The new year is approaching, and while I don’t like the habit of New Year’s resolutions, there is one thing Woodpecker wants to focus on in 2013:
Expanding Social Capital
Well, Woodpecker, what’s that supposed to be? Social Capital?!? Can I eat this? Does it pay dividends?
OK, let me explain:
The more I think about the pros and cons of today’s society from a happiness point of view, the more I come to the conclusion that on the con side the major mistake of the last 20 years was the massive loss of social capital in favor of economic capital.
What are you talking about, Woodpecker?
I mean it is difficult to express, but I think that economization of the society picked up quite some speed after the fall of communism in 1989. Until then, western societies, rulers and elites were bound by sheer competition not only to maximum output and profit in their countries, but also to high social and humanitarian standards. This pressure is no more present since then.
Fortunately that didn’t lead to fully unsocial societies emerging, but the trend is clear:
The main value of todays thinking increasingly is profit, gain, competition and a “what is in for ME” mentality. This is what is taught to us at school and in universities, this is the questionable example our elite and rich class is giving us. I don’t think a bit of competition and economic thinking is wrong, but individuals pay a higher price in terms of happiness than they might think:
- loss of firm social bonds in favor of loose partnerships of convenience
- loss of selfless community in favor of acquaintances driven by short-term common interest
- loss of trust in favor of maximizing own benefits
- long-term relationship building instead of short-term optimizing
- decreased interest and motivation to engage in politics or social groups
- limited patience, if a social bond is not paying or not fitting perfectly
- limited tolerance for others being not perfect
- increasing difficulties to find stable relationships (e.g. partners) due to inflated expectations or the feeling there could still be “someone better” out there
Fortunately the picture is not totally bleak yet, and there are signs that society begins to adjust its course, but I am sure the trend was negative since 20 years.
E.g. the average number of close friends an american has dropped from 3 to 2 within the last 25 years (link).
Now comes the question:
How many close friends do you have – friends that will stand by your side no matter what happens and no matter what’s in it for them?
How many additional normal friends do you have that would support you maybe not in the most existential crisis but still to a certain degree without self-interest?
How many family members are there to count on and to share your inner thoughts with?
How many live close to you and are available at short notice?
Can you measure them in money? No? Why not? Probably because they are worth a lot.
For Woodpeckers family, I’d say the current picture is quite ok:
Social ties and family bonds even improved significantly during the last 2 years, in many cases thanks to the kids (social integration is a VERY positive and maybe underestimated side effect of having kids).
And thanks to deciding 12 years ago against further mobility and keeping to this against all pressure from employers, considerable parts of the social network is right here in Munich.
However, social ties cannot be esteemed enough when looking for a happy life – this is a constant throughout all research results and common sense. Humans are deeply social beings and in contrast to other goods, there is no such thing as decreasing additional benefit from additional friendships – in this case more is always better!
Thus, the Woodpecker goal for 2013 is clear:
Further enhancing the social network and improving the depth of social and family ties.
This will need quite some investment in time and as well in money:
Because you must never get stingy when building relationships – this is something to be remembered.
Saving is fine but save on yourself but not on others!
PS: And yes, social ties pay dividends. A huge dividend in happiness and also a subtle economic dividend – they provide you with information and opportunities you’d never get on any market. In the end I’d say even for a materialistic thing like your career your social capital is as important as e.g. your education.
Cheers and have a good day,