September 18, 2003

The Paradox of Terror

Three different countries were recently polled, and respondents were asked whether or not they were satisfied with their lives. The three countries were Israel, the United States, and Canada.

Now. Ask yourself which of these three countries is probably the happiest, and which is the most distraught.

I would have guessed Canadians would be happiest, followed by Americans, and then Israelis. And I would have gotten it exactly backward.

In Israel 83 percent say they are happy.

In the United States 64 percent say they are happy.

In Canada only 45 percent say they are happy.

These three polls were administered by different people using different methodologies. Yet that doesn't change the fact that on first glance it appears that terrorism indirectly makes people feel better. Perhaps that's a classic case of the cause-correlation fallacy. But maybe there's something to it.

Take a look at this article in the Toronto Star where the polls are reported.

"When I first heard it, I was amazed they [Israelis] could feel this way with everything that's been going on. But upon reflection, I believe it," said Tel Aviv University anthropologist Moshe Shokeid.

"I think the biggest reason for it is Israel's sense of communitas that feeling that no matter what, you are never alone. We are in this together.

"North Americans had a brief taste of it during the recent blackout. On one hand, there's a disaster happening. But on the other hand, everybody is overcome with an incredible feeling of togetherness," Shokeid said.

"This is how Israelis feel. We feel it every day ... that we are acutely together in an incredibly difficult situation."

Terror leads to contentment and happiness? Perhaps that's utterly bogus. But maybe it isn't. A crisis does bring people together, and that does make people feel better. There are probably a lot more lonely and isolated people in Canada than in Israel.

If this from-the-hip analysis is correct, terrorism completely and utterly fails.

UPDATE: American Digest has an interesting story to go along with this.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 18, 2003 11:49 PM

I am not the least bit surprised. I have been preaching this sermon for years.
Terrorism per se does not make people feel better. Any shared hardship does. The "us versus them" game is probably the most satisfying of all.
During Gulf War 1 I read that the Air Force had the best living conditions of all servicmen over there yet complained the most about their living conditions. The Marines had the worst living conditions yet complained the least.
Israelis have a shared sense of purpose...survival as a nation and a people. That is pretty motivating.
Americans generally have some but much less of this,(it tends to come and go in spurts,our short attention span I suppose)
Canadians virtually no sense of national purpose, or bonding due to external threat. You can only get so pumped up about hockey.
There is no lasting satisfaction in guaranteed comfort. Humans just ain't wired that way. But funny how political types all promise exactly that, and people still sign up for it. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.
I have been retired from the Marines for 14 months and being back living among y'all on a daily basis rather than being an uplifting experience, (free at last! free at last!)has been been a very empty, meaningless, drone of days.
My compliments 46 years on this planet I have never written a letter to the editor, or called a radio talk show. Until now.
I never could see the point of adding to the din of comments whether sublime or moronic, which folks will forget in 10 minutes anyway.

Posted by: David J. Hennessy at September 19, 2003 04:48 AM

Wow, David, welcome home. It's no wonder that most soldier survivors of any combat usually remember that feeling of closeness, of togetherness; their war memories their sharpest for the rest of their lives.

Note too that nuns, and monks, often with extremely limited material possessions, are on average happier than people with more goods. The rich Swiss are suicide-prone.

Churches and church going once provided some of these feelings of solidarity, but less so today.

As a libertarian, I'm certain the best gov't programs treat folk as individuals, allowing them the freedom to be different along with the responsibility to take care of themselves. But individual happiness pales into insignificance as compared to happy togetherness. The social side of being human. (I LIKE that Michael is human, first.) (No Turtles song here, just in my head.)

If applied to the anti-war protests, both 60-70s and 90s, I'm sure a lot of the folks were happy in their protests. Happy, Together. Togetherness leads to happiness. I wonder if that doesn't influence the Left's inability to accept that toppling Saddam was good?

Posted by: Tom Grey at September 19, 2003 05:44 AM

WOW, I'm going to get flamed for this.

It might have to do with religion, too. Terrorism is what's in the news. But religion is I think a deeper part of daily life.

I've personally found that much of 'life satisfaction' has more to do with your expectations for life than the material comforts or sense of security you are provided. The people with high expectations have a harder time loving the life they have, even when that's a very good life.

Community makes a huge difference. But I think it's also part of a bigger cultural package. Religion does a good job setting of expectations for life.

