How do the happiest people measure success?
Fortune hunter man: What makes us happy
by Christian Parth
All people have one thing in common: They want to be happy. But how exactly do you do that? And is there a connection between happiness and health? Two happiness researchers provide answers.
The confusing thing about happiness is that it means different things to everyone. For the philosopher Aristotle it was self-sufficiency, for writer Hermann Hesse it was love and for 71 percent of Germans it was health. This was the result of a representative survey by GfK Marktforschung of almost 2000 respondents aged 14 and over.
In Germany, the pursuit of happiness is very popular. More and more experts are in the field of “positive psychology”, offering coaching and advising companies on how to make employees happier in the workplace. There is even a “Ministry for Happiness and Wellbeing” which, with the federal eagle in the logo, bears a striking resemblance to the real authorities.
Founder and “Minister of Happiness” Gina Schöler, a communications designer who claims to travel all over Europe, wants to encourage people to “take happiness into their own hands and work out the good life together and make it tangible”. According to their website, their customers also include well-known Dax companies.
What is happiness anyway?
But what is happiness anyway? In the “World Book of Happiness” researchers list factors for happiness: a stable love relationship, health, a job that corresponds to one's own abilities, friends, children and money for basic needs. The United Nations declared March 20th Happiness Day to emphasize the importance of happiness as a goal for all people. The UN catalog for a happy life looks modest compared to the demands of the western world: at least 2,500 calories and 100 liters of water daily, a place to cook, at least six square meters of living space and six years of school.
Making happiness measurable
“This standard is hardly applicable to the western world,” says Kai Ludwigs. The 29-year-old studied psychology and business administration. For many years he too asked himself the question: What exactly makes people happy? In June 2014 he founded the "Happiness Research Organization" in Düsseldorf, Ludwigs made luck an empirical research object. Together with a computer scientist, he developed the “Happiness Analyzer” app, in which he asks citizens, employees and employees of offices around the world about the criteria for happiness. Ludwigs did not want to be satisfied with the customary lucky recipes, with the advice magazines to attract readers. “That was always too abstract. I wanted to make happiness measurable. "
Happy is he who thinks about happiness
In the past five years, the happiness researcher Ludwigs surveyed more than 100,000 people and collected around a million data. The realization: happiness is something very personal, it can hardly be generalized and certainly not one can brew happiness using a recipe. "It might sound banal, but just dealing with the question of their own happiness makes people happier," says Ludwigs. "Quite simply because this is how they find out what happiness actually means for them."
Giving a gift makes you happier than receiving a gift
The Christian knowledge that giving is more blessed than receiving also unfolds its strength in the doctrine of happiness. "Giving gifts makes you happier than receiving gifts," says happiness researcher Kai Ludwigs. "Social psychological studies show that we feel closer to people for whom we have done something than people who have done something for us."
Also and especially giving gifts seems to be an indispensable gesture for living together. "The giving is a sign of a functioning social togetherness," says Dr. Nils Zurawski, sociologist at the University of Hamburg. “There is a bond between two people. It has a symbolic meaning that makes a relationship possible. All in all, it is a civilizational achievement, the glue that holds society together. "
Sunday is lucky day
Despite the very personal happiness formulas, the answers overlap. For example, people are most unhappy on Mondays. The feeling of happiness increases during the week and reaches its climax on Sunday. In the evening after work, the respondents are happier than in the morning. People with a good education show better happiness values than those with low qualifications. Women and men who are in a stable relationship feel better than singles.
Activities that take place outside are rated more positively than spending time in your own home. In addition, the participants in the surveys stated that they spend too much time with acquaintances in their free time instead of meeting up with good friends. "Many people meet up with colleagues for dinner because they expect it to be an advantage," says Ludwigs. “But very few really feel like it. Many actually consider it a waste of time. "
More money doesn't make you happier
In general, Ludwigs is observing a trend that is moving away from looking for happiness in the pursuit of money. “The issue of quality of life is in the foreground, especially with the younger generation.” Financial security only plays a role as long as it does not exist. After that, money is only important as a yardstick for success and self-confirmation. In short: "The accumulation of more and more money doesn't make people happier," says Ludwigs.
The definition of the “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” (OECD), which regularly publishes the “Better Life Index”, is helpful in the search for happiness. "Happiness can be measured by how satisfied someone is with their life, how often they experience positive and how seldom they experience negative feelings," it says. You can improve your life just by consciously concentrating on what makes you happy and not on the things that cause stress, says Ludwigs.
Happy relationships make you happier and healthier
According to a long-term study by Harvard University of 724 men that has been running since 1938, relationships with people are what make us happier and healthier too. The data analysis shows that the men in this study who are and have been in good relationships are not only happier, but also live longer. For Robert Waldinger, American psychiatrist and currently head of the study, many roads lead to Rome. For him, relationships with people mean not just a couple relationship, but every conceivable form of relationship such as friendships or close neighborhoods.
The United Nations also regularly question people around the world about their well-being. According to the 2019 UN happiness report, the happiest people live in Finland and Denmark, followed by Norwegians and Icelanders. Germany ranks 17th in the list of 156 nations, while the USA fell from 14th to 19th in President Donald Trump's first two years in office.
The most unhappy people are in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan. However, different criteria for happiness are crucial for governments and citizens. Countries have traditionally been based on per capita income, said John Helliwell, co-author of the study.
According to the report, other things are important to people: safety, health care and friendship. "How communities interact with each other in schools, at work, in neighborhoods or on social media has a profound impact on the happiness of the world."
So it turns out that different studies come to similar results. Robert Waldinger sums it up in one sentence: "A good life consists of good relationships."
Happiness - from a purely evolutionary point of view
The definitions of happiness vary widely depending on the specialty of the researcher who defines the term. For the non-scientist - that is, the normal citizen - the same applies: Fortunately, everyone has their own idea of happiness.
From a purely evolutionary point of view, happiness is “only” a fleeting moment, but precisely for this reason happiness takes on an important function for the further development of humanity.
"In evolutionary psychology, happiness is a fleeting moment, a hedonistic treadmill," explains Ludwigs. Strive for a goal from which one expects happiness. But as soon as it has been reached and the brain has flooded the body with the messenger substances dopamine and serotonin, a new challenge must be presented.
All of this has a purpose. It is precisely the eternal pursuit of happiness that has given people further development. Satisfaction, on the other hand, is something deeper, something sustainable, says the happiness researcher. A kind of quiet companion of happiness.
Robert Waldinger, TED talk about the results of the study, 2015; https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness/transcript?language=de#t-1325
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