Envy – a most frequent but unhappy emotion

Your friend owns a plane and you don't? How to avoid getting jealous... photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn't it ;)

Your friend owns a plane and you don’t? How to avoid getting jealous… photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn’t it 😉

Let’s have a look at Envy today, an emotion that is deeply connected to (un)happiness.

And to be honest, an emotion that was haunting Woodpecker much more than he liked in the past. (Today it is slowly getting better though 😉 )

So I decided to put some thoughts in it, some might be of interest for you (and don’t say you are never jealous, I don’t belief it).

Types of Envy

Material envy

Envy on:

Money, Spending, Status symbols, Cloths, Housing, Vacations (cost of), Career.

Obviously, if at all, this is the type of envy that you as a downshifter will feel from time to time seeing others, because these are the things you don’t have to their extend (although based on your own decision).

Quality of life envy

Envy on:

Freedom, Straightforwardness, Independence, sovereignty, Courage to speak open without fear, Unconventionalism, Vacations (duration of), time, time, time, time.

This is the sort of envy that many average happy people will feel when the see you as a downshifter. Because these are the things they don’t have to your extend.

The cloak of envy

Envy often comes in a cloak, typically it is

  • feeling mistreated by the world
  • complaining about “having no luck”
  • complaining about others only achieving something “because they had luck (or the right connections etc.)”
  • feeling that everybody is stupid but unfortunately they don’t listen
  • feeling exploited (I am the only honest hard-working guy, all others are lazy, bludgers, tricksters etc.)
  • and others.

But why should you care at all?

Envy is clearly a negative emotion, an emotion that not only urges you to approach others in a negative and destructive way, but also an emotion that inflicts direct unhappiness. Envy will cloud your senses and your intellect and will lead you to wrong conclusions both on yourself and on the world around you.

Most important:

An envy person can never be truly happy and vice verse.

Enough reason to find out how to get rid of this thing.

Drivers of Envy

The intense of jealousy on others material “better off” being comes in different intensities, dependent on your age, your happiness and on your progress on the downshifting ladder.

Impact of Age

Research clearly shows that envy increases all the time with your age.

The reason is straightforward:

  • As a young person, people who are better of, have a more thrilling live or are more happy are seen as an example, a role model, something you can easily achieve yourself if you want, because, well, you have time, you have all the world full of opportunities laid out in front of you, and you are boosting with self-confidence. This is not a realistic view of the world, but anyway it is a healthy one, and it is an important part of the generally overwhelming optimism young people display.
    And their optimism is good and important for both themselves and for the whole world, so please dream on if you are young, and dream BIG!! And in case you are older, please don’t enforce too much of the “tough reality” on young people! The world needs their fresh thinking!
  • Getting older, things start to look a bit different. You will (have to) pick your path, and whatever path this is, it will bring advantages and it will come with certain disadvantages. You will see, that luck plays a role in life. And you will realize that there are certain things that will be harder or impossible to achieve given the path you are on. Still, there is a chance to change that path, at least in theory.
    At that point you should honestly reflect on your path, over think if you are on the right track and check if you are willing to pay the price in form of the disadvantages of a given path.
    Do this check frequently no matter what!
    Because the danger of the mid-life is that you are so tied up and busy in this rush hour of life that you forget to step back and see the whole picture. A lot of people do this mistake, and one day they wake up with the alarm clock of their body sending them a fierce signal, in form of a depression, a midlife crisis or even a heart attack.
  • Getting more older, things are even more locked in. You made a lot of decisions, your time and energy are getting shorter. When you now see areas of life where others are better of, there might be a nagging feeling deep down within you, that maybe you should have decided differently in the past. At that age many people try to bury this difficult confrontation with their own past errors and will not understand that their envy (or from their perspective: their rightful and reflected criticism) is merely a symptom of their own regrets. Obviously not a good way to happiness but yet very common.
    Be careful, for at the end of this road lies a sad and embittered person.
    The way to avoid this is to accept, to make peace with yourself, peace with your past and with the world. A world that you will be less and less able to change the older you get. So better learn to live with it.

Impact of Happiness

Very clearly, happy people are less envy.
A happy person is self-sufficient, optimistic, self-conscious and lives in the best of all worlds. So why should he/she be jealous?

OK, most of us will not be at that stage yet to feel happy every waking hour.

However, you can use the anti-correlation of happiness and envy to check your current state:

Do you feel envy (or mistreated by life and society) often?
Then currently you are not truly happy.
Check why!

Because the unjustness of the world is not the source of your unhappiness as you might think, but your feelings of envy are a symptom of your unhappiness or of your deep regret.
Good news is that both regret and envy can be overcome, while the world will stubbornly stay as it is no matter how much you complain or try to change it.

