Berlin and Sylt

Sylt - A bit too busy for my taste, but no doubt a beautiful island.

Sylt – A bit too busy for my taste, but no doubt a beautiful island.

This year’s Woodpecker clan’s family trip is taking us around northern Germany and Scandinavia.

After about 8 weeks of heat wave – Munich slowly becomes a mediterranean climate – we already had our share of swimming and late nights outdoor. So we decided that the risk of bad weather (normally a downturner when doing holiday with small kids) is quite acceptable this year.

The first station (only for Mr.Woodpecker) was Berlin, to meet up for a large european gathering of wonderful people from an international exchange association I joined recently.
Berlin is a good spot for such a gathering, as it vibrates a very international flair these days. And still it is, compared to other „hip“ cities, relatively cheap. Weather was great also, so we enjoyed a great time there.
The only thing that struck me is how much Berlin changed in the last 15-20 years. I considered myself to be quite a Berlin-expert in the late Nineties, but did not often return in the last 10 years.

What a change the city made!

In the Nineties, Berlin was a slightly “run-down” and a bit shabby but very sexy and very special city with a unique frontier atmosphere that only its former isolated location was able to produce. The only cities in the world that also were able to form (a bit) of this special flair were other former communist cities, like Prague or Riga.
In the Nineties Berlin, you immediately knew if you were in the west or former east. In the former east, streets were VERY shabby, pavement full of potholes, lights broken, houses all in gray from the coal fireplaces. But also this areas very VERY sexy, full of great student and subculture live taking place in huge old houses that you could rent for an equivalent of 3 EUR per square meter or less. I had quite a few great parties there, the only mess being to carry up the coal for the ovens 5 stories from the cellar where my hosts stored a whole ton of it for the winter. Stranded Soviet soldiers were selling out their equipment and uniforms to tourists. There was the Loveparade. There were countless of barely legal clubs, parties and all sorts of alternative ideas and living.

In other words: The city gave you a sense of adventure in the Nineties.

All of this is gone.

Berlin now is a modern, bustling and in most parts clean and tidy city, flooded by tourists and WIFI-access everywhere.
It still is fascinating, and it is much more international than back then.
But it also became much more exchangeable with other western capitals.
There is no talking around it, it’s greatest days (for people who seek the special) are over. Fortunately, people who still come there in the search of the special have no idea what it has been BEFORE.
But well, that is the course of history – a very special time is only special when it finally is terminated.

Having said that, Berlin still is very much worth a visit. Go there, see the monuments, party and feel the history. Make your own experience of this unique city in the heart of Europe. Multiply by 10 and you have an idea of it’s past wild days.

The Woodpecker clan then re-united in Hamburg. Apart from Munich my favorite city for living in Germany. I am a sailor and a mountain fan – what the Alps are for Munich, is the sea, the harbour and the river to Hamburg. Great place!

Walkway through the dunes.

Walkway through the dunes.

Later we continued to the Northern Sea, to the island Sylt.
I love the Northern Sea and it’s islands, as they have a special atmosphere due to the climat, the strong tides, their dune-character and the „Wattenmeer“.

I have never been to the island Sylt before though.
Actually it is considered to be a „posh“ destination, very en vogue among “the rich and famous” (or those like to think they belong to this group).
That typically is a downturner to me, as it often means unfriendly or arrogant people focussed on money and a general materialistic atmosphere.
Anyway, we were curious, because the Nature is still considered to be marvelous and there is a lot to do and see.

My judgement so far:
Nature is very nice, but there is indeed way to much people, cars and buildings on the island.
Thus, Nature seems pretty much under pressure and it is not easy to find a spot without many people. Beaches are beautiful of course, the sand is – like on any north sea island – the best in the world, much softer and sweeter than anything I have seen even in the Caribbean or elsewhere. Actually you want to bath right in the warm sand, roll around and never stand up again! (… and that is exactly what the Woodpecker body did each day…including filling our car up with this nice sand…)

People (as expected) are pretty much boring, and lack what I would call “authenticity”. As many people here feels somehow „special“, many carry their noses a bit too high. Not too much room for occasional chat, joke, or beer with strangers. These posh people somehow seem not like to get into contact. Even not among themselves to my observations. Probably chatting with strangers is too un-cool.
Also the pace of life on the island is much higher than it should be. Everybody – while being in this relaxing and beautiful surrounding, still seems a bit stressed or busy. Probably because they always have to watch out who watches them or who is there to watch. Or something like that. A down-turner was a e.g. a place called Wonne-Meyer (I prefer to call it Wonne-Kasper. A Kasper is someone who makes a joke of himself), where posh people pile up for a sun-downer, food is bad and expensive, and it was stressful crowded not in a positive party-way, but in the negative 1000-cool-people want to relax at the same spot.

