Background - 19.03.2017 - 00:00 

International Day of Happiness

In this interview, Dr. Florian Schulz speaks about the role happiness plays in working life, why there is no instruction manual for being happy and why the Swiss are so happy.

20 March 2017. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly declared 20 March the International Day of Happiness, which highlights the significance of happiness and well-being as universal goals in people’s lives. Dr. Florian Schulz is a Lecturer in Psychology and Head of Psychological Counselling, and he conducts research at the Research Institute for Organizational Psychology of the University of St.Gallen.

What is the actual meaning of the term "happiness"?

There is a plethora of different perspectives and associations. The bandwidth ranges from a hedonistic understanding, from a euphoric experience of a moment to the positive valuation of a balanced, meaningful life. For the neurosciences, on the other hand, biochemical processes play a crucial part when they speak about "happiness".

In 1983, the Austrian psychologist Paul Watzlawick published a book entitled The Situation Is Hopeless, But Not Serious: The Pursuit of Unhappiness. Is there also an instruction manual for being happy?

A strained pursuit of happiness often makes people unhappy. The assessment of a specific situation is accompanied by a – usually negative – meta-valuation ("Actually I ought to be happy now, but…"). Such contradictory valuations place people under strain. As a psychologist, I can observe many people’s increasing dissatisfaction because they don’t regard themselves as sufficiently effective or efficient. This can affect all spheres of life: their studies, work, leisure, sexuality and partnership. Neither guidebooks nor psychology are able to promise guaranteed happiness. But as a psychologist, you can help people to be less unhappy, to stand less in their own way and to be more open towards positive experiences.

Many people associate happiness with romantic love. What role does happiness play at work?

Happiness and emotions in general are becoming more and more important in working life. On the one hand, employees don’t only want to earn money, they also look for self-realisation through work. Work must be fulfilling and give meaning to life. On the other hand, happiness is also a sales product. Along with their products and services, many companies also sell an image that is associated with happiness.

How do employers adapt to these new demands?

They grant their employees more autonomy and more creative options, and they exercise less control. When people regard their work as meaningful and identify with the company and the brand, the company also profits from this since it has distinctly more creative and more highly motivated employees. Nevertheless the option of becoming part of a brand is also potentially critical if it is elevated into a demand.

In what way?

Complete identification with the company and being "happy" must not become a part of the work demanded from employees. Even though enterprises would understandably like to have it that way, they must not reverse the autonomy they have granted into a lack of freedom again. Individual employees must be able to reject parts of visions and mission statements without being threatened with sanctions. If this is not the case, employees become cynical and therefore also unable to embody the brand to the outside world in a credible manner. Instead, companies have to engage in identity development, provide an identity narrative and try to integrate their employees into this narrative. In my view, the vision of the University of St.Gallen is a good example; it contains a great deal of modern leadership philosophy.

The International Day of Happiness sees the publication of the World Happiness Report, in which Switzerland regularly does very well. This year, Switzerland is in fourth place, in 2016, Switzerland was runner-up, in 2015 even in first place. Why are the Swiss so happy?

I think that stability has a positive effect on people. Like many other countries which can regularly be found in the top positions of the ranking, Switzerland is a relatively small country. People have the possibility of political participation, and the hierarchies are flat. Many studies highlight the gulf between rich and poor. Of course this also exists in Switzerland; nevertheless, a majority of people are able to take part in social life. This possibility of participation, rather than purely monetary matters, is the actual positive effect of prosperity.

photo: adrian_ilie825 /

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