Impact of your Downshifting proficiency

At the beginning of your downshifting career, and after a certain short living euphoria when taking the downshifting decision, there will be a phase where you are more prone to material envy than before.

Obviously, you still have your old peer group and suddenly you fall back in material terms. Not because you are inferior or less clever, but because you decided so. Anyway, they still have it: The expensive car, the luxury holiday, the brand-new house etc.

When you are an apprentice in downshifting, it will take time for you to really understand and accept for yourself that after all, less expensive housing, less expensive cars, less expensive eating out, less modern cloths etc. do not have a big influence on your well-being.

At a more advances level, four things happen:

  • You understand that your decision to downshift comes with a price, the price is less consumption.
  • You understand that less consumption is no problem at all, because your material needs adapt over time and will still be more than satisfied.
  • You understand that you are more than compensated by having more time, feeling more free, in other words: You are living more! Your initial envy will turn into pity with those that are dependent on status symbols.
  • Your peer group will slowly change as your contacts to work-drones are likely to suffer whereas your contacts to other downshifters will flourish.

Not yet there or having a fall-back to nagging jealousy?

No problem, here is a method how to quell it:

Just imagine as lively as possible how it would be to really change position with the person you envy.Imagine you get the chance to be him NOW and forever.

What do you say?
In 99% of cases you would reject I guess. Right you are, but no need to envy obviously then.
And the 1%: You either met Dalai Lama or another truly happy person. OK, envy him, learn from him, and understand that these people will do anything to help you find happiness as well (this is the nature of truly happy people).
If it is a normal person you would seriously swap your life with then you are in big trouble and you must really start from scratch to think about your path or even get some professional help to consult you.

How to avoid others being envy on you

Most important thing:

Keep a low profile.

As a downshifter, avoid to boast with your 5 week vacation trip, the sheer amount of time you spend on nice things outside your job, your constant state of non-stress. Remember: You are challenging other’s concepts of life if you are too bossy about your way being the best.

Second thing:

If you tell, then tell the whole story. Tell the price you pay (less consumption, less career, less status symbols). And tell that this path is open to everybody. Therefore the envy of others will change in curiosity, and they might start to see you as a role-model.

Or they will say: Crazy guy, giving up on this precious thing called career and status, how stupid.

Their choice!
Important thing is to stop them getting a negative attitude towards you, because especially at your workplace you don’t want that.
Simply because you are there so rarely that you don’t want backstabbers running around the office while you enjoy your day at the lake or in the garden! 🙂




Dhoo! Cars!

Why do we pay so much to end up here?!

Why do we pay so much to end up here?!


Unfortunately, if you have a family and you like travelling and outdoor activities, it is difficult to live without one, no matter how heavily you use your bike or public transport.

In Woodpecker’s case, we drive a Ford Mondeo station wagon, main criterium was a big rear trunk, limited costs, low fuel consumption.

To be honest, the car is great, but we could have done much more frugal. Unfortunately we bought the car three years ago, and that was before seriously entering the downshifting path.

I mean there is plenty of stuff around on frugal car choice and frugal driving, so I won’t go into detail here.

But let me highlight two issues from my own painful experience:

1) It goes without saying tha you must never ever buy a new car! But also never buy a “Jahreswagen” (a one year old car)

In Germany, “Jahreswagen” are heavily advertised as a reasonable compromise between enjoying an almost new and up-to-date car, that will run reliable and without hassles for many years to come, and the avoidance of the ridiculous high costs of a brand new car.

I owned a high variety of damn old junkers myself before:
First one was “Amadeus”, a nine-year old Ford Focus (a very economical car at low price in my view). However, the 3rd gear of the car was broken, so you had to switch from 2nd directly to 4th. And at startup, typically only three out of four cylinders were working with the 4th powering up sooner or later, dependent on the weather. In one word: It was a mess, but a lovely mess, like a living creature with bad moods, varying state of health and all – it was my first car!Another pearl was a 13-year-old, 60 PS Nissan Sunny, that I bought for 500 EUR only to drive it 3 more years. It was – often loaded with 4 grown up guys plus mountaineering equipment – reliably the slowest car among everyone on any mountain pass in the Alps.And same for Mrs. Woodpecker
So this time, now having a salary at disposal I would never have imagined normal 15 years ago – we decided: “No more bloody junk-cars, no more breakdowns on highways or during holidays. We want something that works!”

So we were taken in by the “Jahreswagen” idea: A car for about 19.000 EUR, half the price of a new one, yet only one year old! Great!