Anyway, no comparison in relaxation to other German islands, like the Ostfriesische Inseln or (my relaxation favorite) Hiddensee in the Baltic sea.

The captain of our Pirate cruise during the kids' attack on the sister ship...my boys were convinced that he has been a former real pirate, and I tend to agree!

The captain of our Pirate cruise during the kids’ attack on the sister ship…my boys were convinced that he has been a former real pirate, and I tend to agree!

Good thing ist hat Woodpeckers of course picked the camping place for their stay. And all the proms of course make a big circle around the camping place, and so do all the would-like-to-be-poshies. So at least in the daily routine (and even at the beach stretch next to the camping), the atmosphere is much more relaxing than in general.

And there are areas (especially in the North) were Nature ist still magic, and you can have wonderful evening hikes or bike tours. Plus we made a Pirate-Cruise from List. Very much recommended with kids, one of the best value entertainment I have ever seen.

Recommendation: For a week of camping, or maybe in the off-season, ok. For the real experience, go for the smaller and less prominent islands.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Pics: Click to enlarge.

The Importance of Ethical and Good Behaviour for your Happiness

 

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be "good": Dalai Lama.

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be “good”: Dalai Lama.

You want to transform your life into something beyond being a pure economic subject that consumes, works, produces, pushes the GDP and ultimately dies to be replaced by the next robot?

Then it is worthwhile to look back in time on what previous big minds have said about self-actualization and living a good life.

The thing is:
While many things change very quickly, the large questions about meaning, sense etc., stay absolutely constant over the centuries. And the “old” masters of happiness and good life (btw: they were called philosophers, not as today “coaches” ;-) ) have one advantage:

Their theories obviously passed the test of time.

If you can still buy and read the books of those persons that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, there must be a profound truth in what they said. A basic truth that was able to withstand so many waves of change and progress (whatever progress is).

So this reading is what Woodpecker did in a quite difficult time of his life, i.e. long before this blog, at a time where I decided that I am not happy with the average consume-produce-die-approach to life that so many people around us want us to pursue.
At that time I basically went through a whole library of philosophers, starting from the ancient Greeks (Aristoteles, Platon, Epicurus, Diogenes, Stoa), over romans (mainly Cicero), the big Germans (Kant, Schopenhauer), some others (Kierkegaard, and a lot that I forgot). Plus I added some religious and spiritual leaders, because very often there were (and are) intelligent and progressive people among them too.
All of this writers were people who thought way beyond their own ego, who ventured out to picture the big lines.

Plus I also added to my reading the big negative examples in history, to understand the dark side as well: Caesar, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Napoleon.
Being sinister people who in contrast were only interested in themself, their own power and their own ego.

The learing benefit of spending these 5 years or so of reading was nothing less than massive. It definitely changed my life and my view on the world (much to the better!) and it is a treasure that will delight me until the very end.

Why do I write all of this?

Because one fact really struck me as amazing, and it is a good starting point if you do not have the time now for five years of reading:

Through the history, throughout the centuries and over all cultures, be it west or east, philosophers and religious leaders stress the importance of ethical living if you truly want to become a happy and fulfilled person!

Recommending an ethical living is the most common denominator from ancient Greeks over buddhism, from Emanuel Kant to Dalai Lama.

There are only very few exceptions, but if you continue to explore the biographies of those, you quickly see that while intellectually fascinating, you do not want to follow their path (e.g. Nietzsche was one, but he became mad and died alone and in bitterness).

Thus I safely can follow this large minds and recommend ethical living, too.

We all are no mother Theresa, thus we will not always succeed, but I can say that from the day of this insight on, I tried to follow that path, much to my satisfaction so far.

Here is my observation on trying to do so:

1. The benefit of being good

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and "virtue".

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and “virtue”.

(a)  My observation is that people who only look for their own benefit, typically expect others to do so as well, thus they seem more often to distrust others.
They seem to lose faith that the world overall is a good place and that humans overall are good. Just because they themself do not care too much about being good, and you always project your own view of the world outward. So you look for the bad in people and will focus on it.

(b) The other way round if you try to be positive.
Trying to life ethical opens your eyes to the many positive and gentle things out there in day-to-day life. Your basic primary belief in others will be that they have good intentions, and very often you will find that, focus on that and be rewarded by your belief.

(c) Helping others without expecting something in return gives a deep satisfaction.
In the end it is not entirely selfless to help, because you feel needed, integrated etc. Good things and no one says you shall not benefit by helping others.

