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A Recipe for Happiness

May 18, 2016

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor

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KFAR SABA, ISRAEL - JULY 19: Three unidentified Israel Scouts members aged 11-12 happy and excited upon leaving for summer camp on July 19, 2013 in Kfar Saba, Israel.


What could be worse than finding out that you somehow missed a holiday? Gone is your opportunity to sleep in, have a barbecue or spend a leisurely day with friends. But that’s what has been happening to most of us since 2012 when the 193 members of the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to set March 20th aside as World Happiness Day. The new day to celebrate was acknowledged for the first time in 2013 by Ndaba Mandela, son of Nelson Mandela, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who in a joint press conference announced to the citizens of the world, “Happiness is your birthright!” Who knew?

The holiday is actually an outgrowth of the UN World Happiness Report which was first commissioned in 2010. Every year since then, 156 nations have been examined to see where they fall on the “happiness scale.” The first report ranked Israel at number 14, and each subsequent study has ranked the tiny nation at number 11. And it doesn’t stop there. The quest for happiness has caught on, and several international organizations, including the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), are now questioning, examining and analyzing the nations of the world to determine which population is the happiest. Israel continues to baffle the international community by ranking higher than many European nations, the United States, even in some cases outranking Australia and New Zealand. In June of 2015, the OECD ranked Israel as the 5th happiest nation on the globe. Those statistics have experts shaking their heads in disbelief.

The History of Happiness

Happiness is a subject that has been the focus of philosophers, prophets and poets for millennia. The psalmist mentions happiness from time to time, notably in Psalms 33 and 144, making it clear that it is the connection between mankind and the God of Israel that brings happiness. Aristotle spent a good deal of time on the subject as well, determining that happiness is not a goal or a necessity for life as seen today, but rather the result of a life lived with integrity and virtue. Happiness was viewed as a by-product of goodness. But today, it has burgeoned into a multi-billion dollar self-help industry and the obsession of millions worldwide.



With the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, happiness became less associated with how men lived their lives and more defined by how they felt. It ceased to mean reliable, upright and good. That definition was replaced with freedom from pain, discomfort or sorrow. In short, it shifted from being good to feeling good. Happiness, now characterized by what you have and how you feel rather than who you are, has come to be synonymous with pleasure.

It follows then that “happy” nations are those whose populations are free from stress and worry, living peaceful though perhaps hedonistic lives, well provided for by social programs and protected by a politically correct environment. No wonder Israel is such an enigma.

How Can This Be…

Israel is the only Western nation to live every day in mortal danger, under constant peril of annihilation by neighbors who may well have the capacity to make good on the threat. With literally thousands of rockets pointed their in direction at all times, from Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, never mind a nuclear Iran, Israelis live and work in an atmosphere of uncertainty that would overwhelm your average citizen of the West. For years, communities in southern Israel lived with a constant barrage of rockets, and today, the entire country deals with stabbings, vehicular homicides and other “random” acts of terror on a daily basis.

Add to that the fact that Israel is often sanctioned by the United Nations for human rights abuses when the likes of Saudi Arabia and Syria aren’t even mentioned; that Israeli products are boycotted globally; and the international media is complicit in an attempt to delegitimize the State, portraying it as the emblem of all that is evil. Israeli leaders spend a good bit of their time in dialogue with the world over whether or not the State has a right to exist while global powers leverage every opportunity to pressure them into “peace” agreements with those who are committed to Israel’s very destruction. None of it sounds like a recipe for happiness.

Happiness Israeli Style

two boys at Wall with shofar

(Rick and Grace/KnelsenKollection.com)

The happiness deck is clearly stacked against them, and yet Israelis live, as one author put it, at the intersection between pleasure and meaning, a nation like all other nations while also a light unto the nations. Although the country faces domestic issues as well as international ones, the vast majority of Israelis rate their life satisfaction as very high.

Is it because the economy is strong and unemployment rates low? Because most Israelis are confident that the Israel Defense Forces can and will protect them when the chips are down? Or because they have one of the longest life expectancies, highest birth rates and lowest suicides rates in the developed world? Maybe it’s because most share a common military experience, or because chutzpah and resilience are just part of the national DNA.



Or maybe Israelis are happy because of the challenges they face, not in spite of them. Infused with a strong belief in God, most Israelis recognize that they are a part of something much larger than themselves. In the face of international demonization, they are constantly called upon to display strength of character, and as their children and grandchildren give their lives in defense of their nation, they still believe in heroism.

Maybe the reason the world can’t understand Israel’s happiness is because they have lost what Israel clings to: a belief in the future, a conviction that to be happy means to be good, that there is a God in whose image mankind is created. He is a God who loves, who keeps His promises, who gives purpose to life. That’s a recipe for happiness.

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