Less educated people are happier

What does a society need to be happy? In any case, more than a high gross domestic product, says the former banker Stefan Bergheim, who has already advised the Federal Chancellor on this issue. The 46-year-old thinks: "Politicians have to learn to understand what makes people really happy". As director of a non-profit think tank - the "Center for Social Progress" - Bergheim researches ways and methods to improve the quality of life in Germany. A conversation about the difference between happiness and contentment. And what we can do ourselves to make us feel good.

Süddeutsche.de: What makes us happy?

Stefan Bergheim: There are many factors. At the top of the list are close social ties, i.e. partners, relatives or friends with whom there is a good relationship. And health, both physically and mentally. And of course the question of whether you have something useful to do.

Define meaningfully.

It is different for everyone. Some want to save the world or learn something new and educate themselves, others want to create something concrete that can be taken in hand. Whether paid or unpaid is of secondary importance. However, unemployment almost always has a negative effect on esteem. A solid income also helps keep us happy. And a high level of education.

Education makes you happy?

It at least allows us to make decisions that have a positive effect on our life satisfaction. We know that educated people have a well-functioning social environment, are less likely to be unemployed and spend their free time more effectively.

Does that mean people with a lower level of education cannot be happy?

Of course, uneducated people can be happy when they have found a healthy combination for their life, have a meaningful job, and are socially involved. But we also know that more educated people with higher incomes have more options to shape their lives according to their own ideas. And we observe that educated people often make better decisions and are therefore more satisfied. Education is not necessarily just school or academic training - some have a general life education and individual skills that they have acquired over the course of their lives. However, these often correlate with how long one went to school.

You just mentioned income - does money make you happy after all?

It makes a lot of things easier, and of course there has to be a material basis. If you can't afford your children's health and education, that's a problem. But beyond that, the above factors are more important. For example, it has been proven that winning the lottery can make you quite unhappy in the long run. Because this event turns everything upside down and familiar structures change completely. In the end you are often in a worse position: old friends suddenly no longer suit you, new ones come along who are perhaps only interested in money. Or you quit your job - and then what do you do all day?

That might again depend on the level of education, right?

Exactly, then I may continue to work in my job, possibly part-time, and do something useful with the money - something that fulfills me.

Is luck a coincidence or can we help him out?

We should differentiate between happiness and life satisfaction - one thing is coincidence, it overtakes us and cannot be influenced. This includes the happiness of the moment, such as winning the lottery, the birth of a child or when we sit on a park bench and the sun tickles our noses. And then there is the longer term concept of life satisfaction. Here everyone can ask themselves: How satisfied am I with my life? And what can I do about it? For example, I can watch less TV and spend more time with friends instead. I can do more sports to take care of my health. I can influence all of this.

What about children - do they only make you happy? Or rather worry?

We know that grandchildren make you happy. Because as a grandparent you only have a temporary obligation that you can give up again. Children mean a strong change that mixes up one's own priorities and restricts the temporal sovereignty and self-determination of parents. This tends to have a negative effect on life satisfaction. Nevertheless, children generally have a positive influence.