Thema

Wish-for-Happiness


The good life

factory Titel Glück-Wunsch

If you are healthy, satisfied, and successful, if you have a good life, everyone would probably say that you are happy. Happiness researchers have determined that most people in successful relationships are happy if they can autonomously complete useful tasks, if they experience little inequality and if they have possibilities to participate. Happiness is the fulfillment of people’s wishes and desires. The term happiness is complex; it encompasses moments of happiness as well as lasting bliss. It describes a happy coincidence or a life of happiness. Yet, this has little to do with material wealth. Still, most people are running on a status treadmill, as the economist Mathias Binswanger calls it. They aspire to something better, want to own, consume and earn more and, given the stress involved, are less and less able to enjoy life. Ute Scheub also points this out in the chapter on happiness in her book Beschissatlas (cheat atlas). However, business and advertising only support this pursuit of ?more?. The good life for all, however, only results from uniting prosperity, the social fabric and a sound environment. Those who advocate a sustainable society will thus also have to address happiness and wishes as well as their less resource-intensive fulfillment.

At factory, on the other hand, we do this by using a hyphenated title. Wish-for-Happiness allows the best-known happiness philosopher Wilhelm Schmid to begin with a definition of happiness. It shows where learning resilience is essential, and it demonstrates that in a country of intensive livestock farming there are indeed still some happy pigs (only in PDF-magazine). You will also learn how good life is with kale and chocolate, why a founder’s happiness essentially works towards change and how doing without a technological device can lead to wonderful moments. A travelogue from Bhutan asks whether the growth of gross national happiness is an alternative to that of the gross national product, and psychologist Marcel Hunecke explains how post-growth increases happiness. 

We join in congratulating the Effizienz-Agentur NRW (agency for resource efficiency in North Rhine Westphalia) on promoting resource efficiency for 15 years – the Wish-for-Happiness may not only appeal to the birthday celebrants. We wish you all the best and hope you enjoy reading. 

Ralf Bindel and the factory team

(Translated by: Sandra Walter, Annika Wagener, Anna Lena Vohl, Mareike Baudewig, Rebecca Brookes)

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

Not only, but also

© canstockphoto.com

He who does not worry about happiness is the happiest, Seneca once said and wrote a comprehensive book on this topic. Nowadays, book after book is published on the subject. The desire for happiness is more present than ever, its fulfilment an important driving force of the economy. But in order to recognise it, one has to be able to differentiate. 

By Wilhelm Schmid

Translated from the German by Christoph Ulbert, LaToya Vaughn, Viktorija Tapai, Maciej Maj and Margarita Müller

What is happiness? What does happiness mean for me? Anyone who wonders about this should look closely because it becomes evident that there is not only one, but several kinds of happiness at play. It would make sense to distinguish between them.

First of all, there is chance, which is important throughout life. People wish for something that unexpectedly and naturally comes to them and which turns out advantageously for them. The English word luck stems from the early Middle Dutch luc, the short form for gheluc meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘good fortune’. It also has cognates such as the German word Glück (fortune, good luck) and the Middle High German gelücke, which designated the chance outcome of an affair, yet originally not only in the advantageous, but also in the disadvantageous sense. The essential feature of chance is unavailability; available is only the attitude one can assume.

They can open themselves to or ignore a chance encounter, experience, or a piece of information. Both within themselves as well as in life, people can hold up the butterfly net in which chance can get caught, or can build a wall around themselves, so chance won’t get through. It seems as if the openness of people inspires chance. It likes to stop where it feels at home and is not being accused of its bad timing – it’s as if chance were a living being that knows exactly when it is welcome and when not. Furthermore, forcing chance, being offensive about it, would mean that you’re trying your luck. In other words, you’re going for it, even though it’s unavailable. The person who hopes for a chance encounter, experience, or a piece of information is well advised to communicate this intention to others. The Internet can also be used to do so. The likelihood for something good to come out of this is much higher than if hope remains locked up inside. If you never play the lottery, you have no chance of winning.

