This popular saying has been around for quite some time and now it has even been confirmed by the field of science. But what is it that makes Germans happy? Find out in this interview with Bernd Raffelhüschen, the co-author of the Glücksatlas 2014 – Germany’s 2014 Happiness Atlas.
Mr Raffelhüschen, how does one actually measure happiness or luck?
Happiness or luck cannot be measured. When you cross the road when the traffic light is red and do not get run over by a car, then that is luck. What we measure, as researchers, is people’s subjectively felt satisfaction and this in colloquial terms is put on the same level as happiness.
The 2014 Happiness Atlas says that Germans are on average more satisfied today than they were ten years ago. Since 2010, however, this level of satisfaction has only risen marginally. The Germans seem to be languishing on a “satisfaction plateau”. Have we reached a kind of happiness ceiling?
No, but people’s satisfaction is not a thing that grows constantly. It fluctuates due to various factors. It is in fact true that people’s satisfaction has increased the most over the last ten years. We are richer now than we have ever been before. If people a hundred years ago had had any idea about what life in Germany today would look like, they would probably have called it a paradise. From a subjective point of view, however, we are probably equally as satisfied as our forefathers a hundred years ago.
Deutsche Post Glücksatlas 2014 | © Knaus Verlag
Since 2011 the Deutsche Post AG (German Post Office) has been gathering decisive figures and data on the satisfaction levels of the Germans. In a large-scale study data on areas like housing, work, leisure, health and income are collected to find out how they affect the way people in Germany feel about their lives. The fourth Glücksatlas in 2014 focused for the first time on how disabled people feel about their lives.
The four big G’s that spell happiness
What then makes the Germans happiest?
Money of course plays a role. What assets do I have? How is my home equipped and furnished? That, however, is just one factor. We speak in German of the four big G’s that spell happiness: Geld
(community) and genetische Disposition
(genetic disposition), i.e. a person’s character. It is these four factors that determine the degree to which a person is satisfied or, as the case may be, is dissatisfied with his or her life. When we look at Germany with its rising level of affluence and its efficient healthcare system, then it is quite understandable that people in Germany are satisfied and enjoy a good lifestyle.
Do the statistics also show which of these factors are the most important for subjective satisfaction?
We can only make guesses. The figures, however, do in fact provide us with insight into certain regular patterns. For example, healthy people are always more satisfied than sick people. Somebody who goes in for sports is more satisfied than somebody who does not. Home owners are as a rule more satisfied than people living in rented accommodation. At the same time people’s health or the place where they live also has an influence on their social life. This means that, depending on where I live or how often I leave the house, I have the opportunity to cultivate social contacts that make me happier. If, on the other hand, I live in a socially deprived area, my possibilities are limited.
The current Happiness Atlas focuses, among other things, on social inclusion. How satisfied, for example, are disabled people in Germany?
They are clearly more dissatisfied than the overall population. One has to differentiate, however, between people whose disablement is age-related, for whom the right form of nursing care plays a role, and disabled people who are young. Young, disabled people want to have a life and benefit from improved conditions in their schools, at their place of work and in public life. Nevertheless mentality still plays a major role here, too – disabled persons who take their own initiative and live their lives in a self-determined way are more satisfied than the average German.
Life in the North is the happiest
According to your statistics the happiness strongholds are in northern Germany. The Happiness Atlas has been going since 2011 and it is always Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg that are top of the rankings. The unhappiest Germans, on the other hand, live in the federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt. How do you account for this North-East gap?
Although the regional differences should be taken with a pinch of salt, the difference between the North German and East German federal states really is quite significant and can in fact be measured. For years the North, in more concrete terms Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and Lower Saxony, have been at the top of the list. In the case of Hamburg this is understandable as it is a functioning city state with an excellent healthcare system and many wealthy people. In Schleswig-Holstein, on the other hand, there is a relatively large number of unemployed people and the incomes for a West German federal state are somewhat lower …
... and yet it still managed to come in first in the Happiness Atlas.
Exactly. From an objective point of view Schleswig-Holstein ought to have been further down at the bottom of the list with the East German states. This, however, can be put down to the North German mentality. The people living up there seem to be able to make a comfortable life for themselves without so many material goods and, because of this, are more satisfied. Maybe their undemanding nature is a kind of “infectious disease” that has spread over the border from the countries in northern Europe – according to an international survey for years now the people living in Denmark have been the most satisfied people in the world.
You yourself actually come from Schleswig-Holstein, but now live in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. In terms of your personal satisfaction, how did you cope with that?
I am absolutely satisfied with my life in Southern Germany, but of course whenever I go back up north to my Wattenmeer with its mudflats and to my dikes, I am always very happy. The question, however, is very interesting from a scientific point of view. Recently a survey was carried out in Denmark that tried to ascertain whether the Danes were happier living in their home country as opposed to living abroad. The results showed that the Danes living abroad were equally as satisfied and that they had in fact simply taken their mentality with them.
© Bernd Raffelhüschen
Prof. Dr. Bernd Raffelhüschen is co-author of the Glücksatlas 2014 that was commissioned by the Deutsche Post AG (German Post Office). As a professor for financial management at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg he conducts research on the fiscal and socio-political aspects of demographic change.