I remember a recording by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, talking about travelling in India. In the midst of all the suffering and poverty and disease and starvation, all this old man that Jack was speaking to could talk about was religion. He said that he felt that the Maslow pyramid was wrong; that spiritual needs should be the most basic need.

While both Israel and America have huge secular contingents, religion is always there, around the corner, and recognized as a part of daily life. Even if you aren't religious (ie a church going, daily believer), religion is still there, in the people around you, and in many of the unstated premises you have about life.

Taken that way, I'd say that 40 / 60 / 80 is about what I'd conjecture the role of religion in public life to be in Canada, the US and Israel, respectively. And no, this isn't in any way scientifically valid... just my guy feeling.

Posted by: Rob at September 19, 2003 07:14 AM

Ahem... Rob?

You know, I live here in America and while there is a religion always around every corner, it is not my religion that is always around every corner. You might think it's a little thing, but it bothers me to no end that so many Americans equate religion specifically with Christianity. The Christianity around every corner does more to isolate many of us than to draw us together.

As for Israel... it is the most secular state in the Middle East. Ask the same question in one of the theocracies and I wonder if you would recieve the same answer.

Posted by: grs at September 19, 2003 07:32 AM

Beware folks. As with any poll, one knows nothing without knowing the questions asked.

Posted by: Stephen at September 19, 2003 07:51 AM

Warnings about polls are very wise.

However, could the effect Michael Totten describes have anything to do with the polls indicating that a huge majority of Americans was "satisfied with the way the country was was heading" immediately after 9/11, and that that number has now crept much lower (I don't remember exactly, but it's close to close to 50/50 now.)

I remember thinking that it was paradoxical that people were happy with how the country was headed when anthrax was still in the mail and we thought the Golden Gate Bridge might be destroyed any day now.

I think people may tend to answer polls in a manner that intentionally doesn't exactly answer the question being asked, but instead deals with a related subtext.

For example, after 9/11, Bush's approval rating shot up, as expected. The well-known "rally around the flag" effect is not people saying "OK, we now approve of everything Bush has done up until now", but is instead people saying "We're going to stand by our leaders so they have a free hand to respond to this crisis and defeat our enemies, and don't you forget it! Go, Bush, go!"

Another example is the famous poll indicating that a large majority of Americans believe Iraq had a hand in 9/11. Some of this may be people who actually believe that, but some of it may be Americans expressing their displeasure with the whole Arab world with regards to 9/11. That is, if the question was "Did Egypt have a hand in 9/11", a lot of people might have answered "Yes" just to express anger at another nation with a culture that also celebrates terrorism.

Posted by: Mike Smith at September 19, 2003 08:12 AM

This poll shouldn't be too surprising. One of the basic elements of happiness is having a sense of purpose in life.

Religion is a source of purpose for many people, but certainly many other sources exist.

On a trend-spotting note, I think "happiness" is something we'll be hearing about a lot more. I've recently seen a fair number of books, studies, discussions, etc. on happiness -- our scientific understanding of unhappiness and depression far exceeds our understanding of happiness. That imbalance deserves correction.

I just picked up "The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It" by David Niven -- unusual for a guy like me who wouldn't be caught dead in the Self-Help Section. It's a light and fluffy book, but interesting.

Posted by: Oberon at September 19, 2003 08:47 AM


A few factors: Israel is smaller and denser than Vancouver Island, Canada is a vast and sparsely populated place.

Canada has far more leftists, whose existence depends upon finding things to complain about which divide people, rather than bring them together.

Israel has sunshine year round, Canada can be very grey and dark.

Finally, Israel probably feels like they're all part of the same team, yes, not only becasue of terror, but because they are the heirs of the returning diaspora. They see how the world is so hypocritical and judgmental towards, them and that they are an island of freedom in a tyrannical sea.

Posted by: bleeding heart conservative at September 19, 2003 08:58 AM

Canada has far more leftists, whose existence depends upon finding things to complain about which divide people, rather than bring them together.

Which, thankfully, provides conservatives themselves something to complain endlessly about. Otherwise they'd spend all their time uniting, not dividing.

Posted by: Christopher Luebcke at September 19, 2003 09:01 AM

Rob: WOW, I'm going to get flamed for this.

It might have to do with religion, too.

I won't flame you, but I will point out that there are many more secularists/atheists in Israel than in the United States.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 19, 2003 09:20 AM

We can sit on the rocks of the wave breaker on the far side of the pier in the ancient Jaffa Port, near Andromeda's Rock, and watch the sun setting into the sea. How can we not be happy?