Bilder vom Glück

The Feel-Good Moment

In this day and age, people in pursuit of happiness see it as a matter of being well and healthy and feeling good in general. They want to have fun, have wonderful experiences, feel pleasure and be successful. In a nutshell, they want to experience all the things that are considered positive. In addition to chance, life is also about a special kind of happiness you might call the feel-good moment. This moment, or rather these moments, are all the happy times life presents you with. They are up for grabs if you want them and can be actively cultivated. These are moments which can be sought and found and are so beautiful that you want to hold onto them. A lot can be done to achieve this special kind of happiness, if it doesn’t, in fact, come about by itself. With a little experience, you know what ingredients you need to make your own happiness and work on it day after day. A feel-good moment is an aromatic, delicious cup of coffee. Or a beautiful film or the intimate conversation between friends and lovers that feels so comfortable you get lost in it completely since the attention of the other feels so good that saturation can almost never be reached. Or it can be the kind of wellness that can be enjoyed in a sauna or elsewhere. And let’s not forget about chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or it can be overcoming a major challenge, gaining new knowledge or experience, breaking unknown ground, immersing oneself in unfamiliar territory. It can also be the pursuit of novel activities, as long as they provide the attraction of being new. And even anticipating and desiring something can provide you with more happiness than actually savouring that very thing and, on top of that, can last much longer. The problem is that, in the end, this kind of happiness never lasts for long. What about the moments after, what about the time in between? Nowadays people aren’t prepared for these bad patches, this stagnation. They find it difficult to get through the dreary, mundane, everyday times in which they have to ‘recharge’ their desire. It’s hard to deal with the ordinary times of this life. The most important thing, however, is to accept those stretches of time as part of life. Only then can you learn how to get through them successfully. And then there is another kind of happiness.

Weitere Glückssituationen
© canstockphoto.com

The Happiness Of Abundance

The greater happiness, called the happiness of abundance, always includes the other side of the coin: the unpleasant, the painful and the negative, which all have to be dealt with. Happiness of abundance is influenced only by people’s attitude towards life, which they have adopted and live by, based on their reflections on life with all its peculiarities and uncertainties. Aren’t all things and all experiences full of polarity, differences and contradictions? The fact of the matter is that the negative cannot simply be erased, no matter how many cosmetic surgeries a person has had, how much new medicine is developed and how many political reforms are implemented by a government. If I can see life as something beautiful and worth living despite all the bad things going on, then I might achieve this happiness of abundance. It is more comprehensive and lasts longer than chance and all the feel-good moments combined. It is true philosophical happiness, unaffected by coincidence and luck, a person‘s sense of well-being or their indispositions. It is the equilibrium of life and needs to be obtained again and again. It doesn‘t necessarily apply to one particular moment but rather to all the aspects of life.

It applies not only to success, but also to failure; not only to accomplishment, but also to defeat; not only to pleasure, but also to pain, not only to health, but also to sickness; not only to merriment, but also to sadness; not only to contentment, but also to dissatisfaction, not only to rich days, but also to empty days. The crucial step towards this kind of happiness is made by determining one's own attitude. None of the above-mentioned ‘kinds of happiness’ are dispensable, but we need to rediscover the third one in these modern times full of convenience and fastidiousness. 

Wilhelm Schmid teaches philosophy at the University of Erfurt. His book Glück: Alles, was Sie darüber wissen müssen, und warum es nicht das Wichtigste im Leben ist  (happiness - everything you need to know about it, and why it isn't the most important thing in life) was published in Germany in 2007 by Insel publishers. In November 2013, he received the science prize of the Swiss Egnér foundation for his previous work on the art of living. 

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

Resilient for Life

Mädchen vor Tafel mit Ankündigung Glücksunterricht
© shutterstock.com

You can learn how to be happy. It is even a subject in some schools in Germany nowadays. You will not learn how to develop a successful career or how to find the love of your life. But you can learn to go through life with confidence and satisfaction. 

By Nicole Walter

Translated from the German by Viktorija Tapai and Ruthild Gärtner

Those who teach happiness as a subject need to have a thick skin. They are ridiculed as teachers who tickle out the talent of the students with a feather or they are eyed with suspicion or are seen as undercover representatives of Scientology. In about 60 schools in Germany, happiness already has an established spot in the timetable, between math, physics and history. Although the term ‘happiness’ excites the imagination, the subject is not about winning the lottery, a trip around the world or about true love. It deals with the capacity to shape one's personal well-being in everyday life. Katja Reuter teaches happiness to even the youngest of pupils. She gives lessons at the Oberforstbach Primary School in Aachen. The mother of two children is a dance and movement therapist and in her professional everyday life she works with many people who have faced personal difficulties.

"I've found out what our society's pressure to perform and mad rush do to our souls," she says. "At school, children don't learn how to handle that, although they should start learning such things early." And then fate gave her Ernst Fritz-Schubert, she tells us with a wink. Many happiness teachers talk about him with reverent admiration, almost giving the impression of a sect. But Fritz-Schubert, who is 65 years old today, has shaped the subject of happiness in Germany more than any other person and as a school principal, he also has a lot of practical experience. 

