actions, the more likely Israelis are likely to be happy.
“One of the means to improve our level of happiness is our ability to improve the sense of control over what is happening in our lives. Of course, there are events that are out of our control in every sense, but there are also events that we influence and are not always aware of or give ourselves credit,” explained Doron. “In this case, it can be assumed that if our awareness of this fact increases, it could lead to an even-greater improvement in our level of happiness.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis commented with a smile: “I have always said that Israel is the best place in the world to live. On the eve of the Jewish New Year of 5779, the results of the experiment show that most of the citizens of Israel agree.” The family unit in this small country – where relatives live only a few hours’ drive away from each other at the maximum but usually closer – is very strong, so this surely contributes to happiness, Akunis said.
The experiment clearly showed that married couples are much happier than singles, the separated and the divorced. “Many studies in the Western world strongly suggest that married people are happier, but they do not deal with the relationship between the number of children one has and the level of happiness. It turns out that in Israel, married people are happier than everyone else, and the more children one has, the happier you are.
“It is important to remember the difference between “happiness” and “pleasure,” said Doron. “Our experiment puts emphasis on questions about happiness in a deeper, more meaningful sense – one that is related to evaluating our lives in a comprehensive way and less to our daily enjoyment level. One can get pleasure from buying a new piece of jewelry or a new car, but that does not necessarily create happiness.
Against this background, the results are not surprising, and there is no doubt that children who may sometimes reduce our daily enjoyment certainly give us a deep meaning to life.”
The results also showed a link between education and happiness: It turns out that the higher our level of education, the happier we are.
The experiment also examined the known relationship between helping others and an expected increase in our happiness level. In Israel, those who volunteer and help others are happier. One of the fascinating questions was whether volunteering helps us only when we really intend to help others or if we volunteer only to get some personal benefit from it. According to Doron, it seems that volunteering, whatever the reason behind it, will definitely help us.
Many studies, including this one, have found that the elderly are happier than young people. “If happiness is a cumulative meaning, it is possible to understand why an older person has more meaning in his life than a young person. They have many accomplishment and family around them, and they can look back with satisfaction.
The happiness experiment puts Israelis in an excellent position relative to Americans and Europeans, Doron concluded. “It is interesting that Israelis do not stop wailing all the way to happiness. In this respect, it is possible that the complaints are only proof of the level of connection, belonging and emotional connection, and with a strong and familial affiliation, one can begin to understand why we are ranked 11th in the World Happiness Index.”
The free events at universities and research institutes around Israel probably also made participants, including families, very happy. Activities included eye-to-eye meetings with scientists, activities for children, laboratory tours, lectures, practical experiences, performances, scientific demonstrations and more.