Posted by: Imshin J, Israel at September 19, 2003 10:27 AM

I love Imshin, but I don't think that's the reason at all. Nowhere on Earth is there more beautiful scenery than Canada and they have come in third on this survey. (And yes I've been to JAffa.)

BTW, there was an article in the NYT magazine a few weeks ago profiling some psychologists who are experts in "happiness." Yes, that's a field. (It would be news to Kafka.) Anyway, it's worth a look. A BMW, no surprise, does not make you happy--at least not for long. Now a Porsche... oh, never mind.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at September 19, 2003 11:33 AM

I think hours of sunshine per year might outweigh all other factors in this case. I would wager (a modest amount) that a similar poll might show that, on average, people in chaotic, mismanaged Iraq are even now happier than in chaotic, mismanaged Russia, and that people in Portugal are generally happier than people in Finland. San Diego and L.A. vs. Portland and Seattle might be a more testable case.

Posted by: Joel at September 19, 2003 11:37 AM

I am an American student who's been living in Israel for a year, and the poll results certainly ring true for me. One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is family. Israelis, even the most atheistic of them, are incredibly close to their families. The general societal/cultural emphasis is much more on family units, by which I mean the extended family (the nuclear family concept doesn't really exist here, people know their cousins here better than most Americans know their parents), and this gives people a natural base of support that Americans and Europeans lack. Obviously, geography plays into this, since Israel is so small and families are much physically closer to eachother than in other countries, but I think it is a cultural emphasis as well. Personally, I prefer it and I think the collapse of the family in industrialized countries is a tragedy.

There is also the fact that, unlike the US or Canada, which are atomized immigrant societies, Israelis share an ancient culture and religion whichg binds them together in a profound way. Add universal military service to this and its no wonder that Israelis essentially consider themselves a big family. Nothing like this exists in the other Western nations, which might go a long way to explaining these poll results.

Posted by: ben at September 19, 2003 11:42 AM

I'll say this. Terrorism may not cause happiness in Israel even indirectly. But it doesn't seem to be making them miserable, either. It would take apocalyptic terrorism (bio or nukes) to do that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 19, 2003 12:09 PM

These three polls were administered by different people using different methodologies.

While I am irritated that this post exists, I am grateful that you did take a moment to acknowledge to those of us with a basic statistical background that your argument has no actual fact behind it. Saved me a lot of time.

Posted by: Kimmitt at September 19, 2003 12:35 PM

Well, there are exceptions to every rule. Kimmitt lives in Hawai'i, but he's miserable. Or at least irritated.

Posted by: Christopher Luebcke at September 19, 2003 12:51 PM


Fine, be irritated. This post is not intended to be an argument. It's me going hmmmmm out loud.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 19, 2003 01:59 PM


I think you managed to find one of that 36%.

Posted by: Roark at September 19, 2003 03:04 PM

My bet is that people who live with "death on their shoulder" know what is really important in life. I think this explains our own reaction here in the U.S. two years ago.

Posted by: GariLynn at September 19, 2003 04:21 PM

In War is a Force that Gives us Meaning, Chris Hedges talks about the strange effect of feeling like war was "best time of your life." He gives examples of friends who survived Bosnia & other horrors, and his own experience . . . it's an insightful part of that book. Check it out.

Posted by: K at September 19, 2003 04:26 PM

This anonymously posting Canadian isn't surprised by that survey at all. Canadians live in a deteriorating society and, at some level, most of them know it. Welfare states don't just burn up financial capital, they erode the moral capital of a society, and this is happening in Canada. One of the perverse effects of levelling through social engineering is to increase the amount of envy -- envy of other Canadians and of course envy of Americans. Whoever included envy among the deadly sins knew what he was doing.

Posted by: CJ at September 19, 2003 06:21 PM

I think this is too selective a group to draw any comparisons. I'd be interested to see studies like this for India, Pakistan, Sudan, Northern Ireland, etc... other places that have war and terrorism. At least off-handedly, I tend to think of those as pretty unhappy places.

Posted by: Mike Cardwell at September 19, 2003 06:26 PM

The same reason why no people has ever had their will broken when subjected to aerial bombardment.

Posted by: Mr. Davis at September 19, 2003 06:42 PM

Ummm. Mr. Davis? Why were all those Iraqui solders in '92 trying to surrender to the first person they saw not wearing an Iraqui uniform?