In Aachen, the first place that Katja Reuter went after she completed her advanced training in happiness was her son's primary school. She was able to convince principal Maria Schiefer very quickly.  "It's a great attempt", says Schiefer. "It has always been a part of our schooling programme to not only teach the kids content, but also to support social interaction and emotional aspects." Today, all kids at Oberforstbach Primary School are being taught happiness. Each of Katja Reuter's lessons starts with a big circle where the kids pass a ball and everyone tells what has already made them happy that day. 

The happiness teacher writes down all the good qualities every child discovers in him- or herself over the course of the class in a collective 'sun of powers'. When the children leave elementary school, they possess a great deal of knowledge and helpful tools. Reuter stresses the importance of team spirit. The children support each other, they learn how to use their creative resources and how to stay focused. It is clear to Reuter that if adults teach those values early enough they can keep children from making certain mistakes.  

Lachende Schulkinder
© shutterstock.com

Happiness in school …

According to the German Alliance against Depression, three to ten percent of all adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are currently suffering from depression. A research project conducted by Unicef shows that children and adolescents in Germany are doing well when assessed on the basis of the objective criteria of material wealth, education and health. But they don’t consider themselves to be all that happy. 

In the 29 countries included in the survey, there has been no bigger gap between objective views and the subjective perception of one’s own happiness than in Germany, Unicef researchers state. This is where happiness lessons come in. They are especially important in lower class neighborhoods. Helmut Richter and his colleagues from the Willy-Brandt-Berufskolleg business college in Duisburg-Rheinhausen are on their way to happiness with their students. This includes cooking together or enjoying a really nice dinner at a restaurant. But most of all, happiness lessons are about finding one’s own strengths, learning how to enjoy good moments, to trust oneself and others. Four of five students have an immigrant background and many live in difficult family situations.

After reading Fritz Schubert’s book, principal Richter thought that was exactly what they needed in his school. Anke Roessling, a happiness teacher, explains that the students‘ motivation to succeed in other subjects grows through happiness lessons. They come to school more often, start organizing their days more actively and invest more time in preparing for exams. Ingrid Noack teaches happiness at the vocational school for economics for adolescents between the ages of 15 to 17 in Bietigheim-Bissingen and has had similar experiences. “We cannot prove that our students get better grades but we can see that they are socially more competent than others and the support among them is much stronger”, Noack explains. She also adds that her students begin to feel more comfortable at school. Experts state that this kind of positive feeling is the best way to prevent violence in schools. 

Students, teachers and principals must stay committed to keep school a happy place. They have to work happiness lessons into an already tight schedule, convince the school board of the concept and establish a financial plan that mostly consists of annually hard-won state resources and private sponsoring.

Kind auf Stuhl malt immer stärker lächelnde Smileys auf Tafel
© shutterstock.com

... resilient for life

Ingrid Noack also continued her studies in her free time. She tested most of the exercises from her happiness lessons during her vocational training. For example: Ziel-Skalenlauf (goal-scale rally). Each student thinks of one of her or his goals in life, like winning a 100-meter race or getting a good grade in the next exam for example. Eleven cards with the numbers from 0 to 10 lie on the floor and represent a scale. The student picks the number that expresses how far he or she has come in fulfilling this dream. The other students also participate: one group on the right tells the student in the middle his or her positive traits like a mantra (“You’re patient”, “You’re persistent”, “You’re cheerful”, e.g.). The group to the student’s left side tells him or her all the negative traits (“You’re lazy”, “You’re not motivated”, e.g.). The student in the middle simply listens. Ingrid Noack knows from her own experience that after a while, one only hears the positive things. Then the question of how far the student has come in achieving his or her dream is raised again and the results show that all students pick a higher number on the scale than they did before. They experience how it feels emotionally, physically and on a cognitive level to get closer to one’s goal and that they can overcome difficulties with their inner strengths, which is very motivating.  When the students choose an apprenticeship after graduation and start writing applications, they not only rely on the inner strength they have found during happiness lessons, but also use the acquired tools to stay focused and concentrated.

Finally, the happiness lessons take effect in practical terms when the graduates try to find a job. According to Roeßing, the students learn to properly assess their strengths and interests in this class, which spares them lots of frustration on the job market because they find an adequate apprenticeship more easily.

Nicole Walter works as a journalist in Berlin and writes about economic and social issues.

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

The right ingredients

Köchin wirft Zutaten in die Luft
© Sergey Nivens, Fotolia.com

Culinary delight can make you happy. But a bite of delight cannot be bought – either in a delicatessen or in a fine restaurant. The keys to culinary pleasure lie in the mind and the senses, as is the case with curly kale or chocolate.

