Woman jumping

By Reino Gevers

The “How-To” happiness culture seems to be flourishing all over the glossy magazines and the bestseller lists, suggesting countless ways of living a happy life. This comes amid an almost epidemic rise in the number of people suffering from depression.

I’ve just spent a weekend with a group of people in the medieval northern German monastery of Loccum, discussing several topics around the issue of “happiness”. Some people said spending time with their families made them happy, others mentioned appreciating the “magic of the moment” and spending time with good friends.

One person mentioned that in order to experience real happiness you need also to have gone through periods of deep darkness. “We need to accept death in order to accept life”, said a retired CEO from Switzerland.

Happiness exists in the contrast experience of grief and sorrow. Life is cyclical with up-and-down periods. Just accepting this pure fact relieves the pressure that we always need to show a positive face. Even the people who seem to be more successful, happier and content go through these dark periods. The difference is that they have found a better coping-mechanism in recuperating from those down cycles and to move on.

Professor Johannes Hirata from the University of Osnabrück has done a lot of research on happiness, development and ethics. Some of his conclusions:

  • More income does not necessarily mean more happiness but you need a certain base income for basic needs.
  • Some of the world’s wealthiest countries  (Germany is only 15th on the happiness index) are not necessarily the happiest while several relatively poor Latin American countries are pretty high up on the list.

Why this is so depends a lot on how far you feel socially included. Trying to keep up with the Joneses won’t make you happy because material things only provide short-term satisfaction. Professor Hirata has pinpointed also certain personality traits in happy people: Extroverted and balanced people have the right combination.

Adam Grant, an associate professor at Wharton School, did an analysis of 35 separate studies and found that the statistical relationship between extroversion and income was basically zero. People who ranked right in the middle for extraversion and introversion (ambiverts) turned out to be the best salespeople.  It means that if you can be assertive and enthusiastic and at the same time have the ability to listen – then you have the right combination to be successful and happy.

Not surprisingly, according to Hirata, unemployed people are among the unhappiest in the world. People want to make a contribution with their individual talents and get appreciation for it, especially at the workplace. A solution would be reducing the working week, spreading the available jobs amongst more people. At the same time this would increase productivity with part-time workers having more time to spend with their families and to pursue a hobby.

Reino Gevers – Health Mentoring for Leaders and Achievers