But my real point was going to be that it is a consistent principal of history and nature that a frontal assault almost never accomplishes anything but a backlash. Our reaction to 9-11 for instance. The purpose was to make us back down. Didn't work. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Continued nuisence attacks that cost us lives with no return whatsoever might break our resolve, but take a massive cheap shot at us and look out. Not just the US either. That's why Israel is so strong. They may be a secular state, but the have faith in their people and an esprit de corps as a direct RESULT of the numbers of people aligned against them either overtly or passively.

Posted by: Dacotti at September 19, 2003 06:54 PM

Mr. Dacotti,

My reference to people was ambiguous. I meant civilian populations, not combat troops.

Posted by: Mr. Davis at September 19, 2003 07:40 PM

I have heard that during wars, WW II especially, the suicide rate among civilians went down. I understand further that the study looked only at demographic groups which weren't been called up and compared the findings to the same groups prior to the war.
Some suicide, I believe, is the result of being in bad circumstances with no way out. In war, there is always the possibility that the squirrel cage of circumstance may be broken open by bombs, speaking metaphorically. So there's hope.
Some suicide is a matter of feeling useless and unloved. But the necessity for everybody to do something and the regard that even the slightest effort will garner from others may ameliorate that.
I'd like to see the suicide rates in England 1945-1947, say, among the groups not called up, compared to the war years.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at September 19, 2003 08:05 PM

As a psychologist it makes perfect sense to me for two reasons.

First, being connected is a very important thing, maybe the most important thing there is, allowing for individual differences, of course. As one of my clients recently put it "Bad boys are better than no boys." Being hunkered down in the bomb shelter near the border with Lebanon, and feeling like you're part of something, is probably a lot better than watching TV in Stockholm.

Second, there's a depressing effect of living in a more socialist type of place like Canada. Everything is based on the denial of personal responsibility. Blame the rich guys if you forgot to save for retirement. The spillover into your personal life can be pretty deadly. Try getting over your depression or anxiety or marital strife by blaming someone else. It doesn't work. Progress in any system of psychotherapy is dependent on acceptance of personal responsibility. It must be harder to fix your problems when all around there is support for the idea of the government taking care of everything.

Posted by: David Bricker at September 19, 2003 08:06 PM

"No people has ever had their will broken when subjected to aerial bombardment" ... what about Japan in 1945?

Posted by: Curtis LeMayberry at September 19, 2003 08:41 PM


It depends, I suppose on how tolerant all those different types of Christians around the corner are towards your beliefs. I'm sure it helps if you have a community yourself to shield you from the worst effects of intolerance. My instinct is that there's a lower limit to how big a "community" needs to be, and anything above that probably doesn't make much difference.

As someone who grew up Agnostic among evangelical Baptists, I have a feeling where you're coming from, but I've managed to mellow out about even the Baptists in my old age. Cut them some slack, and no matter your faith, smile when they frown; that makes you a better Christian (in the sense of living up to the Christian ideal, which I've always thought boiled down to "try being nice to other people for a change") than them.

IMHO, God, Gods, and/or Grace notwithstanding, belonging to an active church makes people happier because of the shared sense of community. And it doesn't require getting bombed or blacked out on a regular basis.

Now if only the Agnostics could get it together to open a church, and preach doubt and uncertainty...

Posted by: Mark at September 19, 2003 08:55 PM

I think there may be something to this. Certainly the happier Canadians I know are more likely to be the ones living in small rural communities (with fewer consumer goods and more affected by natural disasters). Feeling an integral part of a community is a gift.

Posted by: angua at September 19, 2003 09:03 PM

Sorry, Curt. The Japanese were perfectly willing to continue the war in 1945. It was only the personal plea of the Emperor that made the surrender possible. And even then, there was a plot to assasinate him before the speech as I recall.

Bombing people into submission does not work, whether from an airplane or a bus.

Posted by: Mr. Davis at September 19, 2003 10:01 PM
From Curtis LeMayBerry:
"No people has ever had their will broken when subjected to aerial bombardment" ... what about Japan in 1945?

No, they were training with bamboo spears to repel the USMC and US Army. Even after Nagasaki was bombed, the Japanese cabinet was split 50-50 on surrender or defiance, and the people just assumed they would fight to the end. The surrender was decided by the emperor, and his announcement shocked the nation. Dave Lowry (I can't remember the article/book right now) has written about a Japanese high school class that beat their teacher to death when he announced the surrender -- they thought he had turned traitor.