By Klaus Dahlbeck

Translated from the German by Olympia Klassen, Chantal Gruber and Kerstin Haep

Does curly kale make you happy? Wolfram Siebeck would answer that of course it doesn’t. For decades, he has been a culinary inspector and feared food critic on the German media scene. Just recently, the 85-year-old voiced devastating criticism about "the horrible stalk”, as he put it, in the German magazine Der Feinschmecker (the gourmet). According to him, there are many reasons to rate curly kale as an inedible luxury food. This raises the question of whether food can even make us unhappy. There is no information on curly kale yet, but the National Institute Of Health in Maryland, USA, suspects that the fatty acid DHA, which is found in numerous fish species, intensifies depression.

Does chocolate make us happy? There is no doubt about this if we believe the advertisements of the confectionery industry. Also, a number of studies prove that chocolate contains, in addition to sugar, four ingredients that can cause feelings of happiness: phenethylamine (PEA), anandamide, tryptophan and theobromine. PEA is a compound that is found in the human body in the form of, for example, a neurotransmitter like dopamine or a hormone like adrenaline. People in love always have a lot of PEA in their blood. Anandamide binds to the same receptor in the brain as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating substance of the cannabis plant. In contrast, tryptophan is converted into serotonin in the body, the so-called happiness hormone, whereas theobromine is a compound that causes muscular relaxation and thus has an emotionally elevating effect. According to a study of the Department of Chemistry of the University of Madrid published in 2012, dark chocolate in particular, with 70 to 85 per cent of cocoa butter, contains a high percentage of serotonin and tryptophan. Could it really be true that only food with ingredients also contained in drugs can make us happy? It is appropriate to be sceptical about this, as the percentage of these substances in chocolate as well as in other foods like nuts and tomatoes is in general below the effect threshold. It would be best to return to the lovers once again, who do not need any chocolate to start the cascade of chemical processes evoking the feeling of happiness.

"I do not want any chocolate ..."

Hand reicht Grünkohlstrauß
© ckellyphoto

Or to say it with the words of an old German song by Trude Herr: “I do not want any chocolate, I want a man instead!”

According to science, good relationships to other people play the most important role for our feeling of happiness. So the kale enjoyed in a cheerful atmosphere with friends and a good glass of beer should make one happier than a bar of handmade high-quality chocolate that a lonely single person eats while watching television in the evening. Is this true?

With this question, the moment of truth should have come, because we also eat with our minds. Does the feeling of happiness still remain, even if we wonder during a meal in a cosy atmosphere if the smoked beef sausage in the splendid tasting kale comes from happy organic pigs? Does this feeling still remain if we lose our appetite already at the sight of the sausage because we fear for our figure? There is no doubt that true moments of happiness during a meal can only be experienced if worries are suppressed, if gourmets can eat without worrying because they know that the vegetables are free of harmful substances and that the animals do not come from intensive farming and if they don’t care about a few calories more or less. “Delight in abundance loses its value”.

"Delight in abundance loses its value"

However, those who are looking for their culinary happiness don’t need only the right products and pleasant company. Even a perfectly prepared favourite meal can be disappointing when eaten with the expectation that it tastes just like the meal our grandmother used to cook when we were a child. Even if it tastes exactly the same – after three days of eating the same meal, the culinary moment of happiness will hardly last forever. Delight in abundance loses its value and is as far from happiness as the smell of kale from the smell of chocolate.

Reason is a category that often pre-empts moments of happiness during meals, although all gourmets dream of the accidental discovery of a small restaurant, somewhere in nature, where they can stop for a bite to eat and realize that this is not only the very best authentic family cuisine available for a reasonable price, but also that the products come from the restaurant’s own organic farm. Getting more than you had even dared to dream of without high expectations: that’s happiness!

A positive surprise in the perfect moment is unfortunately a witty lover that only rarely puts in an appearance. So there has to be another way to find culinary happiness. Those who don’t want to rely only on coincidence could – with good prospects of success – try to adjust their own needs. This is an art we didn’t inherit. Who, as a child, hasn’t eaten so many sweets that he felt as if he was going to vomit? What memory remained of it? Do we still know what an enormous amount we ate at the seventh birthday of Susan or Thomas? We probably do not. We more likely remember the colour of the toilet lid in the bathroom of their parent's house.

