Could Everybody stop the Whining please

index

Think about it if you next time are tempted to start whining and complaining. One example of a recent panic. Overall, the world displays an astonishing resistance against going down. Since 4 billion years! 🙂 

I don’t know what your experience is, but something I frequently notice lately, is that I am very often standing out as the only optimist in a given round.

I mean, not always, and certainly not within my close friends, who are a great bunch of people with very positive mind-sets. But often when I am at a party, business occasion or – worst – wherever in that toilet room called internet, I find myself surrounded by people who are all more or less of the opinion that the world is doomed, all is going down, etc.

People whine about our politicians (while themselves being too lazy to engage in politics), they whine about refugees (while themselves hoarding piles of money they will never be able to spend), they whine about Germany getting too much foreign influence (while themselves having no kids – do they expect this fertile piece of earth staying empty forever?), they whine about Greece costing our money (while sipping their champaign or pushing buttons on their brand new Apple computer), etc. pp.

As I like to oppose this view, I very often get accused “Gutmensch” (negative word for a positive person), “naive“, “dreamer” etc. 🙂

This is a pile of crap!

All this apocalyptic stuff is not only very boring to listen to for outsiders, it is also unhealthy to your own mind if you worry too much about stuff that (a) you cannot change (b) you are too lazy to DO something about and (c) did not materialize and thus is only a product of imagination at this point of time.

My theory why people love to whine and complain is like this:

  1. Some are lazy egoistic bastards, who do not want to really make the world a better place if it costs them any effort or money. Thus they complain about everything being messed up anyway giving them a perfect excuse to stay passive.
  2. Some are un-imaginative people, who have too little ideas what to spend their time on, so they spend it on complaining.
  3. Some lack self-esteem and any basic idea of “meaning of life” and they slowly sense that something is missing. They circumvent that by saying: “Doesn’t matter, all is going down anyway“.
  4. Some lack social interaction and positive feedback (maybe because they give so little of it themselves), and thus really see the world as a grim place.
  5. Some are simply getting old, and thus lose their ability to adapt to a world that is ever-changing (and was ever-changing, and will be ever changing). Or they don’t have kids, so see no need in caring for tomorrow.
  6. Some people somehow feel that they messed up their lives and now want to find somebody outside to blame.
  7. Some people lack attention and want to get if by screaming “FIRE!“.

Somehow, this whining mechanism seems to be built in deeply into people.
Throughout the centuries, you can find dozens of examples of apocalyptic scenarios that fascinated people at their times.

I have a little list somewhere myself where I from time to time note the “current crisis” and “actual reasons why the world will go down” and do a reality check a few years later.

Just from my mind, among many others, the following topics are on that list:

  • AIDS (that was when I started the list 😉 )
  • Dying woods (big issue in the late 80s)
  • Ozone hole
  • Peak oil (no oil will be left around 2010, total breakdown of economy to follow. Today we swim in oil)
  • Devastating food shortage and hunger (in fact hunger is at record low today, compared to the decades before)
  • Y2K error (atomic rockets to start automatically due to an IT error at 1.1.2000)
  • Ebola I. (early 2000s)
  • SARS

more recently:

  • Finanical Crisis
  • Ebola II (last year)
  • Energy revolution (in Germany, atomic reactors get abandoned for renewable energy. The whiners said multiple brown-outs will follow. I have seen not a single one since four years)
  • War with Russia over Ukraine (one year ago, no big deal anymore)
  • Greece and Euro crisis (half a year ago, no one gives a f*** anymore)
  • Refugees (the newest hype, at least in Germany)

Number of the above topics that in fact did make the world go down or did put a catastrophe on us?

Zero.

I don’t know if this is a “German Angst” thing, but it’s funny, isn’t it?
While many whiners always argue very convincing and prompt millions of “facts” and call me and others the “dreamers“, actual evidence is on the dreamer’s side!!

Think about it if you next time are tempted to start whining and complaining.
Because it is not good for you.

Don’t take me wrong, I have no problem with a little bit of complaining here and there. This is normal social behaviour and can even provide some social glue (we are the good ones, all outsiders are idiots). But it does get dangerous if you dig too much into your whining, start to feel like a victim etc. And that is what many people unfortunately do.

In the long run, there is only one result of too much whining: Bitterness.
Not a nice thing.

You should avoid that at all costs!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Get Rid of Your Money-Attachment

raffende_haende

It is in your own interest not to become the owner of this hand.

Every human strives to life a live as happy as possible. Much, if not most, of what we do, is geared to make our lives better and to increase happiness.
However, most people do not really seem to progress in their pursuit of happiness.
Why is this the case?