And what we would save now that we don’t have to do the repairs anymore! After all, each of the old cars before costed at least 1.000 bucks per year for repairs.

Sounds good?
…but isn’t. Because a “Jahreswagen” comes with its own very high running costs:

  • First, there is depreciation. OMG, the car lost about 2.200 EUR per year initially. Obviously, depreciation slows down later, but at second and third year, it is still that massive! No, I don’t want my Nissan Sunny back, but there depreciation was around 200 EUR p.a.
  • Second, for a car that new, you basically need “Vollkasko”-Insurance (comprehensive insurance, LDW). Obviously, for a car as big as the Mondeo, this is pricy. The best online rate I got (HUK24 insurance) was around 600 EUR p.a. (Cancelled it by now and reduced it to mandatory cover)
  • Third, and I really hate me for having overseen that point: The new car needs all this bloody regular service, otherwise your guarantees will void and resale value will decrease sharply. And this services are a genuine rip-off, at least here in Germany. The Mondeo “needs” one EVERY year, some around 350 EUR (the “small” one), and every second year around 600 EUR (the “big” one). No idea why this has to be that expensive, but I guess this is a cross-financing of a relatively cheap sales price.
  • And: Repairs, parts, oil, tires, tax, everything will be much more expensive for a big and more upscale car.

So let’s make a quick and rough comparison:

  Nissan Sunny “the Junker”, 13 years old, 60 PS, normal fuel Ford Mondeo “the luxury family carrier”, 1 year old, 130 PS, gasoline Ford Mondeo “the compromise”, 4-5 years old, 130 PS, normal fuel*
Pro No one would ever steal this car. Space for everybody plus tons of luggage or equipment. Lot of nice extras. Perfect family/holiday car. Same as to the “luxury version”.
Con Uncomfortability taken to a new level!Not really suitable for more than two persons. You start to care about really stupid things, like “this guy  nudged my car when parking in” You might find someone elses peanuts under the seats.
Depreciation p.a. 200 EUR 2.200 EUR 1.100 EUR
Repair costs p.a. 1.000 EUR 0 EUR 500 EUR
Tax 100 EUR 260 EUR 120 EUR
Insurance 200 EUR 600 EUR 300 EUR
Service+Oil 50 EUR 450 EUR 200 EUR
Fuel 20.000 km 1.8000 EUR 1.750 EUR 1.900 EUR
Opportunity Cost for Bound Capital (5%) 30 EUR 950 EUR 600 EUR
Annoyance Level Very high Low Still low
Total 3.380 EUR 6.210 EUR 4.720 EUR
*Gasoline in Germany is only interesting if you drive >20.000 km per year, as it’s price is lower than normal fuel, but the tax on gasoline cars and car price itself is higher. Woodpeckers come in around this mileage, problem is we do almost 1/3 of this during travels outside of Germany – and guess what, gasoline is NOT cheaper there.

Phew: Today we pay around 6.200 EUR annually for our luxury car!

This is competing heavily with our also luxurious travel budget for rank two in family spending (behind housing).

It is 520 EUR per month.
Hm. The compromise solution would be 390 EUR per month, a saving of 130 EUR. Being a family of four with many travel and outdoor interests, I would go for this one next time as a trade-off between low annoyance level and reasonable price. Invest a bit of the saved money in a general reconditioning of the car, and it will occur to you pretty new anyway.
Apart from that, I am not unhappy with the Mondeo, at least in Germany one of the more undervalued cars and no “sexiness price markup”. Also service, repairs, parts etc. can even be much higher for stupid “sexy” cars like BMW, Audi, Mercedes.

However, as a single, as a student or somebody seldom using his car or with no need for huge luggage, I’d move much further in the direction of the “Nissan Sunny Junker Solution”. Not quite to the Nissan mayhap, but given the saving: Who knows?!

2) Repairs / Spare parts / Service

Some days ago, coming back from a grilling events with the university sailing club (these mad guys grilled a whole saw for 4 hours): When parking I hit a little stilt that squeezed in the front fender. Half of the bump I was able to push out again with my bare hands.
With what was left of the bump I went to the local authorized Ford Garage, not expecting a great offer, but just trying anyway.

What did I get:
“Well, we can’t do much here. We strongly recommend to change the whole front fender. Including working time, this comes in at around 700 EUR”

What?! Do I have something with my ears, or did I hear right?!
700 EUR? For a small bump, half of which I corrected without the use of ANY tool?!
And if they say 700 EUR, effectively it’s going to by 800 EUR + tax, thus 1000 EUR are a likely outcome!!

Wait a minute, for 1.000 EUR I bought a whole car more than once in the past.

I dare say:

All major authorised car company garages are gangsters!