Creating culinary lighthouses is a strategy that has something to do with adjusting one’s own needs. Instead of going to the Italian restaurant around the corner four times a month and always scarfing down the same pizza, you could go to an excellent restaurant every three months and be surprised by the chef's extraordinary creations. You will pay special attention to the smell and taste, and concentrate carefully on each dish. You will feel the crunchy, spongy and sparkling texture in your mouth, taste sweet, salty and sour ingredients and enjoy the smell of different spices. However, it is not only the attentive consumption of an impressively prepared meal that can lead to culinary moments of happiness, but also cooking in one’s own kitchen, for or with your family and friends. Experience how a recipe or an idea becomes a delicious meal. The great number of cookery programmes on television and their ratings show how great the longing is for cooking and food as a community experience, even though a smelling and tasting screen hasn’t been invented yet. Those who want to comprehend the importance of the social aspect of cooking nowadays and our deeply rooted desire for food as a community experience simply must consider the success of cooking shows. Although the transition to more flexible working hours and working places, the decline of the extended family and the sharp increase in the number of single households did change the reality of life, the longing for food as a community experience cannot be destroyed. Cooking shows are a reflection of this longing and probably contribute sometimes to subsequent actions.

Finally, it is not all that difficult to find culinary happiness if a few rules are taken to heart. For example, if we choose good ingredients from sustainable and ecological production that we do not have to worry about.

In the end, it is not too difficult to find culinary happiness with respect to some rules. Consumers could, for example, choose good ingredients from sustainable, ecological production to ease their conscience. They should learn to control their needs and to pay attention to the food, both while cooking and eating. Another issue is a realistic approach to their own expectations and the ability to enjoy the community. Taking these aspects into account, even kale can taste great – with or without sausage.

"You will feel the crunchy, spongy and sparkling ..."

Grünkohl mit Mettwurst und Kartoffeln auf einem Teller
© canstockphoto.com

Creating culinary lighthouses is a strategy that has something to do with adjusting one’s own needs. Instead of going to the Italian restaurant around the corner four times a month and always scarfing down the same pizza, you could go to an excellent restaurant every three months and be surprised by the chef's extraordinary creations. You will pay special attention to the smell and taste, and concentrate carefully on each dish. You will feel the crunchy, spongy and sparkling texture in your mouth, taste sweet, salty and sour ingredients and enjoy the smell of different spices. However, it is not only the attentive consumption of an impressively prepared meal that can lead to culinary moments of happiness, but also cooking in one’s own kitchen, for or with your family and friends. Experience how a recipe or an idea becomes a delicious meal. The great number of cookery programmes on television and their ratings show how great the longing is for cooking and food as a community experience, even though a smelling and tasting screen hasn’t been invented yet. Those who want to comprehend the importance of the social aspect of cooking nowadays and our deeply rooted desire for food as a community experience simply must consider the success of cooking shows. Although the transition to more flexible working hours and working places, the decline of the extended family and the sharp increase in the number of single households did change the reality of life, the longing for food as a community experience cannot be destroyed. Cooking shows are a reflection of this longing and probably contribute sometimes to subsequent actions.

In the end, it is not too difficult to find culinary happiness with respect to some rules. Consumers could, for example, choose good ingredients from sustainable, ecological production to ease their conscience. They should learn to control their needs and to pay attention to the food, both while cooking and eating. Another issue is a realistic approach to their own expectations and the ability to enjoy the community. Taking these aspects into account, even kale can taste great – with or without sausage.

The journalist Klaus Dahlbeck has been writing about enjoyment in all its culinary facets for a long time.

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

Initiative instead of frustration

Hände halten vom rechten und linken Bildrand jeweils eine ausgeschnittene Figur, die einen freudigen Luftsprung macht
© Sergey Nivens, Fotolia.com

According to traditional business economics, many companies should not even exist. However, a completely different way of economical success could develop, in contrast to the theory, if happiness played the lead instead of money.

By Annette Jensen

Translated from the German by Chantal Gruber, Yvette Gossel and Ruthild Garner

One weekend, a couple of village dwellers near Munich decided not to be at the mercy of the food industry any longer. They were tired of buying their eggs from agonised chickens and eating vegetables that were grown in a field hundreds of kilometres away. They cannot be bothered to protest or hope for political decisions. Therefore, they took matters into their own hands. Since these people had understood that small farms have only a small chance of survival in the system, they organised a market stall for an organic farmer and worked there themselves. In the beginning, they didn’t even have a scale and therefore a paediatrician had to help them out with hers.

The project was fun for all of the participants. The network grew and gradually developed into a cooperative called Tagwerk (day work). Today, besides the numerous consumers, about one hundred growers such as farmers, beekeepers, butchers, millers and cheese makers are involved. The cooperative generates roughly EUR 5m per year, employs 39 people and is an important economic factor.

"Cooperation makes people happy ..."

