The science of happiness – why Israel is one of the happiest countries in the world

Israel is a leader in many areas, but one area you may not have thought about is happiness. Israel is one of the 10 happiest countries in the world and this is due to the way Israelis practice happiness.

Yuval Kutz is an Israeli citizen and the president and co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy. His role, along with that of co-founder Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, and the programs supported by the Academy of Happiness Studies, reflect how culture in Israel is focused on happiness. People often feel lost and don’t have a guide to stay on track to be the happiest ourselves, but the Academy of Happiness Studies aims to give people the tools to be happy and fulfilled. . In order to help others understand him and his work, we invited Yuval Kutz to chat with us about what he does and how people can use a holistic approach to finding happiness.

Q: How do you define happiness?

A: There are many definitions of happiness, and each definition has both an objective element and a subjective element. The definition to which we subscribe at the Happiness Studies Academy is a holistic definition that associates Happiness with the five SPIRE elements: Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational and Emotional Well-being.

Q: What is the Happiness Studies Academy, how is happiness taught and how did it start?

A: The Happiness Studies Academy was co-founded by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar and myself about five years ago. While Tal takes care of all the pedagogical aspects, I take care of the administration. How to teach happiness is a question I first asked myself. Five years later, with thousands of students around the world and the impact and significant changes I see in the lives of our students, I can see how happiness is taught day in and day out. Recently, we were accredited by the Committee on Higher Education in the United States to deliver a full master’s degree in Happiness Studies. This is the first time that happiness studies have been recognized as an academic field. Our educational process focuses on both theory and practice, reflection and action.

Q: Where do your students come from (both geographically and in their own lives)?

A: Our students come from over 70 countries. We are very proud of our vibrant community of students. The Certificate in Happiness Studies, which is a one-year online course, is delivered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, and Hebrew. Wherever Dr. Ben-Shahar travels for his lectures around the world, we hold small gatherings with our local students. Recently we held our annual retreat in Miami with a few hundred students joining us for two days of activities. Last year, a group of students established the Happiness Studies Academy Alumni and Business Club with the aim of helping students pursue careers and work in this field.

Our students follow the program either for their personal needs, wanting to improve their lives and those around them, or for professional reasons, enriching their toolbox as coaches, therapists, educators of all kinds, HR managers and CEO.

Q: How did you become involved with the Academy for Happiness Studies?

A: For the past 15 years, Tal has been one of my best friends. About five years ago, Tal asked me for advice regarding a business he was involved in. I joined him for a few meetings and we quickly realized that we not only play well together, we also work well together. I simply fell in love with the man, the content and above all the impact that this job has on people’s lives. I am grateful to be part of a business that is doing well and well.

Q: The Happier School curriculum is about teaching meaningful living along with pedagogical studies. Can you please explain how we can incorporate happiness into, say, arithmetic?

A: It’s the other way around, the question should be how to take advantage of other sciences and harness them in the service of our own happiness and that of others. What can literature, history, biology and other sciences teach us about the good life? Also, when you increase the happiness level of children (or adults for that matter), they become more creative, productive, and engaged. They become better students and better human beings.

Q: What is the difference between happiness at the individual, interpersonal, organizational and national levels? And why do we need all of them; isn’t one of them enough?

A: Our lives and well-being are affected by our individual choices, as well as by the environment in which we live. We cannot take care of our personal safety or our health while living in an unhealthy environment or in a dangerous world, and the same goes for our happiness. We want to work for an organization that cares about the happiness of its employees. And organizations as well as nations benefit when individuals experience higher levels of well-being, in the form of increased creativity, productivity, engagement and health.

Q: Why has there been no emphasis on mental well-being as a aspect of academic success in the past, which new studies have shown need something like this?

A: It has always been important, but now we have science on our side. Over the past 20 years, many research articles have been published regarding our well-being and happiness. Now, with the help of science, we can better deal with individual and collective challenges and offer proven interventions to help us live happier lives.

Q: What is your favorite/most meaningful part of your job?

A: By far, these are the letters of gratitude we receive from students graduating from the Certificate in Happiness Studies. We receive words of thanks from those who have been able to take their already thriving lives and businesses to an even higher level of fulfillment. We hear of people who have gone through hardships and difficulties and, thanks to the new tools they have acquired, have been able to transform their lives and regain their footing. These letters fill me with joy, often bringing tears to my eyes.

Q: If someone asked you how to be happy, what would you say? their first step should be?

A: The shortest, most immediate and most effective intervention I would suggest is without a doubt: exercise. This simple intervention is as powerful as any anti-depression medication.

The first step to happiness, however, is to understand what happiness is and what it looks like. Understand that like any other aspect we want to improve in our lives, there are no shortcuts, it takes time and work. Unfortunately, there is no secret.
Small, consistent changes in the right places will have an unexpected effect.

Q: What is the overall goal of your work? What would happiness look like on a larger scale in and of itself?

A: We are here to make an impact. We try to reach as many people as possible. The happiness revolution as we see it is a shift in priorities. Yes, people want to be happy, but there’s a big difference between paying lip service to it and really wanting it. Seriously wanting means they are willing to put in the effort to get the desired results.

In Israel, creativity and entrepreneurship are encouraged more in schools, which corresponds to the ideas promoted by the Academy of Happiness Studies. Israel leads in health and happiness while ranking lower in income and education and that’s because there are techniques embedded in Israeli culture to keep Israelis focused on happiness regardless other factors such as salary or education. According to Yuval Kutz, Happiness Studies provide a scientific approach to positive psychology on how to achieve happiness and stay happy. As part of an organization that is at the forefront of happiness studies, her work with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, provides a guide on what to focus on to become happier and more fulfilled person. Life is a crazy, complicated thing and we all have times when we go off the rails. The study of happiness helps provide steps to use and fall back on. The world is impacted one person at a time, and how to better change the world by improving.

Revolutionary Israel content is developed by ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors.

Eliza Aretz is a psychology student at the University of Central Florida. After college, they hope to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

Sammy Friedman is a psychology student at Yeshiva University in New York. After his undergraduate studies, he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Elianna Sokoler is a student at Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She is majoring in political science with a minor in communication.

Rebecca Stolarov is a psychology student at the University of Maryland, with a minor in international development and conflict management. After college, she moved to Israel and joined the Israeli army.

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