(d) You start to ask others for help, too. And you will see that people love to help.
Actually people deep inside want to have a positive and selfless impact on others. There is a deep-wired social component in all of us to let others around you benefit from your skills. The “market” unfortunately tries to press much of this into economic patterns. But just look at the internet: So many blogs out there, so many great content, all for free! Some of my best reading, some of the best pictures, recipes, travel tips, and many of my best investment decisions: All coming from blogs where nice people put them out there for use! Thank you, dear world!
Why do they do this? Ultimately the same reason than myself: People WANT to give something to the world. For free. Outside of a market and without pay.

(e) Ultimately, people behave reciprocal.
At least subconsciously, people will notice who wants them good and who wants them bad. And they will remember, even over long stretches of time. If you meet again in the future, they will treat you accordingly.

(f) If you behave ethical, you have more luck in life.
Lets be a bit pathetic: You can say the universe is thankful. And if you want to explain that more sober, look at point (e): There is serious theories out there that say that “good” people accumulate positive attitude towards them over time. After decades, so many people around them remember that they behaved positively, that the occasions where this people get something positive back “out of nothing” get more and more numerous. Plus again, behaving positively will automatically make you focus more on the good things happening to you, and just accepting them without doubt.

(g) Other way round with the un-ethical person.
They accumulate negative feelings against them. And beware when the lose their power over others (e.g. the nasty but powerful boss: Once he quits job, he will be surprisingly alone and become bitter despite all money and fame in the past).

(h) You will get into contact with good people very easily and all around the world.
People have an amazingly good sense if a foreigner is truly friendly to them or a potential threat. They will recognize you as an ethical person, you will recognize them and you will have a good time. And you will save money if you trust. (e.g. the laptop I am writing on this moment: It was bought via telephone from a Turkish guy living 500km away from Munich. After a chat on the phone we both decided to trust each other, I transferred 500 EUR to this total stranger and two days later this wonderful and very cheaply sold computer was here. Saved me 150 EUR compared to offers close-by…)

(i) To some extend, there emerge two worlds.
As ethical people will go out-of-the-way of un-ethical people in the long run (see below), and thus the latter are forced to deal among themselves to some degree, both groups somehow get what they expect: The non-ethicals will be surrounded by other non-ethicals (confirming their pessimistic view on the world) and the ethical people will have large networks of other ethical people around them. Both groups, to some degree, being separated from each other, at least in private life.

(j) Philosophers claim, that behaving good, apart from all fact above, is absolutely necessary to unfold your true human nature, to fulfill all of your potential.
Simply because the human nature is to help and to support others, and if you act against it, you life an unnatural life, a life that can never succeed.
I absolutely agree to this one, too. Seems to fit all observations I make.

2. What is the disadvantage of behaving “good” and ethical

I can tell you, because there are a few:

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what acutal "good" and "ethical" behaviour means.

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what actual “good” and “ethical” behaviour means.

(a) You will be called “Gutmensch” (german negative word for people trying to do good. Is it “do-gooder” in English?) from time to time.
You will be called “dreamer”, “naive”, and so on.
Just ignore that. It is mostly people who are bitter or envy you for you being able to have a positive view on the world. These people somehow feel that their approach to the world is incorrect, but to safeguard their mental system they try to argue that behaving good is actually bad. This effect was already described by Aristoteles 2500 years ago.
Don’t get in a defensive position about that. If the other person continues to insult you that way, just go out of their ways. One human contact more he/she lost. Too bad.
But in my opinion, your humanistic attitude does not require you to take all the hits. In the end, most of us are still small humans down here and neither Siddharta or Jesus nor Mother Theresa.

(b) You will get exploited from time to time.
This is the most imminent danger. As you will always go out open and expecting the good, some “bad” players can more easily exploit you than if you go out sceptic and cautious.
This will happen in private life (but not that often to my observation), and in job-life: more often, as unfortunately often the powerful people came to their position not by competence, but by playing ambiguous political games. And you will never be good in political games, because political games by nature require dishonesty and opportunism or at least concealing information. All of this is not your métier as an ethical person and should not be strived for.

(c) You can shield yourself to some extend by playing tit-for-tat
This comes from game theory and says that you always start out positive or “good”. But if the other persons responds with “bad”, you react with “bad” as well. In the end, ethical yes or no, you do not want to be exploited all the time. But that’s no fun game, so on the long run you better break off the contact if possible: Find new friends, other business partners or a new job.

(d) Economically you will do a bit worse
In the end, there is no talking around it: On the economic side, you pay a certain price for behaving “good”. It is no secret that you will miss out some career move, a bit of higher salary, some dirty earnings here and some evaded tax there, compared to the ruthless self-maximizer.
This loss is partly mitigated by the reciprocity that will also bring you additional job opportunities or small favours from others.

But all in all there is a certain economic cost, so you have to make a decision.

3. Conclusion

If you are uncertain yet, please go back up in this post, and really think what is important in life: One career step more? A few thousand bucks more on your account?
Or the priceless feeling of living in a great world surrounded by friendly people?
You can also look at old people. See who is happy and who not. Think about how all of this persons might have behaved in their past life and what is the respective result. You will see the pattern.