The organisation claims that cooperation makes people happy. Today, the promotion of regional food products is not the only aim of the Tagwerk companion. The cooperative’s longtime chairman Inge Asendorf explains that she abandoned her academic career to work for Tagwerk due to the funny and interesting people. New projects are being developing continuously. For example, one companion writes funny seasonal recipe books, and the former bank manager Rudolf Oberpriller organised bicycle trips to farms and invented an ecological bicycle path throughout Germany. He says that his former work was useless and that the companions of the network do not need a lot of money to set up something meaningful. Rudolf Oberpriller’s statement confirms the results of the international happiness research, which Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have summarised on the basis of worldwide research. They say that cooperation makes people happy ? whereas earning more money only supports well-being in very poor social classes and rising inequality does not even make rich people happy.

Even the founding of the Elektrizitätswerke Schönau (EWS; Schönau electricity plant), which today is a nationwide provider of green electricity, had not been planned. Chief executive Ursula Sladeck says that the participants in fact just slipped into the project. Everything began in 1986, after the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. Some neighbours wanted to take the first steps towards the grassroots phasing out of nuclear power by organising energy efficiency competitions. Then however, the venture developed its own dynamics, which were expedited by a stubborn energy provider who threatened to take the energy savers to court for harming the interests of his company. In subsequent years, the rebels of the Schönau electricity plant experienced a lot of solidarity. Was it ‘luck’ that experts had always appeared at just the right moments to help them out?

However, this issue then started to develop a momentum of its own and was driven by a stubborn energy supplier that threatened to take those people to court who had tried to reduce their energy consumption, for harming his business. In the following years, the ‘nuclear power rebels’ from Schönau received a lot of support. Were they just lucky to have always found experts at the right time to help them? Engineers, management and tax consultants, municipal representatives and publicity experts voluntarily offered their specialised knowledge, often even free of charge. They were fascinated by the project and knew that it depended on their support. They did not earn any money, but they got the great feeling of having successfully contributed to establishing an extraordinary company. Together they were able to compete with their powerful and financially better-off opponents and therefore helped David to win the battle against Goliath. The growth-critical economist Tim Jackson states that successful relationships are the key to happiness – and that “trust, safety and the sense of community decisively contribute to social well-being”. Even the people who only receive their energy from the ‘nuclear power rebels’ from Schönau can consider themselves part of this success story.

“Successful relationships are the key to happiness.”

Zwei Hände einer Person halten vom äußeren Bildrand eine Dreierreihe ausgeschnittener Papierfiguren.
© Sergey Nivens, Fotolia.com

And in fact, there are more happy entrepreneurial personalities. The chemist Hermann Fischer is a good example, because in his Auro chemical plant, located in Braunschweig, only organic and other natural substances are used to produce varnish, glue and cleaning agents. Fischer`s concept is thus exceptional in that sector – today approximately 90 per cent of chemical substances are based on petroleum and other fossil resources. But the 60-year-old chemist is firmly convinced that his ‘solar chemicals’ will prevail in the long run, as not only the most important resource of the conventional chemical industry is finite, but their production also only works by using many highly toxic substances like chlorine and nitric acid. Within the various steps of the synthesis process, apart from the desired products, high amounts of waste are also produced whose dangerous impact, however, is being ignored. By comparison, all of the products of the Auro company are biodegradable. As a student, Hermann Fischer already knew that he would never want to work for the pharmaceutical giants Bayer or BASF. Therefore, together with two fellow students, he founded his first company. He concludes his credo by saying that they did not only want to think about the right thing, but also act the right way. Happiness researchers believe that living and putting convictions into effect makes people content, as you can see in the case of the chemist Hermann Fischer. In contrary, the Happy Planet Index shows that environmental destruction has an extremely negative impact on one's well-being. 

Another example is 35-year-old Sina Trinkwalder. She earned a lot of money in advertising – but after a while her job started to bore her and she felt the need of doing something more meaningful. Therefore she decided to found a company that offers elderly women and single mothers secure jobs. In her hometown of Augsburg, many people worked in the textile industry in former times until German employees were regarded as too expensive and production was moved to Eastern Europe and Asia. Sina Trinkwalder was convinced that some of these workers still had to be living in Augsburg.

“Living one’s own convictions makes a person content”.

Even though she had no clue about the textile industry, she was not worried – as she knew that she was capable of picking things up quickly. But more importantly, she is a person who can get others going and fill them with enthusiasm. Thus, her first sewing machine supplier taught her to sew, employees at museums informed her about the characteristics of the fabrics and when in the end she ran out of money to buy a sewing machine, a generous supplier even gave her a high discount. Today 130 women and men have unlimited jobs at Manomama. They sew bags for the DM drugstore chain and jeans for the Real hypermarkets, only working with organic fabric and earning more than 10 euros per hour.