The people were not broken, even by the destruction of almost all of their industrial cities, the incineration of Tokyo, and two atomic bombs.

Now if only the Agnostics could get it together to open a church, and preach doubt and uncertainty...

I think it's called the New York Times.

Posted by: tom beta 2 at September 19, 2003 10:09 PM

I think the book is Downfall: The End Of The Imperial Japanese Empire, by Richard B. Frank.

Posted by: Sparkey at September 19, 2003 10:40 PM

We’re bringing in socialism here – remember that Israel is essentially a socialist country that patterns its economy and society like Europe’s rather than the US. So, I think that argument fails somewhat.

I’m Canadian and I live in the US now. I will concur with CJ’s comments entirely. I think Canadian society is deteriorating and pretty rapidly and it just isn’t the same country it was ten years ago – heck, even five years ago. Each successive visit gets all the more painful.

It’s ironic how their moral capacity has eroded substantially, yet Canadians are all the more convinced of their “moral superiority”, especially compared to Americans. Don’t like the direction that country’s going.

Posted by: LMJ at September 20, 2003 12:12 AM

I don't think Israelis are happy because of socialism. In fact, the socialist system has been fast eroding in Israel, while in most European countries, as well as Canada and New Zealand, it is getting stronger.

Look at the last few elections, left-leaning parties are getting less, the Arab, conservative and almost-libertarian (i.e. Shinui) is gaining ground. Welfare state spending have been eroding too, along with other stuff like subsidies in most cases, etc.

Posted by: rajan r at September 20, 2003 02:25 AM

Rob, 51% Israelis are secular. 53% of them don't even believe in God, most of them hardly observe the Shabbat, or kosher, or nifty things like that. I probably know more about the Jewish faith than most Israelis. 34% of the population are traditionallist, they probably keep the halacha as much as they can, but only when it isn't a inconvinience. Only 9% are really religious Jews, and an additional 6% are hardcore.

Posted by: rajan r at September 20, 2003 02:32 AM

I asked my husband why he thought Israelis were happy and he said because of the Hevr'e. The Hevr'e is the gang, the network of friends. There's always someone to sit and complain with about how awful everything is. People don't need much, he said. A dry piece of bread in a prison cell is just fine if you're sharing it with a good friend.

Posted by: Imshin, Israel at September 20, 2003 03:27 AM


Your stats are correct, but you're wrong that Israelis are ignorant of Jewish tradition. They have to take mandatory classes in Bible and Jewish history in elementary and high school, and then pass a test in those subjects to enter college. In my experience, secular Israelis know a great deal more about Judaism than secular Jews from other countries.

Posted by: ben at September 20, 2003 05:27 AM

Well I could go on and on about this, but I will try and keep it brief; I just happen to have a few resources to pull on for this.

First of all, personally, after having visited Israel in June, I now love my country a million times more. Not that I didn't love Israel and think it was gorgeous, but I came back appreciating what I have here.

Second, a year ago next week my best friend moved to Israel from Canada. Though born in Israel, she grew up in Canada, and the adjustment to Israeli life has been rough, to say the least. A year later she is coping well, but I think given the chance she would come back in a heartbeat. Though she loves her family and the community of Israel very much, there is something to be said for a country where, at the very least, it's has more opportunities economically. and of course there are a million other reasons... Circumstances now have her tied down there, and so she is trying to make the best of her new home. But the fact of the matter is.....20 years in Canada means that Israel will constantly be compared, in her mind.

Lastly, last year I befriended and Israeli who had been in Canada a year. Though she loved Canada, she was troubled by how far she was from her family. Eventually she decided to move to England to be closer to her family. Before moving there she went back to Israel for 6 weeks to see her family. Her conclusion? She said she would never live there again. I found this so sad, as she is a sabra through and through. She said as much as she loves the people and country, she said the country makes it impossible to follow her dreams. She said when she and her husband were there they could never get far enough ahead to ever own a home of their own, and she did not want to send her two young sons to the army. So they have gone to England to find work and happiness. Interestingly, after a two hour phone talk the other day they are wondering if perhaps they should have stayed in Canada....they now realize how happy they were here.

So I guess in the end, it's a matter of perspective. I love Canada and am damn proud to be here. And I don't know a lot of other here who wouldn't say the same....

