At such a special time as this, we sometimes get to thinking. Among other things, we reflect on what really makes us happy. And as flat as it sounds, it’s also true, and actually we all know it: it’s much more the little things. And mostly it’s nothing material. The new necklace, the lamp I’ve wanted for a long time, the coveted ACNE T-shirt … it’s all nice and makes you happy in 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 address “The Future is Human“, sociologist Paul Marsden listed a few things that make us happy. And it’s funny: I can’t find a handbag in the list:

  • do something good for others
  • nurture my friendships
  • Feel and express gratitude
  • develop strategies to cope with challenges
  • enjoy life
  • stick to my goals
  • learn to forgive others
  • brood less
  • stop comparing myself with others
  • adopt a positive attitude
  • do good to my body
  • live my spirituality or faith
  • do more things where I am actively doing
  • something instead of just consuming

He also says there that the consuming occupation with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix & Co. does not make us unhappy, but we miss the chance in these hours to work more on our happiness. More DIY instead of consuming. This morning I opened LinkedIn and a person I knew who had performed somewhere again jumped in my face and everyone thought it was great. And immediately the comparison started with myself, within 5 minutes I had managed to pull myself down and all the way to the bottom. “Why does this person manage to do this and why don’t I manage to do my thing?” And it went on like that for quite some time. I couldn’t spend my time in a more stupid way. Then, on good days, it’s “fix the crown, move on.” But on other days, all that knowledge is of no use. And you can only have discipline if you still have reserves.

On bad days, I’m sure that’s it, that I’ve failed and that people like me have good ideas, but that they lack qualities that you also need to build a company. For example, this beating yourself up is just not mine, but it’s also part of the game. If you want to play in a certain league, you also have to master its rules. I started out to write my own rules and not to care about those of others. But it is an experiment with an open outcome. It is my own “challenge”, so to speak. A race against myself. If I succeed, I know it will make me very happy. And what I have to think about then is a lunch 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 really 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 I’m more skeptical about outside requests today – no matter how well-intentioned. At some point there was a gap in the calendar and I thought, why not?! It’s just 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 will now think ‘How, Arno doesn’t know them?!’ No matter. There are many people you don’t know. To say it in advance: it was one of the most entertaining lunches I 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 firm had done for the state of Schleswig Holstein. Instead of a campaign, they had developed a beach chair in which you can spend the night. And for those who haven’t done that yet and can’t get around to it right now, I recommend the article by Silke Pfersdorf in the Süddeutsche. N. The title says it all: “Heroine of the Night. It takes a bit of effort to be outside at night, alone with yourself and the sea. And it makes you very happy once you’ve done it. And of course, there are other obstacles than spending the night in nature. We live in Corona times. The list of obstacles to overcome now is endless. If we come out of this in good health and have somehow made it economically, that will make us happy and grateful. And hopefully we will appreciate the little things more again.

In this sense: thank you Arno for your time and for this sentence.