Or read one of my favorite books:
The life of Dorian Gray (who, by some magic, is able to transfer all the negative results of his bad behaviour to a picture of him).

I hope I was able to convince you to join the “club of the naive, dreaming, ethical living people” (Woodpecker trademark, haha) !

If yes: Welcome! Let’s have a good time!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The Power of being Alone or: Are Efficiency and Competition your Enemies on the Way to Happiness?

The creek "Partnach", on its way down from Germany's highest peak, the "Zugspitze"

The creek “Partnach”, on its way down from Germany’s highest peak, the “Zugspitze”

Oh boy, time flies past these days.

It’s more than three weeks since the last post!

The weather this year is just way too good to spend it in front of a computer. However, today it is that hot in good old Munich, that staying inside is fun again.

Last weeks have been loaded with nice grill events, family time spent at the nearby lake (Hooray, even three-year old small Junior Woodpecker is able to make it with his bike now!), a multiple family trip to the nearby medieval festival and all sorts of other social events.

 

The gourge "Partnachklamm". Belief it or not, this is Bavaria, not Middle-Earth!

The gorge “Partnachklamm”.
Belief it or not, this is Bavaria, not Middle-Earth!

In short:

Social dividend rolled in big these days, seeded in the past by spending as much time as possible with PEOPLE and FRIENDS, and not in office maxing out your cash-flow, or with wasteful “modern life maintenance” activities.
Actually it rolles in so big that I get used to having so many friends and am more and more surprised by the fact that most people seem to have much less social contacts! If you are still in the latter group, no need to despair, but start doing something about it! All can be changed by investing time, time, time and also care and niceness. Not once or twice, but over years and years you have to prioritize friends over career…and you will build a powerfull community around you.

Woodpecker also got a new job (will report in another post). Of course I choose carefully not to get hit by the crazy modern times workaholics-hammer :-) , but still I am currently a bit more busy than usual with office, too.

Anyway, Woodpecker is now at a point where the great plenitude of social contacts makes something else a quite rare thing in his life:

Solitude.

Of course I do not mean the negative but the positive side of solitude:

Being able to be only with yourself. To concentrate on your own mind, thoughts, body.
To think things through clearly and without distraction.
To empty your mind from the constant swirl and chaos of thoughts, external demands and constant attractions around.

Thus, Woodpecker decided to go on a solo two-day mountain hike.
With the explicit goal to see as few people as possible.
To NOT make acquaintance with anyone (not easy for me, haha).
To speak as little as possible.
To be in nature.
To have a demanding physical challenge, and of course:
To be without cellphone.

So off I went to a tour in the close-by Wettersteingebirge (the mountain massive that also holds Germans highest mountain, the “Zugspitze”).

And what should I say?
I think for me it was the first time since 10 years (!) that I spent a full two days out of house without any company or meeting someone I know.
Plus, as a bonus: I did not bring any clock with me! :-)
Two days I had no idea what time it was, and did only what my body (and nature) were telling me.
A rare experience these days.

And all of this in a majestic, or even magical, nature surrounding, as you can see from the pics (taken by my good old 3kg heavy Nikon camera, not by cell-phone…).

View from one of my "perfect" resting places. Location: Secret ;-)

View from one of my “perfect” resting places.
Location: Secret ;-)

I made an interesting observation:

If you do hiking, you might know that your body picks its own speed, if you do not have to care about others, or about time. It picks the speed it needs to operate optimally, and to make you endure a long stretch of way.
In Woodpeckers case (and that seems to be a synonym for my whole lifestyle, now that I think about it), the marching pace turned out to be very high and energetic, but then I also needed frequent and long breaks in beautiful surroundings to replenish.
So it was maybe two hours tight marsh, then spending a long time to find the perfect spot e.g. at a creek (or any spot with some energy, if you know what I mean), pulling out loads of food, water and a book, and resting, reading or snoozing for one hour with nothing around than the sound of rippling water.

The thing is, normally, if you go with others, you are not able to follow that body rhythm. You have to do some compromise or you would not see each other the whole tour.
Which is fine.
But it was also great to experience the fantastic feeling of your body operating exactly at its own pace. And the energy it can muster if allowed to follow that pace.
A feeling that is long-lost in todays super-planned and scheduled world.

In the end I was surprised how easily I managed the challenging tour overall, so that I even had to add some 500 extra hight meters as I did not feel yet exhausted.

What I also did several times:

Marching tightly, and then just do a totally useless detour to explore a waterfall spotted in the distance and completely off the track. Or take a more difficult and clearly longer way, because on the map it showed to pass a spring and I felt like a drink from a spring.