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 20, 2003 06:07 AM

As someone that served in the Army (USMA)and has been to's all about shared hardship. Once a Marine always a Marine. It's so simple... why is it so hard for people to understand?

I was in the last class to go through the full year plebe system and it made us a tight group... something that lacked in the classes that followed us...

Posted by: chris at September 20, 2003 06:12 AM

Wrong diagnosis. People in Israel and the U.S. aren't happier than Canadians because of terrorism. That's nuts! They're happier because they have their lives in the their own hands. They aren't helpless victims who need a nanny state government to guide their every step.

Socialism reduces everybody and everything to mediocrity. Can't fall through the safety net and can't rise above it either.

Posted by: erp at September 20, 2003 06:38 AM

I have heard reports of national "happiness" studies from time to time over the years. I recall that Ireland usually ranks at or near the top. Sweden never does well. Like Canada, both are nations with minimal sunshine.

A culture's "attitude," reflecting a prevalent philosophy, is pertinent to the survey. A culture where people consciously decide to be happy (no matter what is thrown at you) will answer the survey accordingly. More than Swedes or Canadians, the Irish and Israelis probably have an attitude that would cause them to anwer "yes" when being surveyed whether or not they are "happy." The Irish and Israelis have cultures with a long history of coping with, surviving, and overcoming great adversity. I would bet that self-identified Irish and Jewish Americans would survey as being happier than your average American. Centuries of religious practice helped to shape that attitude, even among those who are now secular. Other practices, such as a close relationship with family and friends are important, too. Hopefully, these cultures will maintain an attitude that reflects a faith in their ability to shape a happy future.

Posted by: Chris at September 20, 2003 07:14 AM

Well, another reason for this might be that the Israelis who live in Israel do so because they are totally committed to their cause. And one is never happier than when accomplishing something they firmly believe in. I suspect many of the Israelis who are terrified for their lives/severely unhappy have left the country if it was at all possible for them to do so. Mortal danger is probably enough to make you immigrate. A Canadian living in Calgary may be pissed that 55% of his salary goes to social programs (and trying to live up to the Kyoto accords), but that is probably not enough to make him pack up and leave. If you are in constant fear for your life, you might take the first opportunity available to head somewhere else.

So, I guess I am making the argument that Israeli society has "pre-selected" people that can thrive and survive under those kinds of stressful circumstances.

Or, then again, I may be completely wrong. But that's OK, I can deal with that.

Posted by: Neal Mauldin at September 20, 2003 07:17 AM

Rebecca, according to the poll, 17% of Israelis are not happy or satisfied with their life in Israel. Your Israeli friend, who decided to leave in pursuit of her personal goals, is obviously one of them. I think this discussion is more about why the other 83% ARE happy.

May I say that my parents were also immigrants. It took them many many years to become adjusted and acclimatised to life here. I don't think they were very happy after being here for only a year. Or after five years. Sadly, this is probably the fate of many immigrants, in any country. It takes time.

Thirty years on my parents were happy and satisfied with their lives here. This was their home. In this world of instant rice and instant pudding and fast food, we expect happinness to be instant as well and are surprised when it isn't.

Posted by: Imshin, Israel at September 20, 2003 07:20 AM

Imshin, I'm sure you read Rinat's blog where this poll has also been addressed, and she agrees that however this information is gathered is certainly less than scientific.
As for my friend who moved there, yes, I understand she has a rough road ahead of her. But what about my friend who lived all her life there and had to leave in order to make the life for herself that she wanted? I find it terribly sad that she had to leave as she obviously loves Israel a great deal, but the situation, such as it is, doesn't allow for the growth and prosperity that so many other countries do. She was not content to "just get by" and live in extreme debt as so many other Israelis do.

My friend who moved to Israel last year was shocked to find that everyone from taxi drivers to old friends asked her why on earth she would move from Canada to Israel. One doctor she was seeing when sick even said to her "If I had a Canadian passport, I wouldn't be here".

The fact of the matter is, we're all going to see these polls as we want to. Those who are skeptical won't believe them, and those who wish to stay positive will. It's all a matter of perspective.
I just find it a tad insulting when it is assumed I love my country because of the fast food and instant pudding when for me it's about so much more. I have a community here, as anyone could if they reached out. I prefer living outside the big cities, and grew up around farms and woodlands most of my life. Canada is a very very large country, and I have travelled it from end to the other. I love it for it's grand beauty, diversity, and openness. And I love it for the amazing and endless opportunities and possibilites.
As with anyone and their homeland, I love my country. The end. And I am happy here.