There is absolutely no attitude there to find a good and frugal solution for the client. The only goal seems to be: Replace and throw away as much stuff as somehow possible.
This is a nightmare for every sane person, from a financial as well as from an ecological perspective!

In that respect, the car industry now resembles most other consumption good industries:

Things are touchy, and if they break, throw them away!
Do not attempt to repair anything or even fix it in a provisional way.
Just buy new! It’s so great!

[/rant mode off]

Needless to sa, that we downshifters have to refuse and fight this trend decisively!

As with all other goods it is self-evident: you have to find a way to tackle your car more economical, as a tool that delivers transportation and less like a precious ancient chinese vase.

In the end your car is a bloody lump of steel that shall get you from A to B.

It is not your lover nor the face of a luxury celebrity or a football star’s knee that has to be pampered up and down no matter what cost.

Thus I’d advise:

  • Repair only at independent and practical oriented garages (the real car lovers will curse me, I know). Surveys show (at least for Germany) no difference at all in service quality compared to authorized garages while prices are 30-40% lower.
  • Or even much better, do it yourself or by friends in return for help you offer them.
  • Service intervals of one year are stupid. If you are planning to run down the car yourself, most people who are good at cars told me: Do only security relevant stuff, and some wear parts plus frequent oil changing, and brake fluids when needed. You can cut service costs by another half that way.
  • Do you really always need original parts? Even for non-critical, non-security relevant parts?
  • Never ever do one of these stupid holiday checks or whatever. Your car dealer will find something that you have to do “for the sake of security”.
  • You might even consider fixing things while being abroad. I had some fantastic car repairs in Turkey – great service, great fun, and incredibly cheap. I will save the bump in my fender for these guys!


Poland and its lovely cities.

The historic harbour side of Danzig / Gdansk. A lovely spot! (more pics below)

The historic harbour side of Danzig / Gdansk. A lovely spot! (more pics below)

The Woodpecker clan’s summer tour continued from our sailing trip to Poland, Germany’s eastern neighbour.

Definitively a frugal option, as this place is quite affordable from a German point of view, and obviously much less crowded than southern countries.

And an exotic one as well.
A quick survey among Woodpeckers mates and colleagues showed that about 20% of them have already seen Thailand, but only 5% have seen Poland.

Did I like it?

Difficult to say.

Crossing the border to Poland. Left Germany, right Poland. No controls, nothing!  This is Europe, may it live long and prosper!

Crossing the border to Poland. Left Germany, right Poland. No controls, nothing!
This is Europe, may it live long and prosper!

Our round trip first took us from Rügen to Kolberg / Kolobrzeg (former German resp. Polish name)  a famous beach destination at the Baltic Sea.
The fine sanded and calm beach stretches out for more than 200km+ on Poland’s northern coast (no typo – due to the geology of the Baltic Sea, virtually all of Poland’s coast is beach.)
This is fantastic for beach lovers, however I personally prefer a little bit variety, e.g. some hills or mountains or cliffs plus little bays next to the sea, instead of endless flat lands.

Next we continued to Danzig / Gdansk.
A fantastic city, that beat all our expectations! A lovely old Hanse city, perfectly renovated and with a vibe and historical flair than will take you in its ban for sure, should you visit it.
Plus very affordable food in excellent restaurants on the river front, the historic place etc. Very good quality at very frugal prices – Woodpecker spent great parts of the days in fish restaurants, at prices half what you’d pay in Munich. Makes sense to take advantage of good value, as eating out at this prices strikes me quite ok. Thus, a frugal autumn/winter with much less restaurant thrills back at expensive home will be easy to stand!

We took a historic excursion by boat to Westerplatte, a little island where the Nazis started WWII on 1st September 1939, probably one of the saddest and most stupid moments in the history of my country and whole Europe.

Driving south toward Breslau / Wroclaw was kind of a bore and where exhausting, as the highway network is still quite limited in Poland. Landscape is flat, flat, flat, most villages or towns we passed did not seem interesting. No match to countries like Italy or France or Germany, where you stumble over beautiful spots or sights with every step you take. I guess the more hilly area in Poland’s South-East might be different…

Breslau / Wroclaw again was beautiful!
Especially the lovely town square, which we hit on a sunday. All the city seemed to meet up there in a way that radiated a quite southern atmosphere. Buildings and streets again form a very harmonic ensemble – you get to ask yourself why modern cities are never able to match this harmony.
Have we somehow lost some sense for this on the way?!

All in all it was a nice an affordable trip, very interesting to get to learn a bit more about our neighbor, and the cities very beautiful.

