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:

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 (+++).




Frugal Winter Weekend in the Alps – Father & Son Style

View to Aschau from Kampenwand cable car.

View to Aschau from Kampenwand cable car.

This weekend, Woodpecker and his older, 5yrs old son decided it is time for a weekend in Nature again.

Actually my idea was to take young Mr.Woodpecker to his first alpine hut-weekend experience.

Checking short-term availability off DAV huts (=Deutscher Alpenverein, German Alpinist Association), the mountain Kampenwand close to lake Chiemsee was the target.

It’s an easy one to go with small kids, as most of the ascend can be done by a lovely, 60-year-old, retro-style cable car, the “Kampenwandbahn”.

The DAV hut up there is a self-catering hut, i.e. you get a key, they have fire wood, cold water and kitchen equipment up there, but the rest you bring yourself.

As always when going to the mountain, this little timeout was great:

  • Two meters of fresh snow for a great shoveling andigloo-building experience, in other words a kid’s paradise.

    Sunset at 4.30 p.m. A LOT of time for cooking now...

    Sunset at 4.30 p.m. A LOT of time for cooking now…

  • A fantastic dinner prepared by Mr.Woodpecker. I made it a habit to cook luxurious when being at huts in winter, as it gets dark at 5 p.m. anyway, so there is plenty of time to kill.
  • These huts are always good to get into contact. About 15 other interesting and diverse people stayed up next to us. Among them 5 kids, who, along with little Mr.Woodpecker quickly retreated to the upstairs dormitory for an extended pillow fight, while I and the other adults had some nice beers together downstairs in the “Stube” (=living room). From the noise pouring downstairs, I sometimes feared the wooden ceiling would break, but it obviously is used to a lot of jumping kids.
  • A chilly (3 degree Celsius) thus healthy night in the unheated dorm, enjoying my beloved down sleeping bag (recommended!). And the good feeling that our bodies are not yet fully softened by civilization.
  • A great downhill ride with the sledge we brought with us. In fact, the slope was close to what it doable with a small boy on the lap and a 20kg rucksack on the bag…but we made it! 🙂

Total cost for 2 days, 2 persons:

Brave Mr. Woodpecker junior climbing up to a snowy peak. (In fact he was quicker than me, as not sinking in so deep :-)

Brave Mr. Woodpecker junior climbing up to a snowy peak. (In fact he was quicker than me, because not sinking in so deep 🙂 )

  • 11,50 EUR for cable car (kids are free).
  • 12,00 EUR for night at hut (members tariff, kids are free).
  • 30,00 EUR cost for car-ride.

Total: 53,50 EUR. Without the bloody car ride, just 23,50 EUR. (I do not count the food, we would have needed that anyway)

This is what I call value! And better fun than most 5 star hotels I have ever seen. 🙂

Highly recommended! (Also without kids)



The Middle-Way – Reloaded

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike last week-end. For me, a good means to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today ;-)

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike with a good friend last week-end. For me, also a way to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today 😉

I am convinced that life is very much about finding the middle-way.

I think for some time Woodpecker was carried away a bit by the early retirement idea and focussed too much on money. Making money, investing and saving more. And then more.

In principle the beginning of this thought is fine (spend less for useless consumption and then invest), but there is a big danger here:

Without noticing you replace the work – consume – treadmill with another treadmill: The money-saving and -accumulating treadmill.
Funnily enough, the better your investments work, the more money you are accumulating, the more you get dragged into this mill. Money works like a drug, and you have to be damn carefull not to lose control over and become a slave of it.

Money has to be your horse and not your rider.

The same holds for your job and early retirement. Looking to retire earlier than the average chap is fine, but there is a danger as well:

That you postpone your happiness to an uncertain future day. That you start slaving away in the hope of better times then. And therefore you are not much different from the normal chap again, only your horizon is different.

Working 50hrs a week and 50 weeks a year is crap for sure, but if you go for the right dose and attitude, a job can also be fun and even fulfilling to a certain extend.