Exploring the interesting creek down there took me one hour de-tour...and was worth every minute!

Exploring the interesting creek down there took me one hour de-tour…and was worth every minute!

Long life inefficiency!

Despite what I thought in the past, I more and more get the feeling that inefficiency – and not efficiency – brings the highest pleasure to life…if you are able to let go of maximization, of optimizing, of comparing and of competition. An insight I admittedly do not yet manage to life up to often in day-to-day life.

I am surprised myself, but the more I work on stage four of Maslows pyramid, I am slowly getting an enemy of optimization, efficiency and competition. Maybe these things are not needed anymore on the upper stages of the pyramid?
Maybe optimization, efficiency and competition are fine to safeguard provision of basic needs but are in your way once you start looking for the higher goals, like true happiness?

I tend to think so.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say today.

Excuse the little bit confused post, but that hike was a great experience and started a load of new trains of thought as you see.

Recommended for copy! And will repeat myself, next time for three days minimum.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

ps. Forgot to say. Total cost: Transport by car 25 EUR. Night in hut 18 EUR. Luxury food 20 EUR. Good value I’d say. :-)

Arrived at the mountain hut. A bit crowded for my taste, but what can you do? Sleep according to your body clock. Around 8am in my case. And everybody of this competitive achievment hunters had left to climb "Zugspitze" already! So I had the whole place ALONE in the morning! Crazy world.

Arrived at the mountain hut. A bit crowded for my taste, but what can you do? Sleep according to your body clock! Around 8am in my case… and everybody of this competitive achievement hunters had left to climb “Zugspitze” already! I don’t care for ticking peaks, and thus had the whole place ALONE in the morning! Crazy world.

Should I have Kids? And if yes, how can we most enjoy our time together? Part 1

 

I have no idea how you call this in English: Roller keg?! (Rollerfäßchen?). Great game on an alpine pasture with kids: Dad just has to rest and play the starting ramp, kids are busy rolling around :-)

I have no idea how you call this in English: Roller keg?! (Rollerfäßchen?).
Great game on an alpine pasture with kids: Dad just has to rest and play the starting ramp, kids are busy rolling around. :-) Foto: The Woodpecker Juniors at Eckbauer, close to Munich

To my experience, the issue of “should I have kids?” and “what is the benefit of that for me” are somehow seldom openly discussed in society. At least in Germany, this seems to be a very sensitive topic that is more avoided than money, job, or whatever else is important in life.

It is also a topic difficult to address, because it is personal and there are so many sensitive areas involved (health, finding a partner, age, economic situation, etc.). Who finds this topic too sensitive for him/her at the moment might want to stop here and not read on, as he/she might find my thesis offensive or in-sensitive. But in this blog I try to address the truth, and how I see it, the truth does not care if it is offensive or not.

Anyway, as I want to progress my blog a bit away from the “money” part and towards the “art of happy living” part, there is no way ignoring such an important topic as kids. As we will see, and those of you that have kids already know, kids will massively impact on your lifestyle and happiness. I’d even say there is nothing that changes your life and your view on the world as much as becoming a father or a mom.

This post is also more directed at younger readers, I want to inspire you to dive into the adventure of having kids (which, in Germany, unfortunately is not so naturally anymore).

All right, let’s start, and let’s keep the focus on the impact of kids on your happiness:

1) Empirical relationship between kids and happiness

The major happiness research literature did of course look at the influence of kids on happiness. They typically check if a person with kids living in her/his household is more happy or less happy than a person living without kids.

Here is the outcome.

Over all, and over different ages of the kids, your happiness will be more or less the same, no matter if you have kids or if you don’t have kids.

Sorry, kids do not seem to be the key to never-ending happiness, according to these studies.
They will also not make you unhappy, even if they cause stress or because they are very costly.
However, we will see below that the current statistical picture is incomplete and misses out a central point, thus be careful to over-interprete.

Lets split happiness effect by phases of kid’s age. For two or more kids, obviously the different phases overlap, increasing the amplitude of the family-adventure-rollercoaster even more. :-)

 

Age minus 1 until 1 year: The Happy Toddling Baby Age

About half a year before the birth of your first kid, happiness level increases dramatically.
This is due to what I call the great adventure of birth, which, even for the father, is nothing short of a true magical moment. Forget about your greatest love in life, the biggest mountain you climbed, the highest bonus you ever got. Holding your own blood in your arms the first time, in much bigger than that. Creating life (especially the first time) is an experience that nothing else in the world comes up to and (in my humble opinion) should not be missed out by anyone, no matter what the costs are. It is a moment of utter meaningfulness, an integral part of life. That’s how I ever saw it even before having kids, and that is what I can confirm, having had the luck to experience this moment now myself two times.