There are several reasons for the success of her concept, which many economists had declared impossible to become successful. Sina Trinkwalder makes her pricing public – and it becomes apparent that she personally has very modest earnings and does not spend money on advertising. The marketing for her company consists in her appearing on talk shows defending her ideas against politicians and typical CEOs of global companies. At the same time she turns around the relationship between suppliers and customers. She calculates the price and makes it clear to her customers that she will neither lower the price of the fabric producers nor make her employees work extra hours or lower their salary.

And, lo and behold, it actually works. People buy her products. Sina Trinkwalder just had her book published in Germany: ‘Wunder muss man selber machen’(you have to create your own miracles),. Not only is the book fun to read but it also gives readers courage and even brings some happiness.

Annette Jensen is a German journalist and has been writing about economic alternatives to the mainstream for many years now. Her book ‘Wir steigern das Bruttosozialglück. Von Menschen, die anders wirtschaften und besser leben’ (We are increasing gross national happiness. About people who do business differently and live better lives) was published by the German publishing house Verlag Herder. 

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

A nice day

Blick auf die Aktion Stillleben auf der A40 im Rahmen der Kulturhauptstadt Ruhr 2010
© B. Gutleben via Wikimedia Commons

Streets filled with people instead of cars, happy faces, no rushing. Events such as the ‘Car-Free Sunday’ and the ‘Tag des guten Lebens’, a day celebrating the good life, made people’s genuine wishes come true, beyond their usual consumption habits. 

By Davide Brocchi 

Translated from the German by Inga Festersen, Eva Flucke, Ruthild Gärtner and Viktorija Tapai

A call for renunciation leads to a complete loss of approval. Therefore, it has to be presented as a gain in order to attract people’s attention on how to lead a resource-efficient life. Even then, people are sceptical about breaking old habits. But are renunciation and happiness really opposed to each other? The following brief outline describes the development of the Car-Free Sunday in several stages and shows that this assumption is fairly relative.

1973: The German Federal Government implemented four car-free Sundays as a response to the first international oil crisis. By closing the streets to motorised traffic, people were enabled to have entirely new experiences on the Autobahn throughout Germany. Whole families went for walks on the Autobahn, young people were roller skating, and senior citizens got on their bikes. Without traffic, the cities showed themselves in a completely different light. Those who were present at the time still look back fondly on the experience. 

Since 2000, there have been several car-free Sundays in Brussels throughout the year. On the third Sunday in September, the entire city is closed to cars (161 square kilometres). Surveys have shown that the people’s satisfaction has been continually growing since the initiative was started. By now, 87 percent of the inhabitants consider the car-free Sunday to be a good or even excellent initiative.

2005: In the context of a representative survey by the city of Augsburg, 65 percent of its inhabitants advocated car-free Sundays in the city centre. Fifty-nine percent could see six of the car-free Sundays happening each year, 42 percent could even imagine having twelve. Only 22 percent of the respondents opposed the whole idea.

2010: Hardly any citizens complained on 18 July when the A40, the federal autobahn between Duisburg and Dortmund, was closed to cars and opened for visitors. Three million people accepted the invitation. They had breakfast together at long tables, made music and did arts and sports together – everything on the autobahn. The project ‘Still Leben – Ruhrschnellweg’ (still life – Ruhrschnellweg) became one of the most successful and impressive projects of the campaign ‘RUHR.2010 – Kulturhauptstadt Europas’ (European Capital of Culture). 

2013: On 15 September, the first ‘Day of Good Life: Cologne’s Day of Sustainability’ took place. Ehrenfeld, a district in Cologne where more than 20,000 people live, remained closed to motorised traffic for one day. Entire streets were completely freed from cars by organising 1,000 alternative parking spaces for the residents. The public space was transformed into a wide ‘agora’. In an ancient Greek polis, an agora was the central place where direct democracy was created. There, the city’s politics, markets, and cultural life took place.  According to the motto ‘more space for parks instead of space for parking’, greenery was planted on many car parks. People appreciated the non-commercial character of the event and the relaxed atmosphere in the spirit of deceleration.  According to unofficial estimates by the police, between 80,000 and 100,000 people took part in Cologne’s ‘Day of Good Life’. 

The response of the press was great. The daily newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeigercommented: “Cologne’s urban development policy needs more such stimuli – and many more Days of Good Life.” This day was organised by ‘Agora Köln’, a varied association of more than 91 citizen’s and environmental initiatives, companies, theatres, and further groups from Cologne which campaign for a stronger civic participation and for a progressive transformation of the city towards sustainability.

weiterer Blick auf die Aktion Stillleben auf der A40 im Rahmen der Kulturhauptstadt Ruhr 2010
© Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.de

New forms of freedom

What do these examples show? It is certain that the limited availability of resources (e.g. crude oil), air pollution, noise pollution or the high consumption of space for car parks (i.e. for unused cars) require a change of thinking. The actual aim of car-free Sundays is the promotion of sustainable mobility – along with a reduction in the consumption of resources. Especially in cities with a high volume of road traffic such as Milan, Italy, or Bogotá, Columbia, they support health and environmental relief. In Brussels, Belgium, there is six to eight times less noise on car-free Sundays and the air in the city centre contains three to four times less nitrogen. In fact, in some streets, a nitrogen monoxide concentration ten times lower than on normal workdays was measured.

