Israel has retained its spot as the 11th happiest country in the world for the fifth year running, according to the United Nations’ annual “World Happiness Report,” published Wednesday.
The Palestinian Territories came in 104th place, Lebanon in 88th, Jordan in 90th and Syria in 150th in the listing of 156 countries.
The report, which also for the first time evaluated 117 countries by the happiness and well-being of their immigrants, notes that Jews who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union have much better lives than before they immigrated, even though they still have problems. It ranks Israel 12th on its list for “happiness for the foreign born.”
However, it also places Israel, which turns 70 in May, among the countries that are less tolerant of migrants, and that do not accept migrants openly.
Israel’s overall No. 11 position was helped by its health system; the report placed the Jewish state in sixth position for improvement in life expectancy, after Japan, Iceland, Italy, Switzerland and Canada.
In the US, by contrast, life expectancy was 4.3 lower than the average of these top five countries, and that gap “likely widened further in 2016 in view of the absolute decline in US life expectancy.”
On tolerance towards newcomers, the document found that while the least accepting countries were those in Europe that have been directly affected by the recent migrant crisis, four were in the Middle East and North Africa — among them Israel, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. The others were in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand and Mongolia.
Surveying 156 countries on the basis of factors such as citizens’ freedom, gross domestic product, expenditure on health and lack of corruption, the annual survey placed Scandinavian countries at the top. Fans of skiing, saunas and Santa Claus would not be surprised to hear Finland is the happiest place to live.
Europe’s Nordic nations, none particularly diverse, have dominated the index since it first was produced in 2012. In reaching No. 1, Finland nudged neighboring Norway into second place.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. The United States fell to 18th place from 14th last year, and the UK was at 19.
Relatively homogenous, Finland has about 300,000 foreigners and residents with foreign roots, out of its 5.5 million people. Its largest immigrant groups come from other European nations, but there also are communities from Afghanistan, China, Iraq and Somalia.
John Helliwell, a co-editor of the World Happiness Report and professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, noted all the top-10 nations scored highest in overall happiness and the happiness of immigrants. He said a society’s happiness seems contagious.
“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” Helliwell said. “Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose.”
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute, said the five Nordic countries that reliably rank high in the index “are doing something right in terms of creating good conditions for good lives,” something newcomers have noticed.
He said the happiness revealed in the survey derives from healthy amounts of both personal freedom and social security that outweigh residents having to pay “some of the highest taxes in the world.”
“Briefly put, (Nordic countries) are good at converting wealth into well-being,” Wiking said. The finding on the happiness of immigrants “shows the conditions that we live under matter greatly to our quality of life, that happiness is not only a matter of choice.”
The United States was 11th in the first index and has never been in the Top 10. To explain its fall to 18th, the report’s authors cited several factors.
“The US is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis, involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addiction, and major depressive disorder that are all remarkable by global standards,” the report said.
It added that the “sociopolitical system” in the United States produces more income inequality — a major contributing factor to unhappiness — than other countries with comparatively high incomes.
The United States also has seen declining “trust, generosity and social support, and those are some of the factors that explain why some countries are happier than others,” Wiking said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to Israel’s consistently high scores on the global Happiness Index as evidence that Israelis, particularly young Israelis, were aware of his contributions to the country.
Speaking to Fox News talk-radio host Mark Levin during an official trip to the US, Netanyahu — embroiled in a series of corruption investigations — said, “And people say, well, ‘How can that be? Must be a fluke,’ but [Israel’s ranking] keeps going up and they say, ‘How can it be? It’s a country in this horrible neighborhood, you’ve got terrorism, you’ve got radical Islam, you’ve got challenges,’ but it comes up ahead of most countries in the world,” said Netanyahu.
“They say, ‘Yeah, but that’s the old timers, they are already fixed, their lives are okay, but that’s the old people, what about the young people? You know where they [the youth] come up [on the index]? Number five! Which means they have a real confidence in the future, and that’s because I think they appreciate and… I know that’s what drives me and animates me: How to ensure that the Jewish state has a permanent future of security and prosperity… and peace if we can get it. The people of Israel I think do identify that.
“So the answer is I think they do understand. All of them? No. Most of them, yes.”