Is This Paradise?

Only 37 percent of Israeli Jews and 25 percent of Israeli Arabs are satisfied with their lives; 35 percent of Jews and 28 percent of Arabs are pleased with their jobs; and about 16 percent of all Israelis - Jews and Arabs - are happy with their income.

Things aren't so great. Only 37 percent of Israeli Jews and 25 percent of Israeli Arabs are satisfied with their lives; 35 percent of Jews and 28 percent of Arabs are pleased with their jobs; and about 16 percent of all Israelis - Jews and Arabs - are happy with their income. These are the findings of the Social Responsibility Index survey conducted by Prof. Arye Rattner and Dr. Meir Yaish of the University of Haifa. The survey is based on 1,200 face-to-face interviews, conducted in the middle of the Second Lebanon War.

The happiness index. The figures Rattner and Yaish published on the low level of satisfaction with life seem unusual. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) publishes its "happiness index" every year. It shows that in 2005, as in 2004, 82 percent of adult Israelis were happy or very happy with their lives. The data produced by Rattner and Yaish confuse things totally. Both research studies are serious projects based on huge samples. According to the CBS poll, not only is the present rosy, so is the future: 51 percent of Israelis think their lives will improve over the coming years; only 12 percent believe their lives will be harder.

Family affairs. The feeling that the Israeli public suffers from manic depression apparently does not boil down to the question of whether people are dissatisfied with their lives. The CBS survey shows that half of all adult Israelis are happy with their financial situation, as opposed to only a third in the Haifa study. Israel's paradise is not limited to income: 81 percent of people are happy with their homes, neighborhood and neighbors; 94 percent are happy with their relationship with their families.

Israel's true colors. The CBS first published the findings of its index in 2003. Haaretz decided to investigate the situation independently, with the help of Prof. Camil Fuchs and the Dialog polling company. In our survey, too, 80 percent of the respondents said they were happy (35 percent were very pleased, with the remaining 45 percent only "somewhat pleased"). Also it emerged that 85 percent were not happy with the situation in the country. The obvious conclusion was that although the general situation depresses Israelis, they take this in their stride.

A happy day. A massive Health Ministry national health survey last year indicated that about 1 of every 2 Israelis (47.5 percent) was happy most of the time. Israeli males have the reputation of being nervous drivers. Yet this survey found that 62 percent of them enjoy peace of mind and feel relaxed, as opposed to only slightly more than half of Israeli women. We could ask whether the men really are relaxed or simply less aware of their feelings - or whether women are more stressed because they have to ride in cars driven by "calm" men.

Prozac in a pita. How can we explain the national level of satisfaction in general and that of Israeli men in particular? One possible, if somewhat bizarre, reason could be hummus. Apparently, this food contains an amino acid called tryptophan that, when consumed in large quantities, turns into serotonin, which makes one feel happier. This was discovered in a study by nutrition expert Dr. Zohar Kerem and others. The finding was reported early this year on the Web site.

Blue-and-white rabbits. A study conducted by Pfizer, manufacturer of Viagra, ranks Israelis second in the world in the frequency of their sexual relations: 7.7 times monthly. How do we reconcile this remarkable achievement with the fact that, according to the same survey, 42 percent of Israeli males complained that they don't have sex often enough?

The right perspective. A comparison with an international Harris poll reveals that the findings of the CBS happiness index do not place Israel high up among Western countries. According to the Harris Poll survey, in 2004-2005, 90 percent of Americans and 85 percent of West Europeans were happy with their lives. If compared with 14 Western European countries, Israel would place fourth from the bottom - above Portugal (only 59 percent were happy and of them only 3 percent were very happy), Greece (66 percent) and Italy (76 percent), and would share its place with France (82 percent). There goes the myth of the merry Italians and Greeks. Who is really happy? The Scandinavians: Denmark placed first in this survey with 97 percent, followed by Sweden with 96 percent.

Integrated depression. One in every 6 Israelis (16 percent) suffered from depression in 2006. This emerged from a survey conducted by the Brandman Institute for Research and Marketing Consultancy, in advance of the debut of a new anti-depressant, Remotiv. The most prevalent reason for depression was marital or family problems (36 percent). The security situation influenced only 20 percent of depressed respondents. The good news is that more than half of the depressed respondents (54 percent) went from being down to being happier within a week. We could then ask whether such a brief bout of stress can really be termed "depression." The bad news is that a third of the depressed respondents suffered for a month or more, and of these, 8 percent were depressed for at least a year.

Happy alone. From the CBS survey it emerges that 11 percent of Israelis feel they have no one to turn to in a time of need, and 31 percent feel lonely occasionally or frequently. Note that according to this poll, only 18 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with life - so 13 percent are happy being alone.

Land of contradictions. On an optimistic note, 82 percent of young immigrants and 64 percent of older ones are happy with their integration into Israeli society. Furthermore, 74 percent of the young immigrants said that, if they had to do things again, they would still move to Israel. These are the findings of research by Prof. Elazar Leshem, conducted on behalf of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. If the immigrants supposedly feel so alienated, why is their response here so optimistic? Perhaps they have truly integrated into Israeli society, which is a melting pot of confusion, contradictions and paradoxes.