One winner many losers

During the happiest weeks of the year, people vacation and disengage from markets and competition. None needs to seek approval among friends and family. One knows each other. In the mountains, on the beach or in the long queues in front of museums’ entries, all people are (nearly) equal. Traveling as a counter program. Relaxation and staring into space.

For the rest of the year our everyday life looks more like an Olympic competition: top performance on the job, footraces to a new apartment, international comparison testing in schools, contributions to excellence-initiatives from ministries of science and science foundations, senseless competitions in weird casting shows. This all adds up to a lot of unhappiness, serious studies show. Competition usually creates one winner and many losers. Already the silver medal is worthless. Not to mention the armada of faceless helpers and service personal which prepare the stage and the rent for today’s winners.

Still, superstars from global companies, world-champion sports clubs and from the entertainment industry are suffering from massive pressure. Expectations are gigantic. International competitors are not sleeping. Also, excessive payments, boni and absurd profit participation do not promise lasting satisfaction, research demonstrates.

Global competition is becoming surreal, particularly at the top of the pecking order. When millions are luring, bribery (#Siemens), sexual harrassment (#Metoo), fraud (#Fan BingBing) and corruption (#FIFA.) not far.

Has market competition as an order mechanism failed? No, but we need to think more thoroughly about the conditions under which we should compete. Let’s look back to our vacation experiences. We push ourselves and experience joy when we compete in guest ski races during our winter vacation or when we struggle t in the volley tournament on the beach. Collective effort, hedged consequences and rewards, second and third re-entry chances and transparent measurement provide competition its legitimate power as a market principle and still provides happy moments. Let’s think about it!

In Deutsch:

Happy Giving

When the weather is rough, meteorologically and politically, Christmas shines all the brighter. Since the greatest joy often lies in anticipation, shops and shopping malls start bringing out Christmas cookies, marcipan and advent treats immediately after summer break: heralds of a f(r)amily feast with candle lights, maybe a church visit, but definitely piles of presents. Same procedure every year!

Gift giving is a primeval rite. It connects people because it needs empathy to treat others with presents. It also pays off as gifts have to be reciprocated sooner or later. This motivates even shopophobics. And Germans splash out. Last year every German over 12 years spend 466 Euros on Christmas presents. How can they spend this money usefully?

Here are some tips from happiness research. First status gifts (the luxury wristwatch, the designer handbag or an expensive smartphone) may fall short of expectations if the Joneses or other participants in our friendly competition for status can present an even more exclusive gift. Even if not, status gifts need constant upgrading. Better be careful!

Also money, the Germans’ favorite Christmas gift, may disappoint when the presentee has no heart’s desire. It then just drains away in everyday consumption. Therefore, give events and common activities instead – a night at the opera, a surprise trip or things that have a special story. When told well, a story will add significance to any present.  

Also, it makes sense to spend the Christmas budget on more rather than less people. You may even think about making a present to somebody who doesn’t expect it. Perhaps not Donald Trump but maybe some other problematic character from your relevant set. Finally, always consider the ecological footprint of your gifts. Perhaps you cancel your flight for that shopping spree in New York or do without toxic Christmas wrapping. Consider local gifts, something from close to home. In this way you also make a gift to nature. Have fun!