I think it has a lot to do with the means that people want to use to increase the quality of their life.
In our outward looking and materialistic western cultures, and in our religion-stripped consumption focussed times, the view – more than ever in history – is focussed on material things, on possessing, on body improvement and on other features of the physical world.

Most people constantly think about what they need. What they want. What they would like to add.

Interestingly, instead of looking for more to add, it is equally important to look for letting go to become happy.

There are several concepts out there describing the benefit of letting go, but the one phrase that describes it best is the word “Attachment” (German: Anhaftung) that is used in buddhist philosophy.

Attachment means the negative way that humans getting dependent on certain things, on feelings, on their position, on regard by others etc.

Attachment clearly produces suffering and has to be overcome.

To make things more clear I will revert to my own case that you can even reconstruct when scrolling back in this blog.

Five years ago, when I started the mission of downshifting, I was very much impressed by the ideas of massive saving, accumulating passive income, retire early etc. I introduced a strict savings plan (that worked out quite successful), and started to find ways how to consume less and to save more.

All fine and good so far. But after a few years I recognized (with the help of some hints from Mrs Woodpecker) that things somehow went wrong.
Instead of feeling more and more happy when looking at the growing savings account, I got more and more unhappy and impatient whenever small blow-back occurred (e.g. when a tax or the rent was raised, when a costly and non-sheduled repair came up, when I had to push my calculated retirement age back etc).
I was spending massive time with my stocks and personal book-keeping, in the order of, well, I’d say 15 hours a week. Hell! 15 hours! Yeah, yes, yes, it was all for the good thing, all for increasing returns etc. blabla, but still…15 hours of prima age life spend every week only to have more time later at a age where time is not so scarce anyway?!
At that time thinking about money was a second nature to me, it was always there, with every small spending the internal calculator was active, and that was finally the moment when I realized:

I am attached to something very pathetic. I was attached to accumulating money.

It was not more about doing a wise thing (saving still is wise, and stupid consumption still stays stupid), but money became the measure of most things, and thus an “obsession”. A mild sort of obsession only, but still this is what attachment is all about:

You are no more controlling the object (in this case money), but it controls you.

To cut a long story short, I think I was able to overcome that particular attachment until now. Woodpeckers still save, we still look for efficient deals, we still do not consume excessively but with care. But all of this is more natural now, with less force and with much less bookkeeping. With more acceptance of the tides of life and fate and with the knowledge that long-term plans are nice, but in the long run reality does tend to ignore them.

In parallel I looked around and found that so many people around me were attached to money! And they all fueled that negative trait in me.

Only a few of my friends, but a lot of acquaintances, some colleagues and many people in business life or in finance internet forums are clearly attached to their money, to their returns, to making the good deals etc.
Some of them to an extend that is ridiculous and sad at the same moment. I could add countless anecdotes here, but leave it to your observation skills to find cases in your life.
You identify a money-attached easily if you dig a bit deeper in any serious discussion. Let it be politics, refugees, the future, ecology, economy, the society etc. All of this topics are very very complicated I know, and very very often we are far from an optimal solution, but with the money-attached, in the end, all of their arguing always end up in their fear that they have to pay something or something could be taken from them.
There is a lot of hiding this behind moral, wanting the good, protecting others, but if you drill down it will boil down to:
“OMG! I might have to pay! This world is so unfair, this politicians are so bad, everybody around me is evil, corrupted or stupid. It would be much better if I was in charge! Because then, finally, I would take care that my two birth-rights will be respected: Not to pay more than now. Not to get less than now”

The effect often is the stronger the richer the person is. Maybe because the more you have to more you are obsessed with protecting it.

It is pathetic and stands so much in their way of leading a fear-less and happy live. And yet it is so difficult to overcome, because so many forces around us secretly whisper: “YESSSS. YOU NEED TO HAVE MOREE. YOU ARE ONLY WORTH SOMETHING IFF YOU HAVE A,B,C. YOU EARNED IT. YOU DESEERVE IT. YOU HAVE TO COMPEEETE TO STAY UPPP.”

But all of this is crap of course.

So I am asking you:

Do you see that pattern in your environment?
Do you even have a self critical moment and see it at work in yourself?
Nothing un-normal, as this is the disease of our time, most people are infected to some degree.
But once you recognize this mechanism at work within yourself, do me a favour:

Cling to it, observe it, scrutinize it, see how it beats you down, because, damn, the more you have the more you can loose. And damn, there are always forces out there beyond your control, no matter what you do!
Drill your thought and fears down to its source: The fear of loss.
And finally: Kill that fear!

Accept the world for what it is. Accept the risk it brings. Start to understand that you can never fully protect yourself against the world. You are part of it. Start to trust in your own power to handle future problems should they come up.

And your fear will vanish…your attachment to money will yield back. The fog of worries and threats around you will lift.

