Insights into a good life
Family and friends, education, health and prosperity: in its study of 155 countries, the World Happiness Report indicates that discrepancies in these areas significantly influence our feelings of happiness. The PNAS* study “Buying time promotes happiness”, meanwhile, draws attention to an additional factor that has previously remained hidden: time. Because only those who have time are able to spend it doing things that make them happy. Of course, it is up to each individual to decide whether to treat themselves to a babysitter, a cleaner or special equipment to make housework and gardening quick and easy.
Interview with Nico Rose
Together with Dr Nico Rose, expert on positive psychology, coach and staff of Bertelsmann´s CHRO, difference is taking time in this issue for a journey into the secrets of happiness – and finding out what Kärcher could have to do with it.
Dr Rose, looking back at history, is it particularly difficult to be happy today?
I don’t think it has got more difficult; quite the opposite, in fact. But the challenges and problems we encounter on the path to happiness have evolved due to changes in our living conditions. I would describe them as “better problems” compared to earlier times.
To take a couple of examples: In the past, if you were the first son of a cobbler, you would become a cobbler too, without any ifs or buts. You might have been happy with that, you might not. The question didn’t come up. Today, in Germany alone you can choose from around 20,000 courses of study. Some people may find this freedom of choice a burden, but it is generally considered a good thing. The same goes for later on in life. In the past, people didn’t live long enough to worry about what they would do when they retired. Or there were no pensions, and people simply worked until they dropped. Looking at things from an objective perspective, I think we are better off today. But we also have to make more decisions under conditions of uncertainty. That can affect our mood subjectively. Nevertheless, I doubt people would swap their lives with those from 200 years ago.
One person’s joy is another person’s sorrow: how much does the understanding of happiness vary in different regions of the world?
To take a somewhat simplified view, the understanding of happiness can be roughly divided into East and West. In this case, the Western perspective is characterised by individualistic cultures based on the prototype of the American Dream. The focus is primarily on personal happiness. On the other side, you have collectivist cultures with China as the prototype. In this case, personal happiness is linked much more strongly to other people or to the “system”.
Generally speaking, Western European cultures fall halfway between these two philosophies. Scandinavia is an interesting case. For years, the Scandinavian countries have come out on top of the rankings of the world’s happiest countries. People there enjoy a great deal of individual freedom, but at the same time a sophisticated welfare state system ensures that material differences between citizens are not too large and there is a strong sense of togetherness. This mix seems to be an ideal breeding ground for personal happiness.
What is the link between happiness and time?
There are many different ways to answer that question. I would single out three different perspectives.
When it comes to time in terms of our age, we can, in principle, look forward to getting older. There is evidence of a midlife crisis happening for most people – on average, most people are happier in their youth and early adulthood than they are at the end of their 40s and start of their 50s. Over the course of our 50s, the level rises again significantly and many experience a happiness peak in their 60s and early 70s – as long as they remain in fairly good physical health. Another perspective is that of personal experience. In this case, there is a very simple answer. When we are so engrossed in an activity that we completely lose track of time, i.e. when we get into the “flow” – that is proven to make us happy. Although, strictly speaking, we only realise this when we look back, because when we’re actually concentrating, it’s as though we’re not really there. But when we come back and realise that we forgot about ourselves completely for a while – that gives us a happiness kick.
Ultimately, it is worth looking at our concrete actions – i.e. at how we actually spend our time. The fields of positive psychology and behavioural economics have come up with some clear recommendations in this area over the last few decades: it is important to take time to do something good for yourself. One of the best drivers of happiness is light endurance sport, ideally outdoors. If we could create a pill that has the same effect, it would be a very effective antidepressant. Practising meditation is also proven to promote happiness. Taking a broader view, we should spend as much time as possible with real friends and family. We should devote ourselves to activities that give our lives meaning. A reliable way of doing this is to use our energy to help others. We should spend our time on activities that relate closely to our own innate strengths. How can you tell when you've found the right activity? If, for example, you start something new and find that you learn a lot unusually quickly, you should stick with it. All of these factors are strong candidates for happiness and success.
In your opinion, what does all of this have to do with Kärcher?
At this point I have to admit that I don’t do any work in our house or in our huge garden. I’m all fingers and thumbs and I don’t enjoy it. My wife does a lot of it herself; otherwise we employ tradespeople or service providers. It refers back to the question we were discussing before: what am I spending my time on, and when should I sacrifice money so I have time for other things?
But I can definitely see that the process of pressure washing with a Kärcher device is an ideal breeding ground for a “flow” – the special feeling of being completely wrapped up in an activity – if you are attracted to the activity in question. Flow is only created under very specific conditions. This includes having a clear objective, being able to work without distraction with an appropriate tool, and being aware of your own progress at all times. If you can create these conditions while pressure washing, then Kärcher can be a part of your happiness.