Christina Scheidweiler

Miss Mangelsdorf, you are researching happiness. What is happiness anyway?

Judith Mangelsdorf: In science, we distinguish between two forms of happiness. So-called hedonistic happiness is associated with contentment and positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, or serenity. On the other hand, the eudaimonic understanding of happiness is associated with the formation of a fulfilling life, which is characterized by deep relationships, the meaning of life and living in harmony with personal values.

Happiness is something that each of us can experience, or someone more, someone less?

Both are correct. In general, from the point of view of evolutionary psychology, the experience of joy and happiness is as much a part of the spectrum of human existence as the experience of fear or anger. But we can also actively strive to make our lives more fulfilling. However, studies have shown that most people have a certain level of happiness that they rarely or only in extreme situations leave. So there are people who are more fortunate than others.

This is why Scandinavians are so happy

The World Happiness Report, which is published annually, shows once again that people in Scandinavia seem especially happy. Why is this?

The answer lies not at the individual level, but at the societal level. The Scandinavian countries have very strong social systems that primarily support the poorest of the poor in existential matters. As a result, there are fewer very unhappy people in society, as well as an increase in what we call “gross domestic happiness.” The main question here is what the state is doing to ensure that the population not only becomes richer, but above all can lead a more fulfilling life.

How is the World Happiness Report created?

More than a decade ago, the United Nations General Assembly determined that it was not enough to focus policy decisions primarily on increasing gross domestic product. Therefore, he asked all members to annually measure the life satisfaction of their population. The goal is to have another indicator of development on which better policy decisions can be made.

In addition, the scholars involved are, of course, trying to figure out what distinguishes particularly happy and very unhappy countries and what we can learn from this for the political design of the future.

What can we learn from the Scandinavians

What can we learn from Scandinavians?

The Scandinavian countries clearly show that the welfare state model is an important indicator of social happiness. This means that there are extensive and easily accessible welfare services that primarily protect the poorest sections of the population from the hardships of life. Safe, well-functioning institutions such as schools, offices, and entire governments, as well as well-regulated labor markets, also predict population happiness.

In addition to these benefits of the welfare state, justice, freedom and autonomy are key indicators. The Scandinavian countries have a relatively small gap between rich and poor and a high degree of freedom afforded to the population. This combination seems to be a state guarantee of a better life.

What is the narrative that people in Scandinavia are more depressed, have high suicide rates – how does that fit in with these happiness studies?

It is true that the suicide rate in the Scandinavian countries is higher, but it is still lower than in countries like the USA. It is important to understand that suicide is a relatively rare occurrence. In Norway, for example, it affects 0.02 percent of the population per year, while the World Happiness Report tries to be representative of the entire population.

The causes of suicidal tendencies can often be found in individual psychology, while the happiness of an entire nation depends largely on the problems affecting society as a whole. So they are largely independent phenomena.

Good luck with these simple tips.

What is the recipe for success to experience happiness every day? Any simple tips?

Those who strive to be happy every day are often more unhappy than people who take personal happiness less seriously. But what is worth striving for is to ensure that every day brings satisfaction. Happiness often comes by itself, and if not, then this is also an important part of being human. If you want to take steps towards greater fulfillment, you can consciously make time for the most important relationships in your life.

Quality time spent with a partner, children, or close friends is one of the greatest sources of happiness. Or take on a social issue that is important to you: whether it’s climate, peace, education, or poverty, our society needs people who strive for a better future. It gives meaning to life and not only helps your own happiness.

More happiness in just five minutes

And take 5 minutes every day to think about what you are grateful for today. This allows you to become more aware of the good in your life. This counteracts the deeply human tendency to always pay more attention to the negative.

In general, we can say that happiness is not only something we are born with, it is also shaped by our lifestyle and the society in which we live. If we work every day to make our society a little better for everyone, then this is one of the best recipes for greater happiness for each of us.

About the expert: prof. Judith Mangelsdorf Happiness researcher and Germany’s first female professor of positive psychology. She leads Germany’s first master’s degree in positive psychology at the German University of Health and Sports in Berlin, Hamburg and Ismaning. She is also the director of the German Society for Positive Psychology.

Used sources:

  • Interview with Judith Mangelsdorf
  • World Happiness Report 2022 (Country Ranking)
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