YOU will be the first to benefit if you are able to get rid of money-attachment.

And for the time being, avoid others that are money-attached.
They will try to comfort you in your attachment. And they will attack you as a naiv good-do-er, or a “Gutmensch” (stupid german derogative word for people thinking beyond their own benefit) if you do not follow their path anymore.

Later on, when you ended your struggle and erased your own money-attachment you can come back to these people.
On the other side: Chances are that you will not. Because they will no longer be interesting to you. They have nothing to say other than “I want to get as much as possible and I do not want to pay”. And you heard that often enough, right?!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

Long live the Great Human Adventure!

Europe around 1740. Go back or forth in time and you will find all sorts of different maps. This teaches you that your precious "Nation" is not more than an arbitrary concept to organize things.

Europe around 1740. Go back or forth in time and you will find all sorts of different maps.
This teaches you that your precious “Nation” is not more than an arbitrary concept to organize things.

One of woodpeckers numerous hobbies is the study of history.

Although ignorants consider it nerdy or boring, there is a lot to gain from this occupation.
So I let it take up increasing parts of my spare time, which luckily is ample due to downshifting and reducing superfluous occupations of my past (like excessive money counting, or pointless anonymous discussions in the internet).

The study of history is a very worthwhile endeavour, especially when you live in Europe, an area where every country, every city, and virtually every square meter is soaked with history, where virtually all peoples and nations had sky-high moments and times of darkest night in their past. A place where our fates are intermingled to a point such that people without history knowledge will never be able to understand what is going on today, why it is going on and what will happen next.

To polish up the image of history as an occupation, I have a few benefits for you to consider:

  1. You gain a much broader view on life, on your own existence and the tininess of our daily worries and fears compared to the “whole thing” in space and time
  2. You understand that we all are only small parts in the huge chain that I’d like to call the „great human adventure“, a development that leads our race from the caves of the stone age through the rise and fall of empires, rulers, nations, to where we stand today
  3. You understand how we all, and all our actions are influenced by the power of the past. How the experiences, traumata and fates of our ancestors somehow live within our collective thinking and influences our actions and feelings as a society
  4. You see that the same holds true for the societies around you and their relationship towards the group you are part of
  5. You understand that you are not part of one group, but of groups on multiple levels. E.g. in Woodpeckers case, I am Franconian, Bavaria, German, European and World-Citizen, depending on the situation, and depending on the way I want to see myself
  6. You can see how errors are repeated and you can try to avoid them, or even predict the future to some extend. You can also see how things are done to avoid errors (yes, that happens! See bullet 9)
  7. That all makes you much more mild and relaxed towards all the hustle and bustle around you. You get an understanding that the great human adventure, that we are all part of, was always a chaotic and non-linear mess, with ups and downs, with distractions and confusion. Nevertheless, we are still here! 🙂
  8. Alias, from that higher perspective, you will clearly see that, overall, the human adventure constantly makes progress. Despite all errors and cul-de-sacs, despite atrocities and terrible mistakes, it is amazing how our race moves on, how it was (and still is!) able to tackle and overcome even the largest and most fearsome problems that it encounters on it‘s way
  9. You will better understand politics.
    Politicians are not all stupid or the always selfish pack that minor mind think they are (in typically projecting their own selfishness on them). Of course they are sometimes, but very often, you will just not understand the reasons why they are doing certain things. Because many, if not most, decisions of our so-called rulers are not as free as they seem, but they are embedded in the course of history, they are forced by the strong and ever-pushing current of history and by the state of society, that pushes humanity forward. Politicians mostly do (and did) just mirror the society they live in. The good politicians are the ones that know history well and are able to see beyond their time. They will be criticised a lot by their people, but only later be called genius.
    Many short time unfavourable decisions might turn out brilliant in the long run, many clever short-term gains turn pale in the bleaching light of time going by.
    By studying history you will be better able to understand the forces and the currents in the river. You will see when it is worth an effort to reach the shore or when you’d better not swim against the current.
  10. For me, seeing how humankind overcame so big confusion, chaos and catastrophes in the past, makes me very confident that humanity will be able to master the future too, no matter what comes.
  11. This is a precious insight in times where most people seem to agree that the future will be grim.
    It ist not! It is just different. And always was.
    Future might look grim from our daily “ant” perspective, but difficulties are nothing new to humankind. They were always there, and we always mastered them.
    We can and we will master them again!

I seldom do book recommendations, but in this case I have a book that is almost too good to be true.

It is of interest for German readers mostly, but also for all European neighbors:

„German History of the 19th and 20th century“ by Golo Mann.

Mann writes the German (and European) history of the last two centuries not in tables and maps, but as a continuous tale and from all different perspectives without any bias. It can be read like a novel and is much more fascinating than most of them. Imagine: A history book as a pageturner! You just want to read on and on and see what happens next.

