CLARIN

The Everyday Science Of Striving For Happiness

Discovering new methods and habits to help us become a little happier every day has become a veritable science. And big business.

The Everyday Science Of Striving For Happiness
Ernesto Viéitez

BUENOS AIRES â€" Attaining happiness has become so important in our society that it now occupies an entire field of scientific study. Researchers have moved beyond merely studying the psychology of desire and are now identifying new methodologies to help us learn how to be happier.

One of the pioneers of the field is the Israeli-born psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches at Harvard University and is the author of several widely read books, including The Pursuit of Perfect, wherein he calls perfectionism a kind of neurosis. He argues that the modern human condition pushes us to work toward attaining the impossible. The antidote he proposes is to replace this perfectionism with optimism, noting how perfectionists simply reject flaws, while optimists humbly accept them.

Accepting life as it â€" flawed â€" will free you of the fear of failure, says Ben-Shahar. Learn from mistakes, he suggests, without dramatizing them. Another specific suggestion: 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to release the chemicals in your body that mitigate pain and increase the sense of pleasure.

There are also specialists working in this field in Argentina. From the realm of sociology, Marita Carballo published La felicidad de las naciones (The Happiness of Nations), a book based on polls taken across the world that have brought out certain common "pointers" of happiness. She argues that this information could be integrated into school curricula, both to raise satisfaction levels and help students identify personal priorities.

Competing "needs"

"With the argument that too much advertising and consumer-oriented abundance make people less happy with what they have, and make them want more, certain governments are considering restrictions," Carballo notes. "In Sweden, advertising directed at children under the age of 12 was banned."

Since so many people continue to identify happy moments in their lives with social relations, this sociologist says there should be more public programs "that increase the level of interpersonal trust." In practical terms this can mean encouraging neighbors to spend time together.

Carballo notes that "the relationship between earnings and happiness is complex." Beyond a middle-income level, she states, "an increase in revenue does not necessarily signify more happiness." A good work environment and generally following your vocation seem to be important.

"People learn to feel well by repeating positive emotional processes and by avoiding negative processes," says neuroscientist Federico Fros Campelo, author of Ciencia de las emociones (Science of Emotions). "At the end of the day, these processes are the result of step-by-step sequences in the brain."

Fros Campelo says people come "wired with programs that turn into motives." One program is the "quest for self-sufficiency," which helps us develop ourselves, he argues.

Add to all of this what you have learned culturally, and we see that the society in which we live guides people toward individualism, encourages a search for autonomy above all other emotional maps, like empathy for example.

"Without your personality as a counterweight, the "self-sufficiency wand" may dazzle people, and this could become a dysfunctional activity," says Fros Campelo. "To be happy we have to know and harmonize the various programs that sometimes pull us in different directions." Part of that, the writer explains, means balancing our for "certainty and stability" with another need: new things in our lives.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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