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In such a special and different time like right now, one might get to thinking. Among other things, thinking about what really makes us happy. And as flat as it might sound, it’s so true at the same time and we actually all know it: it is much more the little things. And mostly it is nothing material. The new necklace, the lamp that I wanted to buy for such a long time, the coveted ACNE T-shirt … these are all nice and might make you happy in the short term, but at the end of the day it is the interpersonal connections that make you happy in the long term. The sociologist Paul Marsden listed a few things that make us happy in his keynote “The Future is human”. And funny: I can’t find a handbag on his list:

  • doing something good for others
  • cultivating your friendships
  • feeling and expressing gratitude
  • developing strategies for dealing with challenges
  • enjoying life
  • sticking to your goals
  • learning to forgive others
  • less ruminating
  • stopping comparing yourself to others
  • taking on a positive attitude
  • doing good for your body
  • living your spirituality or your beliefs
  • doing more things where you actively do something instead of just consuming

He also says that consuming Facebook, Instagram, Netflix & Co. does not make us unhappy, but we miss the chance to work more on our happiness during these hours. More do-it-yourself instead of consuming. This morning I opened LinkedIn and a person I knew jumped in my face and who had performed somewhere, and everyone loved it. And immediately I started comparing myself to this person. Within 5 minutes I had managed to pull myself down. “Why can this person do this and why can’t I do my thing?” I went on like this for quite some time. That’s the stupidest way I ever spent my time. On a good day, it’s “Fix your 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 this is it for me, that I failed and that people like me have good ideas, but that they lack the qualities you need to build a company. For example, giving myself a pat on the back is just not me, but it’s part of the game. If you want to play in a certain league, you have to know the rules they play by. I’ve set out to write my own rules and not care about the rules 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 I will be very happy. And thinking about this, a lunch comes to mind 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 I pay attention for what and whom I take time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days like this morning where I limitlessly distract myself with senseless things. But I am more skeptical today when it comes to requests from outside – no matter how well-intentioned. At some point there was a gap in my calendar and I thought, why not?! It’s just lunch, and you have to eat anyway. And so I met Arno Schultchen, owner of the design agency design for human nature – and some people will now think ‘What, she didn’t know who Arno is? Whatever. There are many people you don’t know. To start with: it was one of the most entertaining lunches I ever had. And Arno coined a phrase that is still stuck in my head to this day. Simply because it’s so true and so good.

“Happiness is the overcoming of an obstacle.”

Arno Schultchen


How did he come up with that? He talked about a work his design studio had done for the state of Schleswig Holstein. Instead of a campaign, they had developed a beach chair in which you could spend the night. And for those who haven’t done that yet and are not getting around to it any time soon, I recommend the article by Silke Pfersdorf in Süddeutsche. The title says it all: “Heroine of the night”. It does take a bit of guts to be outside at night, alone with yourself and the sea. And it makes you very happy once you’ve done that. 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 get out of it healthy and have somehow made it economically, then we will be happy and grateful. And hopefully we will appreciate the little things more; In this sense: thank you Arno for your time and for your insights.

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