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 20, 2003 10:23 AM

Rebecca, I was using instant pudding metaphorically. We have instant pudding too. Very useful, although not particularly tasty. No offense intended.

I still fail to see what this has to do with why Israelis are happy.

I know a lot of people who complain all the time and express a wish to leave. Most of them don't. Do they belong to the 83% or the 17%? I've no idea.

I also know quite a lot of Israelis who have actually come back to live in Israel in recent years despite all odds, including two of my oldest and dearest friends. One has cancer and had much to say in favor of the Israeli national health service compared to the Canadian.

Personally, I'm very happy and contented with my life, but, to be very frank, I still think people coming to live in Israel are, well, very brave. Not because it's dangerous, but because life is hard and it's even harder for a newcomer.

I DO have a foreign passport, by the way, an EU passport which gives me quite a choice of where to live should I choose to leave. Very useful when traveling to Europe. Can I say I have never considered making use of the passport for relocation purposes? No, I can't. It HAS crossed my mind in the darkest of times. But here I am.

Posted by: Imshin, Israel at September 20, 2003 12:15 PM

My friend Christopher opened my notebook to a page at random and wrote in a beautiful hand: "If a man is unhappy, it's his own fault."
That scrawl has been a touchstone for me ever since.
Kinda Zen, doncha think?

Posted by: James Priestley at September 20, 2003 01:47 PM

The first law of statistics: Correlation does not imply causation.


Posted by: Dan at September 20, 2003 02:23 PM

Moderns (and Post-Moderns) forget what it means to be happy. Briefly, Aristotle would tell us that to be happy is to live a good life, the measure of which is self-actualization, and failing that, the perception of self-actualization.

Life in the United States, I have found, is one long struggle for self-actualization, more so than in other countries I have lived in. Nothing is settled, there are no rigid class strucures to defy/propigate, only that which you make for yourselves. I think that is because of the abundance of opportunity, and that so much of navigating and coping with American life is left up to the individual, and is not determined so fixedly as one might find in a more exapnsive, welfare state. One really does hold one's future in one's hands -- there is no deeply satisfying pleasure at being the master of your destiny.

Canada, on the other hand, is sufficiently "pink" so that there, it is not the case that the "sky's the limit", but instead, the state "limits the sky". If I had to wait three months for an organ transplant, you can be sure that I would be unhappy and unfulifilled, from the very impotence foisted upon me "for my own good". It's the same reason why there is such persistent alcoholism amongst opressed peoples -- Soviets, Reservation-bound Native Americans, etc. -- they are not in control, and have no hope because of the arbitrary nature of intstitutional power. Demoralizing does not even begin to express the effect the state (or any authority for that matter) has on one when it cheats us out of our potential.

Well, then, you ask, what about Israel? How much can one "self-actualize" in an area of low-intensity conflict (yes, I know, it's like collateral damage, an abstract term that obscures the actual human suffering, etc.)? I think that answer lies in the Jewish identity. I'm not Jewish, so bear with me as I try and spell out my impression of this phenomenon. It strikes me that so much of what it means to be Jew resides in one's identity, ethnicity, membership, alligience to the tribe (oka, Tribes). After the untold and unmatched suffering during Masada, Diaspora, Spanish Inquisition, Holocaust, the establishment and subsequent brillaint and successful defense of the Jewish State, and the feeling of being free to be one's self, amongst peers, must be nothing less than intoxicating. To be Jewish and live in Israel is to banish self-loathing, self-doubt, alienation, etc, and to embark on a shared project for self, family, and tribe. To self-actualize in a shared project based on a mutual identity seems to me, to be an incredibly powerful force to inform happiness in a person.

Posted by: Andrew at September 20, 2003 03:08 PM

After my last post I started to contemplate this whole debate, and how I'm not even sure just what we're even debating. It's oddly starting to sound like we're all defending our countries and our choice to live there, and I think that it misses the whole point.

In the end, we have all made our choices. Whether we are happy with them or not, we can always make new choices and change that. In some cases, only time will tell.
While I myself have considered moving to Israel I don't feel I'm in a position to do that now or even in the immediate future. I certainly commend those who do move there, as I am fully aware of how rough it will be. I have enjoyed your blog for many many many months now, Imshin, and the reason I started reading it in the first place was to get an idea of day to day life there so I could better understand my friends new life and environment. As a side note, I have always enjoyed your blog, and have recommended it to others. Your insight has helped me immensely.