If you are German, please read this!

If it does NOT change your view on the world and on your country, let me know and I’ll spend you a beer in Munich!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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

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

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

 

Work-Life-Balance, Stage Two: Learn to Accept your Job

What can you learn from this guy?! Stoicism and to always have a grin - even in difficult circumstances! :-)

What can you learn from this guy?!
Stoicism and to always have a grin – even in difficult circumstances! 🙂

A job that you like, that is challenging, not too stressful and also rewarding, is a great thing.

If you have one – congratulations! Enjoy it, be thankful and rest assured that you have an excellent chance to be happy in your life. You don’t have to read this post, move on to other areas of your life and look how you can make them as satisfying as your job.

Unfortunately, probably the majority of the people today does not have that kind of job but is missing the one or the other ingredient at the workplace.

In fact, today’s work life is more and more characterised by increased work-density, hectic management, short-sighted decisions and more than all: constant change. Positive feedback, real humanity and appreciation of the employee is, at least in Germany, a rare thing.

All of this is proven to promote stress, burn-out and a feeling of meaningless in the job. In my opinion the resulting unhappiness in the workplace is the primary driver for so many people to think about early retirement and downshifting. An understandable starting point, but not a good motivation for the long run.

In fact – I freely admit it – unsatisfaction was one (but only one among others!) driver for Woodpecker’s downshifting journey as well. Hence, in a way I even owe my downshifting journey to some bad experience in my early work-life! Thus, irony of history: a warm thank you to two nasty and slave driving bosses that I encountered right in the first years of my work-life: I guess you did not intend so, but well done, you early on opened my eyes to a different and much better way than a career! 🙂

Anyway, I now, after a few more years down the way, understand it is not wise to continue being unsatisfied in the job.

Because one of the (important!) secrets of happiness is that you have to start it here and now, and not attach it to a future precondition like working less hours in the future.
In fact this is one of the things why I don’t belief in early retirement. Because it means a future precondition for happiness, it means postponing being happy to a much later point in time. And once you start to postpone, you will postpone again and again and always find new preconditions to be met before being happy. All experts in the field will confirm: Planned future happiness is not going to work. The way is to decide for happiness here and now.

OK, so where does that leave you, assuming you are currently more or less unsatisfied with your job, but understand that just clinging to the hope of a future early retirement is way to little to get happy?

Again, it leaves you with the middle way:

1) Install downshifting measures now.
Take a sabbatical asap to think about things and develop your extra-work-life, convert your over-time into holidays, leave earlier, go to part-time, disengage from office politics and from career-plotting in favour of concentrating on your actual job (that will save a lot of time in most companies), in general shift your focus from money/job/career/consuming/status to private life/community/simple pleasures/experiencing/diversity.
Some of this measures will cost you money or career opportunities, but combined with a bit of exercise in frugality, no problem.

2) Actually, do not disengage from your job per se. On the contrary: Muster more passion for your job.
I don’t say it for your employers sake, but for your own sake as passion will lead to more satisfaction at work. The optimal combination as I understand now is: Downshifting that leads to a rich and divers private life PLUS being able to enjoy your job, leading to a good time at work as well.

3) How can you do that? Enjoying your job, while your environment spins faster and faster, or your boss is not quite supportive, or the company is doing bad commercially?
Well, is some cases of course there is no way than leaving, but in most cases you are in a grey zone, where some things are bad and some are quite ok. Try to see the whole package. Do not think about the future of your department, company or position (that’s all speculation and you cannot change it anyway), keep away from the office gossip. Learn to just wait and see without speculating. Accept the price you have to pay for downshifting.
Try to get more independent emotionally from your job. E.g. the company is not valuing your work our you as a person? Would be nice if they do (and would increase productivity) but if not, as a downshifter you should have a whole set of sources of appreciation, so why rely to get it from your company/boss? Continue to do a good job anyway. Be friendly and sympathetic to everyone and build as many personal ties as possible. Understand that many of your fellow workers are stressed too or entangled very deeply into the treadmill. Never be missionary but accept when others see the job differently or even honestly love it. Do never rate any colleague on his/her benefit for your career. Listen to others. Less often insist that you are right.

Understand that all of this will make your job much more fun and all this things are in your hand, no matter what your company or your bosses are doing.

 

In a nutshell:

In the end, your job will very likely continue to play a major role in your life. The option of just dropping it might sound compelling, but rest assured that other troubles would follow if you did so – it is the nature of life itself that always something is missing 🙂 .
Thus the better way to me seems to learn to accept your job as it is.
I guess this holds for many aspects of life…to be continued…

Cheers,

Woodpecker