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During such a particular time like this, we start to think and also reflect on what makes us happy. And to be honest we all know it: it’s much more the little things. It doesn’t have to be material. The new necklace, the lamp I’ve wanted for a long time and the desired ACNE T-shirt … It’s all nice and makes you happy for the short term, but at the end of the day, it’s the interpersonal aspect that makes you happy in the long term. In his keynote speech “The Future is Human”, sociologist Paul Marsden listed a few things that make us happy. And guess what… I can’t find a handbag on the list:

  • Helping for others
  • nurture friendships
  • feeling and expressing gratitude
  • develop strategies to cope with challenges
  • enjoy life
  • stick to goals
  • learn to forgive others
  • ponder less
  • Stop comparing myself with others
  • adopt a positive attitude
  • Do good to my body
  • live-out spirituality or faith
  • Do more things where I am actively doing something instead of just consuming.

He also says there that consuming preoccupation with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix & Co. does not make us unhappy, but during these hours we miss the chance to work more on our happiness.

Doing actively more yourself instead of consuming. For example, this morning I opened LinkedIn and a post of an acquaintance who had performed somewhere popped up and everyone in the comments thought it was great. I immediately started to compare myself to them and within 5 minutes I had managed to pull my mood down. “Why can this person manage this and not me?” This went on for quite some time and I couldn’t have spent my time more stupidly. On good days I manage to just “shake it off and move on”. But on other days, it doesn’t help because there are no resources to discipline me.  So on these bad days, I just doubt myself and tell myself that I might have good ideas but surely not what it takes to build a  company. Hyping yourself up is not really my way of coping with these feelings. However, it is often just needed to succeed in life and goals. At some point, you have to create your own rules. So that is exactly what I am trying to do, write my own rules and not care about those of others. So all of my efforts are an experiment with an open outcome, a my own “challenge”, a race against myself. And if I succeed, I know it will make me very happy. That reminds me of a lunch meeting, that almost didn’t happen :

I met someone once because someone else said to me, “Why don’t you meet him?” It was in a business context, I hadn’t seen the point and didn’t want to give up my time for it. The older I get, the more careful I am about what and who I make time for. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days like this morning when I distract myself senselessly without limits. But nowadays I am more sceptical about outside requests – no matter how well-intentioned. At some point, there was a gap in the calendar and I thought, why not?! It’s only lunch and you have to eat anyway. And so I met with Arno Schultchen, owner of the design agency design for human nature – and some people will now think ‘What, Arno doesn’t know her? It doesn’t matter. There are many people you don’t know. To say it in advance: it was one of the most entertaining lunches I’ve ever had. And Arno coined a phrase that is still etched in my brain today. Simply because it is so true and so good.


“Happiness is the overcoming of an obstacle.”

Arno Schultchen

How did he come up with it? He told me about a job his design agency had done for the state of Schleswig Holstein. Instead of a campaign, they had developed a Strandkorb – a typical German hooded beach chair in which you could spend the night. In the German newspaper Süddeutsche the journalist Silke Pfersdorf wrote about the experience in an article called “Heroine of the Night”. So as the title suggests it does take a bit of effort to be out at night alone by the sea. But it makes you very happy once you’ve done it. And of course, there are other obstacles than spending the night in nature. In pandemic times, the list of barriers just seems endless. If we come out of this healthy and economically stable, that will make us happy and grateful. And hopefully, we will also appreciate the little things more again.

Thank you, Arno, for your time and this inspirational sentence.

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