Depression can affect my writing skills

World Happy Day: Why Germans are happier than you think

It seems strange to me personally that the world lucky day falls on March 20th of all places. After all, spring is now beginning, which is the worst season for me as an American.

Here in the USA there is a well-known saying about the month of March: "Either it comes like a lamb and walks like a lion, or vice versa." No matter what part of the country you are in - the weather at this time of year is reliably unreliable.

The same applies to my adopted home Germany. Here you usually spend March under an oppressive gray sky, from which, depending on the region, it either rains or snows, often immediately after a few rays of sunshine had come through the clouds. Ralph Waldo Emerson described the changeable weather very aptly: "Our life is like March weather, wild and cheerful within an hour."

These are the happiest countries.

So how can we be happy for even a single day during this transition?

Fair distribution and sustainability

So nice: Originally, World Happy Day was not even conceived as a day of joy. The date was chosen on purpose because it marks the beginning of spring in the northern part of the globe. And spring is seen by many as a time of renewal. Nevertheless, we will certainly not all walk through nature beaming with joy on March 20th.

The United Nations selected this day to raise awareness of "the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth" that "drives sustainable development, poverty reduction, joy and prosperity for all peoples".

World happiness report

In connection with the World Happiness Day, which the UN General Assembly decided in June 2012, there is also a very special ranking list - the World Happiness Report. However, the 2018 ranking does not take into account the things that I would have expected, such as nice weather or the frequency with which people smile on average per day. Instead, the analysts took more economic factors into account, such as per capita income. But they also looked at the connection between feelings of happiness and migration this year.

Time and again, the ranking is led by the Scandinavian countries (in the ranking from 2015-17 Finland is in first place, followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland), even though the sun does not show up here for months. In stark contrast to this is Bhutan, which only appears in 97th place. The small Himalayan state once met with worldwide interest with its "national happiness index". This index measures quality of life using statistics on literacy and crime. And right here in Bhutan, the sun shines an average of eight hours a day, even in January.

The Danes don't know anything about their luck

The Scandinavian countries are so often at the forefront of happiness reports that entire books and travel catalogs cover their happiness recipes - although the locals seem to be surprised at these happiness recipes. As this post on Twitter shows, Finns are not listed as the happiest people because they smile the most.

In her 2015 book "The Year of Living Danishly", Helen Russell described her move from London to the countryside in Denmark. During the one year she spent there, she researched why the Danes should be so happy - and found that the Danes themselves are rather confused by this judgment. The World Happiness Report based its assessment on certain political factors, such as transparency and corruption. To improve her own happiness, Helen Russell often lit candles to create a cozy atmosphere, took exercise classes, worked less, and ate more baked goods.

How to be happy in the midst of grumpy grouches

Somehow the life of Russell in Denmark reminded me of my own life in Germany. People smile much less often here than in the United States. And that despite the fact that almost all of them seem to be in some sports club and consume loads of pastries. So why does Germany only appear in 15th place on the list? And how is it that Germany emerges before the USA and Great Britain despite everything, even though it sometimes seems to me as if I am only surrounded by bad-tempered complainers?

As it turns out, in every country people underestimate how happy their fellow human beings are. Our perception, and not only in Germany, is that the people around us are not as happy as they say in the survey. And it is difficult to measure the quality of social components. Although candlelight and pastries have been found to have a strong influence on feelings, they are not taken into account when creating the ranking. Instead, researchers asked how generosity and having someone you can rely on affect feelings of happiness, to study the effect of social factors on happiness.

Of course, political and historical circumstances also influence the feeling of happiness. But a certain resilience can cushion the negative effects. If, for example, a wealthy country such as Finland goes through economic difficulties, people still consider themselves satisfied because they can rely on a strong social safety net.

In general, feelings of happiness are quite subjective and have to do with people's perspective, especially mine. In the World Happiness Report of 2018, a category has now been added that measures the happiness of foreigners in the individual countries. Here, too, Finland came in first, followed by Denmark, Norway and Iceland. Here Germany only appeared in 28th place, well behind the USA and Great Britain. Could it be that Germans say of themselves that they are happy while I wouldn't because of the circumstances I face as an immigrant?

Is the smile really that important?

It is difficult to distinguish between cause and correlation based on the data from the study. But their authors point out that people are more likely to emigrate to happier countries, which are also wealthy countries. They also write that "immigrants 'and local residents' assessments of their own lives are likely to depend on the extent to which citizens of a country are sympathetic to foreign migrants."

At the same time, however, I also wonder whether it all has a little to do with my own understanding of happiness. The fact that a Finn never smiles, according to the study, doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is more unhappy than a cheerleader with teeth bleached as white as snow. And just the fact that a German doesn't keep jumping in the air for joy doesn't mean they don't feel happiness inside.

What makes Germans happy

So what exactly makes Germans happy? To answer this question, you need to look at another index, one that is published annually by Deutsche Post: The happiness atlas, which is used by the Weltglücksreport, publishes a whole list of things that make people happy. Amazingly, the number of hours of sunshine played no role here.

What matters here are things like love, access to healthcare, and education. Sports groups and hobbies also make Germans happy. And also - listen and be amazed - work. More precisely, the control people have over their working hours and the ability to choose how to spend their time. In this respect, Germans hardly differ from everyone else.