So let’s find a compromise between the frugal-extreme-early-retiree and the stupid work-consumption-slave.

Let’s come back to the middle-way!

The middle way should be somewhat like this:


  • Accept your job and your employer for what they are. In the end you are not forced to work there, so don’t complain if things at work are not always what you like them to be.
  • If the job really is horrible at the moment, take a long time-out (like I did in summer). This will help you to think things through and make a decision. In my case the decision was to return to the very same job but to change some things there. Which I did and am now much more happy at work, while still working for the same boss and in the same environment.
  • Things can be changed. Every good coach will tell you that many people are unhappy with their job, but most can get happy at the same employer, by either changing the department, having another boss or just adopt another attitude. Often it is not necessary to change the employee. Nor does retirement necessarily bring happiness.
  • Remember you have full power over some things: How you perceive things, how you interpret them, how you react and how you treat others.
  • You have no power (or very little) over: How other perceive things, how others react, how others interpret things.
  • You have partial power over: How people treat you. Because this is a function of (a) how you treat them and (b) how you behave.
  • Spend a lot of time on net-working. Your network and your ties will make you invulnerable over time. Career-Builders do exactly the same. They spend only (personal estimate of Woodpecker Consultants Limited) 30% of their time on work and 70% on networking.  A somehow similar ratio should apply to you. But with a different goal: To have fun with others while at work and to feel save and secure when being away again for a long time.
  • Don’t care too much about the daily tides of office politics. This day people say this and tomorrow something else. Be friendly to people and don’t take rumours too serious. Most of them are pure speculation as people are bored by their job.
  • Do not forget to laugh and enjoy life, especially when at work. Most people will value some good moods even in stressful times.
  • No blackberry, no email checking and no phone calls out of office or during holidays. Many interested groups will try to convince you otherwise, but separating job and spare time is important for health and happiness.


  • Your most valuable and scarce resource. Appreciate it.
  • Continue to max out free time. Go for some home office to reduce commuting, take days off instead of extra pay, leave early, take sabbaticals.
  • Some people really enjoy working even more than free time. But most people would prefer working rather less than more. Do not try to cheat yourself about this.
  • Anyway, you will spend enough time at the job. Downshifting will cost you some career, but that’s worth it.
  • No need to force early retirement in my opinion. A job can provide also nice things if done the middle-way, especially the company of friendly colleagues and common endeavors can be great fun.
  • Spend a lot of time with friends, family but also alone. Learn to enjoy time on your own and with little diversion. As this is the moments you are closest to yourself.


  • Of course abstain from needless consumerism. All still applies regarding efficient spending and harden yourself against the temptations of money spending in the hope of that making you happy.
  • But remember also, that some of the great things in life do cost money. It is not true that all great things are for free. Travelling, sailing, mountain sport, going out and having a beer with friend every now and then in Woodpeckers case, can all be done at higher or at lower costs, but all of this requires some money.
  • Be prepared to spend it for those things and activities you really like. Do not stay away from those things you love only to save harder for the future early retirement. Life is here and now.

Friends & Family

  • The more, the better. Always work on expanding your social network. We humans are heard animals. Without contact and appreciation, we are nothing.
  • A colleague from London – why are they all so money-focussed there? – once kept on pushing me that in the end everything is always and only about money.  “Everything has a price”. I asked him in return if he would be happy to be sitting on the moon. With all the money and all goods and leisure he could imagine, but completely on his own. For some minutes that kept him silent…until he washed this disturbing thought away… 🙂
  • Conflicts are part of life. You cannot avoid a clash sometimes if you want to walk upright. If you always avoid conflict, you will cripple your own interests or the interests of others and your relationships will become complicated. Thus conflicts have the benefit that positions are made clear.
  • However, never burn a bridge. Always be ready to forgive and to revive lost contacts. Woodpecker himself just has revived two great friendships from his youth time that lay buried over 15 years. And now is alive and kicking on a very satisfying level.
  • Always prioritize friends and family over work. When someone really needs help, you are there, no matter what you boss is saying.
  • Try to make some of your colleagues your friends. But avoid that all your friends are colleagues. You might want to separate your private and your work life from time to time, thus you need the two worlds.
  • Be never stingy to your friends. Don’t bother them to much with your savings and frugal living ideas. Explain what you think but do not evangelize.
  • Remember that investing into human relationships bears the greatest dividend of everything.
  • For the younger readers: Treat relationships you made early in life with special care. They gain in value over the years. At Woodpeckers age, friends from 25 years ago are already valuable beyond belief…and I guess this process will continue.

