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Positive Psychology: “One of the most powerful factors is caring for each other.”

Positive Psychology: “One of the most powerful factors is caring for each other.”


interview

As of: March 20, 2024 at 2:59 PM

“A person can influence their subjective experience of happiness,” says happiness researcher Mangelsdorf. Daily news-conversation. Among other things, she recommends communicating with others more often and keeping a happiness diary.

tagesschau.de: The Finns have done it again. They are the happiest people in the world. Why are they so?

Judith Mangelsdorf: In fact, the World Happiness Report measures life satisfaction around the world, but of course it also measures the most important factors that contribute to it. This means that about three-quarters of the differences we see between different countries can actually be explained by six factors.

This includes GDP. This includes something like a country's average healthy life expectancy. This also includes perceived social support. This means that if you ask people in these countries, they have a personal sense that they are there for each other, that they care about each other, and that, as a community within a country, they truly contribute to everyone's well-being.

Another crucial factor is the subjective experience of freedom. This means: Do I have a feeling that I can make my own decisions and shape my life freely in the country in which I live? Also the interesting topic of generosity. So to what extent do people who are financially better off support others in order to contribute to the well-being of everyone as a community and society within a country? The sixth factor is noticeable corruption in institutions or organizations.

Judith Mangelsdorf

Judith Mangelsdorf is a German psychologist, happiness researcher, and Germany's first professor of positive psychology. She teaches and researches at the German University of Health and Sports in Berlin.

Satisfaction decreased slightly in Germany

tagesschau.de: Germany lost its places and thus fell. Are we all unhappy?

Mangelsdorf: In fact, Germany has lost ground significantly compared to the past few years. This means that we have fallen behind what we have been accustomed to for a long time, which is being in the top twenty.

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But it must be said that there are two driving effects for this. Yes, life satisfaction has decreased in Germany, but very slightly. These are actually just decimal places we're talking about. What drives this effect above all is the fact that other countries have significantly increased their subjective well-being and life satisfaction ratings. Most importantly, it is the countries of Eastern Europe that have risen significantly, and are thus displacing many other countries from their places.

tagesschau.de: But now there are crises in many countries. Is this taken into consideration? For example, we have a crisis in Israel, we have a crisis in Ukraine, there are many countries where there is uncertainty. How much does this matter?

Mangelsdorf: In fact, such huge events, which also affect entire populations, are not without consequences for people's life satisfaction. What's important when you look at the World Happiness Report is that it's not a survey of last year, but of the past three years.

So, if we look at Israel, which is ranked relatively high, we have to know that this poll has two good years. This means that such peaks, which can of course rise or fall, are more or less averaged out within society because researchers are more concerned with the really big picture than with the effects of individual natural disasters or other temporary crises.

“Happiness actually depends on three variables”

tagesschau.de: You work in the field of positive psychology. Can happiness be learned?

Mangelsdorf: Of course, positive psychology deals with exactly this question, but above all with mechanisms of action and interactional interactions. This means that happiness depends mainly on three variables: on the one hand, the lifestyle we live, that is, what we can learn or change, but of course also social factors such as those recorded by the World Happiness Report.

This includes the circumstances of my life, which I can only partially or not influence at all, and our experience of happiness also depends on our genes. What positive psychology research shows is that we can influence our personal experience of happiness. But this depends not only on the way I organize my life, but also on other key variables that need to be taken into the equation.

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tagesschau.de: Now when you say there are things I can influence, what are they?

Mangelsdorf: There is now extensive analysis around the question: What can people actually do that will make a real difference? One of the most important influencing factors is your personal perspective on life. How do I actually look at the past, present and future? Am I looking from a perspective of gratitude? Am I truly present and aware in the here and now, and am I truly trying to be proactive about the good things in my life, which are statistically far more common than anything negative that happens to us?

When I look to the future, can I look to the future with a perspective of optimism, even in times of crisis? Or am I always drowning in anxiety? All of these factors and of course many others can be trained proactively. Both in order to deal with this life a little better and also in order to generate a higher level of life satisfaction and happiness for yourself.

brain with Gratitude journal Reorganization

tagesschau.de: How does this work? How can I change my perspective to be a more satisfied and happy person?

Mangelsdorf: One of the most popular forms of positive psychology intervention is actually a gratitude journal or a daily gratitude review. This is a method aimed primarily at cognitive restructuring. To do this, ask yourself this question every evening: What are three things I can be grateful for today or that were good during the day—including the things that were really bad personally.

What this intervention does, when done over a long period of time, similar to journaling, is that it helps redirect the brain toward perceiving positive stimuli, experiences, and situations. This actually allows us to put our lives in a more positive light.

The second very important direction you can look at is how life satisfaction arises in the first place. Life satisfaction has three sources from which it feeds, outside of actual life circumstances. On the one hand, this is the comparison with my past. Am I really better off today than I was before? Then compare with self-important comparison groups, for example other men or women my age. Are others doing better or worse than me? And the comparison between what I want from my life and what I have.

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What we often do is we compare ourselves subjectively with other people who may be better off. This of course leads to more dissatisfaction with life. Especially here in Germany, it would be very clear to take a look outside the box and see: what are we really giving away in this society that many other people in the world cannot call their own? This shift in perspective is something that can contribute to increased life satisfaction in the long term.

“One of the most powerful factors is caring for each other.”

tagesschau.de: Is it possible to make the entire society happier and more fulfilled again?

Mangelsdorf: If we look at the results of the World Happiness Report, and even a lot of cumulative research in positive psychology, we must say: one of the most powerful factors for greater happiness, whether in society or in personal life, is interpersonal interest. the people.

This means that if we can reach out again, make a greater effort to support others and really be there, that is an influence factor that can make a huge contribution to us becoming happier personally, but also that we as a society can move towards this as we come closer to each other in these times. Polarized and thus contribute to collective well-being.

The interview was conducted by Anja Martini, science editor of Tagesschau. It has been shortened and edited for the written version.