How are people who are happy

An ancient pursuit : What makes people happy

Man has always strived to be happy. At least philosophers have been writing about this original wish since ancient times and how it can be fulfilled. Aristotle believed that happy is the one who does what he can do best because of his virtues. What fills him, makes him happy. Epicurus recommended moderate demands. Seneca to find inner peace.

Hundreds of years have passed since then, but it seems that the advice of wise men is being heard more than ever. Countless books appear with their ideas about the art of the good life and become bestsellers. In the first companies there are feelgood managers, in some schools the subject “happiness”. Serenity is practiced in fully booked meditation classes. The personal coach helps you to find your true calling. Because the feeling is so fascinating, psychologists, social scientists and economists study it. Two years ago, the happiness researcher Angus Deaton received the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work.

What research has found so far: To a certain extent, our ability to be happy lies in our genes. The American social scientist Arthur Brooks recently said almost 50 percent. Then there is what happens to us in life and what we make of it. As a social being, people should above all have good relationships. The brain releases positive messenger substances such as oxytocin through bonds. A well-known long-term happiness study by Harvard University has shown that people who have no partner but good friends are more satisfied than those who are alone.

Further happiness factors are health, a meaningful job, personal freedom, inner attitude and financial security.

Increasing incomes are no guarantee

The role of money is controversial. On the one hand, a certain wealth makes life easier. Takes away fears and worries. You can't buy happiness with money, but you can buy time, for example by being able to afford cleaning aids or nannies, which according to a US study published a few months ago leads to greater satisfaction.

Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, also Nobel laureates in economics, have proven an annual income of 75,000 dollars, the equivalent of around 64,000 euros, as the limit. Up to this threshold, more money actually makes happier. Anything beyond that no longer has a significant impact on well-being, as people quickly get used to more comfort.

The psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught at Harvard University, among others, has a different view. An “overemphasis on the material” is at least partly responsible for the fact that “people strive so much for material wealth” - which makes them unhappy rather than happy.

Various rankings show where in the world particularly cheerful people live. Since 2012 the United Nations has published the "World Happiness Report" once a year. This year Norway made it to the top, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland. Germany stagnated in 16th place - behind the USA, Israel and Costa Rica. In the end there were African countries.

The researchers emphasized that happiness is strongly linked to the state of society and the social environment. Solidarity, freedom to make your own life decisions and trust in the government and authorities are crucial. Using the example of China (79th place), they demonstrated that increasing incomes are only of limited importance. People are no more satisfied than 25 years ago, although the gross national product has quintupled since the early 1990s and almost every urban household now has a television, washing machine and refrigerator.

The fact that five years ago the United Nations passed a resolution recognizing the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal shows that reflecting on one's state of mind is not a luxury. World Happiness Day on March 20th is to remind of this. In the USA, the pursuit of happiness was anchored in the American Declaration of Independence as early as 1776.

Germany is mediocre, Denmark exemplary

The OECD also measures life satisfaction in its member states year after year. It was least recently in Portugal and Turkey; highest in Northern Europe, here led by Denmark. According to the OECD, politics should be guided by its report in order to create the conditions for a sufficiently good life.

For Germany, which is only in the middle range despite its prosperity, the criticism was that people's educational pathways would still depend heavily on the socio-economic background, albeit less than in the past.

In the model country Denmark, the education system would be much more permeable. Opportunities would be distributed more fairly. The Danish happiness researcher Meik Wiking explains the high level of satisfaction of his compatriots with the fact that although there are high tax rates, this money is invested directly in sustainability and the common good and thus benefits society noticeably.

Another explanation is the Scandinavian philosophy of life, called "Hygge", which is also developing into a trend lifestyle in this country. Translated into German, this means something like "comfort". What is meant are social evenings with friends, reading afternoons on the sofa by a warm fireplace, a picnic with the family in the countryside while the birds are chirping. It's about relaxation, slowness and being together.

The happiest Germans live in Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, if you believe Deutsche Post's happiness atlas. Berlin was last in 15th place out of 19. Most saddened are the people in Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. For the respondents, their living and family situation has the greatest influence on their well-being. Then came aspects such as leisure, work, health and income. In another survey last year, Germans were asked how they could influence their happiness themselves. Most mentioned their own basic attitude, followed by the effort to achieve their goals and to get socially involved (more tips in the interview).

According to studies, anyone who does something to become happier not only feels subjectively better, but also has more drive, is more creative and more productive. He strengthens his immune system, gets diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or a heart attack less often - and has a longer life expectancy of five to ten years. The fact that Aristotle once said that happiness is the ultimate goal of human activity is therefore already true for all those who want to grow old. With smile lines or not.

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