Happiness levels stay high until the baby is about one year old, what I’d call the happy-new-parent-effect. Yes, you sleep terribly and very little, you will hate the screaming, the diapers etc., but this is all still thrilling and new, you still feel the aftermath of the magical moment of birth, and, very important: You are still very mobile, as you can simply carry the baby around and continue to go to parties or even do fancy travelling. Time to enjoy! Definitly take a lot of parental leave in this magical phase and do some nice and extended trip with your newborn! If ou do it right, you will never forget this great time of your life.

 

Age 1 until 3-4 years: The stressful extra-rush within the rush-hour of life

Unfortunately, happiness then drops off below non-kids-same-age-persons until the kid reaches the age of 3 or 4.
During that phase, parents are in fact less happy than non-parents. Reason is simple: At kids age 2-3 your personal freedom is restricted far more than you will ever know in any other phase of your life. Of course, the kid is still there, and it will provide a lot of great moments to you. But in the same time, the little person will not stay in a cradle and sleep while you carry him/her around, but he/she wants to participate.
Which is great, but rules out a lot of activities: No party, no dinner in nice restaurants, no chilling out for hours, no big mountain tours, no skiing, no museums, no reading the newspaper, no conversation longer than one minute with your wife/husband at the table when coming back from the office.
You get the picture.
You have to care a lot, and especially if you have two or more kids and both partners work to some extend, you will enjoy an absolute minimum of time to spend for yourself, for your friends and for your partner.
This is stress. And it collides with a time where your kid-less co-workers work long hours to make a career, and you can’t or don’t want to. Plus the kid-less have way more purchase power in that phase. They will buy many fancy things, spend a lot on eating out and on crazy holiday trips, while you do only “quite holidays”, bring your own food to the beer garden and buy used stuff at eBay due to your strained financial situation (lower income and higher costs at the same time).

My tip:

Great fun with kids: Watching movies / comics from when you were young.

Great fun with kids: Watching movies / comics from when you were young.

Make the best out of this time, try to spend as much time as possible with your kids to take part and enjoy their development. Remember that better times will come and later you will have ample time for yourself and all your Egotrips again.
Make clear at the job that family is priority, and if this is not accepted (which in Germany unfortunately is often the case) don’t care but make family priority anyway, or think about changing job, even if this creates additional stress for the moment.
Concerning money, read the chapters on frugal living, and always remember that the link between money and happiness is through relative wealth. Simply surround yourself with people on your (now lower) spending level and everything will be fine. Often this will mean that you spend more time with other families, and less with your kid-less friends, but that’s life. And no-one says you have to burn the bridges. One day it will fit better again.

 

Age 4-13: The Long Stretch of Family Happiness

After the age of 3-4, there comes the long stretch of family happiness, as I’d call it. It is a phase where parents are most happy, and happiness level rises significantly above non-parents. Woodpeckers just entered that phase (hooray!!), and it is in fact a great time, because now the kids are old enough to care for themselves in basic things (they can dress, they can go to toilet, they can say what they want, they can eat more or less properly) and they are now able to participate in activities that are also thrilling for adults (well, this is my view as a man at least):
You can do cycle tours with the 5-year-old, you can do the first mountain tours, you can start skiing together, you can buy a telescope and explain the stars, you can go to technical museums, build fancy sand castles or model cars, erect a fire, repair the car together, you can sleep at the mountain hut with other families and have a full fledged pillow fight, you name it.
And slowly you have more time again for yourself and your partner, as the kids accept a baby-sitter, sleep out at friends, are able to play an hour alone from time to time etc.

My tip:

Enjoy!
And spend as much time with your kids as somehow possible. This is the time to build the basis for a life-long relationship with your kids and simply have fun with them.
Your career now is ruined anyway (who cares?) and you adapted to having less money. You will have a large and ever-expanding circle of other families as friends by now that will make for great buzzing family gatherings. You will have plenty of time for non-family-adventures later in your life, so don’t worry if there is a still less of activities with your kid-less friends in this phase. It will come back.

You now also have sufficient energy back to sort our some things in your life that you might have postponed during the extra-ruch-hour-phase. As finding a new job (That’s what Woodpecker did a month ago and finaly got rid of his “uninspiring” old boss. Hooray again! …extra post to come on this topic).

You could also sign up for a cereal advertisement, because in this phase, you most likely will have that family-happiness-glow they want to see. ;-)

 

13-17: Puberty or: Oh no! My son/daughter starts to develop an own opinion!

The stretch of family happiness apparently goes until the age of 12 or 13, until puberty. At that time, happiness research suggests that times get more rough again as conflicts with the kids will emerge, and on average parents happiness drop significantly. I cannot say anything on this, as Woodpeckers boys are 5 and 3 only, but from what I observe, actual happiness of parents differs widely in this phase, very much depending on the relationship they have with their kids.