However, Poland is not a southern nation, so weather was a bit mixed, and even colder than average in Germany. Plus the countryside is a bit uniform.

So I guess next year we will be heading south again 😉

I’d recommend to visit the cities Danzig, Breslau (and Kraków probably) directly, or as a short trip, should you have the opportunity. You will not regret it.




hover for captions, click to enlarge:

A Downshifter’s Boat Trip around Rügen, Baltic Sea. Or: Adventure and Kids, Part 2.

Nautic map of Ruegen, Germany, Baltic Sea. (more pics below)

Nautic map of Ruegen, Germany, Baltic Sea. (more pics below)

“You can’t do that, your kids are too young”

“Take it much more slow, think about the kids and if they can stand this”

“What if something HAPPENS?”

“I don’t know if kids of age 3 and 1 belong on a boat”

“Why don’t you go to a nice kids-hotel at the beach?”

This was some of the comments Woodpeckers got to hear when we quite spontaneously decided to do a family sailing trip on the Baltic sea around the island of Rügen (Germany).

Actually, why exactly didn’t we want to go to one of these family friendly kids-hotels, that other families in our situation cherish so much?

Because these hotels are boring!

They are ugly, noisy and hectic in their strange plastic charms. They are no adventure at all. They are quite the opposite: They are perfectly arranged avoidance of any unexpected or challenging situation.

And yet these kind of synthetic environments are very very expensive!

More expensive as chartering out a last-minute offer 32 foot sailing yacht at the Baltic sea.

So we did the latter.
Because if you are into it, a sailing trip – while being far from frugal – offers an excellent relationship of price vs. experiences, fun, being together, seeing and feeling nature. The high price is typically more than compensated by a unique experience.

And this is what happiness is about, and where I clearly deviate from the other early retirement and frugal living bloggers:

I am very fond of living efficiently and buying as little stuff as possible. And it is important to never spend more than necessary for a given good or activity as well as thinking twice or better thrice if it’s worth it. And to buy only things you really need and not things you are told to need. Reducing overall consumption and becoming less dependent on money is very important on your way to independence.


If you really love something, and if you thought about it long enough, there is nothing wrong with spending on expensive hobbies or activities occasionally and in a conscious way as long as the satisfaction you gain is really deep and long-lasting.

Actually, happiness research has proven that spending money on activities/experiences is a good way to improve happiness – a far better way than spending money on stuff, on status symbols or on everyday consumption.

So the Woodpecker clan did exactly this:

Encouraged by our experimental sailing tour on lake Chiemsee we took advantage of some last-minute offer and a family visit in Hamburg and continued to the close-by and beautiful island of Rügen close to Germany’s Northeastern coast in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

And I dare say it was a fantastic tour!

No, our boat was a bit smaller... (Photo: Stralsund, home of Mrs. Merkel)

No, our boat was a bit smaller… (Photo: Stralsund, home of Mrs. Merkel)

Despite circumstances were ok only, but not optimal: Weather was quite heavy the first days. Lovely for a boy’s tour on the boat. But with wind around 5-6 Bft first three days, for a first family trip a bit less wind would have been sufficient.

I admit I was quite nervous when we started out in the marina of Breege during strong winds, occasional heavy rain beating down on me at the wheel and an unknown area around as well as an unknown boat under my feet.

However, I was very impressed on the good moral and maritime capability of my small crew, with Mrs. Woodpecker being an excellent first officer, steersman and boat handler at my side plus our two young captains!

So after one or two days the tension and my initial nerviness dwindled away and gave way to this deeply satisfying feeling you get if you do something that you really love, something that challenges you, while being accompanied by people you love.

Weather gradually got better too and so we had a fantastic tour around the island within one week. As described in the other post, we tried to adjust our pace and activities to the demands of the kids – and the kids in return loved being on the boat, seeing new places, exploring small fishing harbours, little towns and beaches when we were moored.

And soon we noticed that kids and boats are perfectly fine – as did dozens of families around us. Actually the area is very famous for family sailing, partly because it offers a lot of protected bays with reduced exposure to waves and weather.

Only drawback was that this was much to short a trip and necessary mileage per day to circumvent the island was slighty too high – so the plan now is to do an even more relaxed two weeks tour next year in the Mediterranean Sea.

Costs: Around 1100 EUR for the boar charter plus 250 EUR spending on food and marina fees.

This is not cheap, but for a family of four and an unforgettable experience, it’s not over the top either. Especially when you think about what others spend on their holiday air fares already.

The boring kids hotel would have been more expensive 😉




Hover for caption, click to enlarge:

ps. Next post takes us to Poland – Germany’s eastern neighbour, where we continued our round trip – by car not by boat unfortunately…