Bodily and Mental Health

  • Do regular sports. Sport greatly enhances your self-confidence, makes you relaxed, more attractive and thus increases quality a lot.
  • If possible walk or ride the bike to work. Studies show that while commuting in the car makes people the more unhappy the longer the ride, the opposite is true if they commute by bike or walk.
  • Spend much time out-doors and non sitting.
  • Spend time in an environment that brings you into contact with your “tribal” energy or even has a “mythical” effect on you. The energy that lies below pure functioning but at the core of your being. For Woodpecker that is the mountains or the open sea. A good hike or sailing day leaves me highly satisfied mentally and physically and effectively clears the head of spinning thoughts. It connects me with what and who I am.
    Find out what works for you and establish the connection regularly.
  • Important and often neglected:
    Even if you are not into religion, spend a few thoughts every now and then on the great questions of life. Death, life, consciousness, meaning, ethics, the origin of life and space, etc. These are parts of our lives and will get you away from the trivial world of materialism towards the great miracle and the amazing wonder of life.
  • Keep always in mind that life is not endless and that on the one side you are an insignificant particle living on another insignificant particle. And on the other side you are a wonder, a miracle and a being much more sophisticated and fascinating than all the galaxies in the universe. And so are your fellow humans.
  • Understand that all is connected. That we all are parts in the chain that leads from blur prehistoric times into a blur infinite future. You carry the light of humanity for this second only to hand it over soon. Preserve it well and understand that you are part of this stream.

Wow, that was a long post.

Well, so be it.

Cheers and enjoy this day,


Merry Christmas – and how to handle the “gift question”?

How to have a nice christmas without surrendering to consumerism?

How to have a nice christmas without surrendering to consumerism?

A very quick Christmas post, before heading off for family business.

Topic is obvious: Presents!

It maybe a bit late now, but an ongoing discussion among all wanting to life more frugal is:

How do we handle Christmas presents?!

On the one side the idea behind a present is certainly a positive one, on the other side, todays culture forces many people into a blind flush of consumerism which is quite opposed to the christmas time idea to concentrate on the important things in life.

Thus, a good christmas / festive season should concentrate on the important aspects. Those are:

  • Spending time together with loved ones
  • Calm down a bit from the constant level of stress a stimulation of today’s world
  • Please those that you love, and also strangers and others around you
  • Creat a positive and feel-good atmosphere
  • Think of the not so fortunate people in the world (!)

Continue reading

On Kids and Happiness

Kids are great! The boys of the Woodpecker clan on a autumn hike to Kloster Andechs.

Kids are great!
The boys of the Woodpecker clan on an autumn hike to Kloster Andechs near Munich.

A question you are likely to come across in your younger years is:

Should I have kids?

And if I write “should I have kids”, I do NOT refer to a moral or social responsibility, I refer to YOUR wellbeing plus the wellbeing of the potential kid.
Not more. Continue reading

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…

Art of Happy Living: Always Prioritize Care for your Social Contacts

Hamburg Landungsbrücken (old terminals), Elbe River in the evening. These nordic guys are good at building networks.

Hamburg Landungsbrücken (old terminals), Elbe River in the evening. These nordic guys are good at building ships as well as networks.

One of the most important factors to happiness obviously is prospering social contacts.

Social contact and social approval are among the most basic needs of humans, and arguably many people seem to spend a lot of money and effort to achieve it in an indirect way.