Age 5: Hooray, mountaineering with the boys now available! And little Woodpecker even overtaking his dad in the deep snow. Grrr.

Age 5: Hooray, mountaineering with the older boy now available! And little Woodpecker already overtaking his dad in the deep snow. Grrr.

Thus my tip (its more a guess at this point of time, but I’ll tell you in 7 years ;-) ):

I think the more time you spent with your kids during the long stretch of family happiness, and the more you are able to develop common interest and activities, the easier it will be during puberty, because the common activities keep the connection.
E.g. Woodpeckers neighbour is very much into wild-water kayaking, and was able to infect his boy as well, many years ago. The boy is now 16 or 17 and they still do many boat trips together and apparently have a very good connection which in turn is strengthened by their common activity.
This should be the way to go through this phase with hopefully a minimum of collateral damage, I’d say.

 

Well, and the kids get out of the house.

There is no indication of happiness research on this phase. It is a pity, because it plays an important role, and might tip the “neutral happiness effect of kids” to a positive side.

I think there are two effects:

First you have to let go. I guess that might not be easy and you might find it difficult to go back to your empty-house-kid-less-life after so many years of chaos and life and action around you.

But then I also think that – given you were able to build a good relationship to your kids – there is an additional happiness boost to come:

Staying in good contact with your now grown-up kids, spend time with them, see them develop and later on care for the grand-kids. Finally, there hopefully will be somebody there to look for you from time to time when you get old, and to keep you up to date on how the world evolves when you are no more so connected with what is going on (Don’t flatter yourself, this time will come for each of us).

This is the part still missing in happiness research. I think all of this might add another injection of happiness to those with adult kids and might tip the balance to the positive, but I don’t know.

In the end probably – as so often in life – a lot depends on the relationship you are able to form with others, in this case your kids. As with the relationship to your partner or to your dearest friends, the relationship to your kids hold enormous potential. But you have to build it! This will take time, time, time.

So, in a nutshell: If you do it, do it right!

Next part we will shed light on kids’ impact on your economic situation (- – -) and on their impact on your philosophical/metaphysical situation (+++).

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Modern Times: The Issue of “Showing off”

Approaching Rovinj by boat: Nice. Doing so with 4 great old friends on board: Fantastic!

Approaching Rovinj by boat: Nice. Doing so with 4 great old friends on board: Fantastic!

Woodpecker just came back from a great week of sailing the Croatian Coast with good old friends from School. Although our boat was a bit on the slow side (gosh, accidentally I booked a “comfort” version and not a “sportive” one. Its stern was as wide as the ass of a clerk one day before his retirement!), the trip was amazingly great.

The landscape and beautiful small coast towns of Istria (NW Croatia) are amazing, again Europe surprised me with another great strip of land that I did not dare to expect to be so beautiful.

But above all it is great to be on a boat with people who you know since 20+ years.

A repeating topic in the many good conversations on board was the issue of showing-off in the modern social world.

Very quickly we all agreed that we see this widespread tendency to show-off as a major energy drain today.

So what do I mean by that?

Evening at the anchor bay - time for beers!

Evening at the anchor bay – time for beers!

I mean that I (and seemingly a lot of others) have the impression that showing-off became more and more important in the western society over the recent years.

Probably driven by social media, the internet and massive information overflow, people seem to compare themselves more and more to others, no matter what they do. This seems to be more critical in business environments, large cities and generally among materialistic people. But it is not limited to those groups.

In fact I think that showing-off rather is a symptom of worshiping consumption, material accumulation and money, which in turn take the place of religion, or of political and social ideologies, who all left the scene in the 1990s. Leaving a great void of meaningless that is now filled with an endless struggle to have more and to show it to others.

The big problem is that most people do not realize how much energy and effort they spent to show-off. In fact, even you and me as downshifters are not immune to this effect, as we still are social beings, embedded in our time and in our society.

The more important it is to realize any showing-off within your own actions.
Because as a downshifter, you obviously want to avoid spending money on stupid things like invoking envy in others, or trying to underscore your social status by superfluous purchases.
On your way to happiness the same holds true: Getting lukewarm applause or envy from others is a short-living drug. They are not what will carry you through the great storms in life.

So how do you distinguish between showing-off and just having a good time or doing something that you really enjoy?

A first self-test for show-off is:

Do something or buy something, and do the following:

  • completely abstain from taking photos
  • abstain from posting anything about your deed or purchase on Facebook (=pose book), whatsapp and other social media
  • best, abstain from bringing (or turning on) your cell-phone at all during the trip/event.
  • do not tell anyone about the event/purchase unless asked
  • if telling others then do so in the most modest way possible, explicitly in a way that does not invoke envy, but on the contrary makes the other person say: “Well, nice, but nothing special“.
  • Or put in one word: Be humble.