Anyway, in the end, as I said before, people will take what they want from the survey. If Israelis are happy, then more power to you. I am glad to hear it, I certainly want that for you and the others.

As for me, I love Canada and couldn't imagine being happier elsewhere. But I'm gonna keep travelling to look around just in case. wink

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 21, 2003 01:31 PM

Nevermind Imshin, I see now that you just had to make mention of me specifically on your blog.
Guess I should have checked there first before posting on here.
The only thing I enjoy more than being misunderstood is being misunderstood and then have someone post about me to draw attention so that more people can perhaps misunderstand me.

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 21, 2003 01:46 PM

Andrew, perhaps...

"...that, I can tell you in one word..."


      -The Shalom Alaikum Stories

Posted by: Stephen at September 21, 2003 07:31 PM

This thread is probably dead by now, but I just wanted to tie in to the early comments on it, from the gentleman who was an ex-marine and form a few others.

The major difference between the three countries is the degree of having a sense of a national mission, or an ideology upon which the country is founded.

As the article Michael pointed to stated, Israel is founded on the "secular religion" of Zionism, which transcends whether or not the majority of people there are actively religious. Merely by living there, one is making a statement that there should be a Jewish homeland and that it should be defended, though of course there is vast disagreement within these parameters. This shared sense of purpose probably plays a large part in creating happiness.

In my own country there is huge disagreement over the idea of a shared national mission, and it is certainly eroding, but I believe there is still a majority in the United States who believe our country "stands for something". It starts from before the existence of the United States themselves with the idea of "a shining city on a hill". It then moves on through the principles of John Locke and others which are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and then with the Constitution the experiement of creating the first ever sovereigh state based on these democratic principles.
Canada, like Sweden, is a country with a huge welfare state and no sense of shared national mission that I can discern. This is why people in those countries aren't as happy.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 22, 2003 07:36 AM

Well if having a national mission means going to another country and "liberating it" and making a huge mess and then begging other countries to help fix it....gosh, I you're right I guess Canada doesn't have a mission or something to stand for. That MUST be why we're so unhappy. lol
Thanks but no thanks....I will take being a Canadian over an American any day.
In fact, in a recent discussion with a friend I said that if someone came to me (in a hypothetical scenario) and said, you can no longer live in Canada, where would I choose to live? And I said Israel. I would rather live in Israel than the States despite it being so similar to my own country and culture, for that same reason of what the States "stands for".
In fact, I still heavily consider moving to Israel one day...just last night when speaking with a close friend I was discussing the drive I have to read, learn, explore, and see Israel. My trip in June has only fuelled my interest and I can't wait to go back.
But I digress, I just found this statement: "Canada, like Sweden, is a country with a huge welfare state and no sense of shared national mission that I can discern. This is why people in those countries aren't as happy." so completely amusing I had to say something.

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 25, 2003 07:11 AM

I think this article in Ha'aretz does an excellent job of debating the results, one of the key points being that there is a difference between personal satisfaction and satisfaction with the country and it's situation. I think that perhaps, is the point we are all missing. How satisfied we are doesn't necessarily depend on where we live, folks, it comes from within.

"In other words, the question appears to be meaningless. Indeed, a closer examination of the answers to other questions reveals how much we tend to conceal our true situation. When we asked our respondents, "Do you feel that most of the people in your immediate surroundings are generally satisfied or dissatisfied with their lives?", 40 percent answered that the people around them are not satisfied with life. What's more, while 36 percent responded that they are "very satisfied" with their own lives, only 7 percent said their friends are "very satisfied with their lives."

"Social desirability drives us crazy," says Fuchs. "We say that we are happy regardless of our true situation because that is what we are expected to say. The moment we are asked about our friends, however, we feel freer to tell the truth. After all, it is unreasonable that everyone says of himself that he is very satisfied, but that those around him are less satisfied."

Posted by: Rebecca, Toronto, Canada at September 25, 2003 09:13 AM

Interesting post/comments. I'm not sure too much can be made of it however. I've always thought it interesting how different individuals would answer questions like 'how happy are you' in ways that don't seem to fit the ways they indirectly express their happiness (or lack thereof) in everyday conversation.

Keith Johnson

Posted by: Keith Johnson at September 29, 2003 06:07 AM


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