They do this by buying or gaining symbols of status to impress others and thus to get access to certain social groups or to earn their recognition. Most do this even unconsciously, but proof to this thesis is the fact that most of these people would get very uneasy should they come to a situation where actually nobody would see their efforts and the material results of them.
E.g. imagine the high performing and hard-working career focussed modern professional, going to his extravagant holidays on the Maldives or buying the new BWM SUV, without being allowed to tell ANYBODY about it, without taking ANY photos, without sending ANY message or Facebook entry from his trip. Without being able to boast to ANYONE after the vacation. Imagine he would get pale again the instant he is back at home, so that nobody could admire his taint. Imagine him not being allowed to park his ridiculously expensive new car in front of the office etc. That WOULD take away significantly from the experience of many status focussed people, wouldn’t it? Thus a huge part of accumulating stuff is simply to impress others, yet to gain social recognition.

Actually, there is nothing wrong in gaining social recognition, this is simply part of life and a basic human need.

However, any trained downshifter sees that spending on impressive stuff is a too laborious and inefficient way to improve social connection. A unintelligent way forcing you back in the rat race and the thread mill.

Good thing is that there is another, more natural, fully free and a million times more effective way to satisfy your need for social ties:

Simply go out and meet people – and keep the contact alive!

Currently staying in Hamburg at Mrs. Woodpecker’s family, I have to admire once more how good all of them are in connecting to each other, in introducing others and bringing in friends and extremely distant relatives into their ever-growing network.

What I found difficult in the beginning, the sheer amount of gatherings, having food or coffee together, visiting this and that persons, going to family events, casual meetings, etc., all of this after some years now form the picture of a perfectly functioning and very well cared of “analog” social network that probably never can be reached by any Facebook community or similar.


Mrs Woodpecker’s family is pretty widespread, and as they obviously were always good at keeping contact, they still know each other even to the very far ends of their (endlessly complicated) family tree. There are family gatherings annually and lists of family members counting to the hundreds throughout the world. Some of them migrated to places like the US, UK, Sweden, Argentina, New Zealand, and everybody is still in contact. It is family law that any member of the family can show up at the place of any other member on short notice and is always invited to stay at their place – even if they never have met before!

And the amazing thing: This law is really practised!

Lying on the holiday route towards the South, Woodpeckers in Munich in fact hosted three different groups of family at their home within the very month of July!

Obviously we always try to offer the full program, a nice city tour through Munich, some secret beer gardens, a trip to the mountains and so on. And always guests are leaving with a warm invitation to their places, be it Berlin, Stockholm, Hamburg, a country house Southern France, a private boat on the Baltic Sea or wherever.

And while most of these guys are neither particularly rich nor glamorous, everybody brings in his share, so that an amazing variety of locations, potential common activities and interesting people build up.

A very nice habit.

Actually, if you have a too small family (like the one from Mr. Woodpeckers side), the same principle will fit for your circle of friends:

Establish a “my home is your home” atmosphere, invite them, offer your help and support wherever you can, at all costs keep the contact and find time to see them regularly, and the rest will follow.

Over time you will pile up invitations to interesting places, request for common holiday trips and excursions, as well as insider access to good housing or business opportunities or even to job offers.

Maybe this is the deeper meaning of what eastern religions call “Karma”, and western call “the imperative of being good to your next”:

If you are good, kind and giving to others, over time all of this will return to you.

Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a month, but as a steady flow of nice little gestures and gratitude toward you in a year, in two or in ten!

Actually I’d not recommend to think of social contacts in monetary terms, but anyway they have one thing in common with investments:

Social Networks pay a constant dividend.

And due to the laws of interest, the gains from both a good investment and a good social network, if reinvested continuously, grow enormous over time!

Thus family and long-term friends will over time be the very most important assets in your social portfolio. Treat them well and you will flourish for sure!

Prioritize them over your Job your Career and also over making money if in doubt and you will not regret it.