If you still enjoy the thing, if you do not have the feeling that “something is missing” until you post your deed or your purchase  on Facebook, then likely the motivation to do this or to buy this was not clouded by showing off.

If you repeat train this, it will become natural to you to be humble.

Europe at its best once more: Sailing in front of a medieval setting.

Europe at its best once more: Sailing in front of a medieval setting.

The “disadvantage” is, that short-term you will get much less applause and regard on your way. But remember: The applause you are foregoing is lukewarm and tepidly anyway. Better face it now: You cannot buy anything with that kind of false esteem on the long run. Sooner or later it will dwindle anyway, so why bother with it in the first place?

The huge advantage is: Over the long run, the superficial people will automatically sort themselves out from your circle of friends. They will walk away and look for more glamorous acquaintances somewhere else. On the other side, the really interesting people will stay and more of them will be attracted to you. This are the people who are not easily blinded by a dazzling surface, but who want to dig deeper and who want to connect on a personal and profound level. This are the people who lifelong friends are made of. Once you are connected, this people will stay, no matter what happens, no matter what car you drive, no matter how ill you get, or how long you lose contact. This people will be your bullet-proof social treasure and not the interchangeable guys that are attracted by money and show-off. Do not forget this!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Downshifters! Avoid to get a Rich but Boringly Selfish Person!

Ammersee 096_bearbeitet-1

Sunset over lake Ammersee, near Munich, while having a beer with a friend.

The “Rich Guys Trap”

Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.

But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.

In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.

The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.

I think this is important to remember:

All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.

But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!

Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.

I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.

After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).

Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).

But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.

So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?

I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.

Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:

The Critical Values of a Good Life.

In this post I will start by looking at one of those:

1) Compassion and Giving

What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?

I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:

“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.

You see the different focus?

In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven  person like Woodpecker :-) . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.

What is the downside of this?

There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.

Persons that mis-use your “softness(as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)

That way, something magical will happen:

The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.

What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?

Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)

For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Play “tit-for-tat”.
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.

Anyway, let’s be frank:

To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.

This is the price you pay.

But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.

The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.

Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

A Short Trip to Nördlingen or Belonging to Something Greater

What a nice medieval town!

What a nice medieval town!

This weekend was a long one, thanks to our ancestors who fought hard to make May, 1st into a holiday, the “day of work”, downshifters day to think of how to work less. :-)

So dear grandma looked for the kids, and Mr+Mrs Woodpecker have been on a short trip to a little town about 100km away from Munich, called Nördlingen.

Weather was quite miserable, but in good old Woodpecker tradition this did not discourage us from having a good time, but on the contrary helped to keep other tourists out of our sight while enjoying history.

Like Rothenburg that we visited last year (gosh, forgot to write a post on that one!), Nördlingen is surrounded by a complete medieval wall in the form of a perfect circle (yes, you can surround it on the wall day and night, takes around 45 minutes).

On the minus side, Nördlingen has a bit less of medieval flair to offer than the infamous Rothenburg, but on the plus this comes with cheaper prices and much less tourists hanging out there.

The town is located in the impact crater of a 1km meteorite that hit south Germany 15 million years ago.
This makes it a geological unique location and there is a quite interesting museum on meteorite impacts located in town. That bloody thing had so much speed that the whole 1km-block vaporized during the impact, leaving basically a sea of molten rock – what a mess. Next impact a bit further away from Munich, if you please…

Castle Harburg

Castle Harburg

As always when travelling Germany, there is a lot of history to be found. In the case of Nördlingen it shows how a then very important town went into decline after a huge fight that took place in the 30 years’ war in 1634.

Castle Harburg

On our way back we discovered a great castle along the way: Castle Harburg.
As Woodpecker is a bit Castle-Fan, we stopped by for a guided tour, that was very interesting.
Only 15 km away from Nördlingen, that Castle was the seat of their enemies, the Öttingers and shows how amazingly small-sized the power-structures of those time were.

The castle is well worth a visit if you are around.

Harburg4

History – Belonging to Something Greater

More than only being entertaining, I love history because it can give you the feeling of belonging to something Greater. That you are part of something that spreads out beyond your own more or less unimportant and short live.
That in fact whoever and wherever you are, you are the today-living part of an endless chain that leads back into the fog of history and until the beginning of man-kind.And a chain that hopefully will as well lead forward into the fog of the far future of man-kind. A future that all of us cannot imagine, as little as the Harburg rulers could imagine the tourists running around in their castle with smartphones.

I think the feeling of belonging to something greater is an integral part of happiness, and next to family, friends, worthwhile projects, your history is a strong source of belonging.

Think about it!

Cheers,

Woodpecker