The popularity of car-free Sundays can hardly be explained by the environmental awareness of the population. The social and psychological side effects, however, are crucial. Especially in a car-friendly city, the suspension of motorised traffic has dramatic effects on the environment. The areas for cars and public transport become public space and create an area in which people’s longing for community, creative development, and alternative lifestyles are projected. This longing is also the result of progressive privatisation and commercialisation of the urban environment within the last few decades. Economic growth, mass consumption and faster cars no longer represent freedom, dynamism, and wealth, but they stand for blockage, traffic congestion and stress. Considering this background, abstinence is a form of self-protection, a requirement for being happy. Car-free Sundays offer – at least for a brief moment - the opportunity to escape the ‘mega-machine society’ as the American architecture critic Lewis Mumford († 1990) called it.

Happiness needs a strong democracy

In Germany, the popularity of car-free Sundays is a paradox in contrast to the high status of cars themselves. When the idea of the ‘Day of Good Life’ was presented to the meeting of a regional representation in Cologne, the reaction of the borough mayor, a member of The Greens, was as follows: “We shouldn’t ask too much of the citizens with visionary plans as such. A car-free street would be more realistic than a whole district.” Since nothing was sold and car-free days are considered to be bad for business, the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the city marketing had not supported the project, but even the ADAC, a German automobile club, approved the initiative. While abstinence is considered highly unpopular in political and administrative sectors, the success of car-free Sundays shows that most citizens are sometimes smarter than their political representatives.

Since social development is not determined by the citizens’ understanding of happiness, car-free Sundays remain a marginal phenomenon. In other words, happiness needs a strengthened democracy. According to the theory created by Elinor Ostrom, a US American political scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, common property is managed sustainably if its users cooperate and form small communities that act in a self-determined and autonomous manner. A project based on precisely these principles was organised in Cologne under the name Tag des guten Lebens (day of the good life). All neighbourhoods were allowed to ‘rule’ their own street for one day. Duties and responsibilities like cordoning off and cleaning the streets were assigned to the residents. The sharing strategy did not only lead to a significant decline of costs, but even made the project possible which was not within the financial means of the heavily indebted city. Residents stated that the assignment of responsibilities made them feel appreciated and that they enjoyed the volunteer work as a possibility for participation as well as a sign of equality in their neighbourhood.

Recapturing public spaces

Blick auf das Still-Leben der Kulturhauptstadt Ruhr 2010
© CherryX via Wikimedia Commons

Happiness is one of the rare goods that grow if you share them. “Since the Day of the Good Life,, it takes me 15 minutes longer to go to the bakery because I am constantly greeted by neighbours or because I stop to talk to them,” explains a resident of Cologne. The neighbourhoods that used to meet regularly to prepare that day have continued to meet, for example, to autonomously reorganise the nearby playground. Many people want to repeat the Day of the Good Life in their neighbourhood and are willing to take even more responsibility for organising it.

Anyone who has ever organised a car-free Sunday comes to the important conclusion that it is not essentially resources that are needed to organise a good life and sustainable alternatives, but open spaces for their realisation. The greatest challenges are the diversion of traffic, cordoning off and controlling the boundaries of car-free areas and the fulfilling of the numerous regulations concerning the use of public space by citizens. As soon as there is an open space, sustainability, community and the good life arise almost naturally. That was the impressive experience of 15 September in Cologne.

Davide Brocchi is a social scientist and a lecturer in sustainability at the ecosign-Akademie für Gestaltung (academy for design) in Cologne and at the University of Lüneburg, among other institutions. He initiated the project Tag des guten Lebens: Kölner Sonntag der Nachhaltigkeit (day of the good life: Cologne’s Sunday for sustainability).

Further reading:

Survey results and results of pollutant measurements regarding the car-free Sunday in Brussels

Citizen survey on the car-free day in Augsburg

Der Tag des guten Lebens- Kölner Sonntag der Nachhaltigkeit (day of the good life: Cologne’s Sunday for sustainability)

 

 

 

More articles to the topics of happiness, wishes and the good life you will find either online or in our magazine Wish-to-Happiness. Finly illustrated and lightly readable on tablet-computers and screens the PDF-magazine contains all articles and pictures as well as additional numbers and quotatians.

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