On “Liebe und Arbeit” (Love and Work)

Two days ago, I stumbled upon this (anonymous…?) quote on the net:

Work until you no longer nedd to introduce yourself

Or rather, the quote consisted only of the first sentence – and I found it necessary to add the second. Sigmund Freud once wrote that “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Freud has written a lot of nonsense in his lifetime – but I think here, he´s right on the spot. Obviously, this is not to say that other aspects of life are not important (such as play and recreation). But a lot of people these days spend a least half of their waking hours at work, which also means that we spend most of our time (because that includes our free time) in the presence of other people. That´s why the late Christopher Peterson used to say Other People Matter when asked for a short definition of Positive Psychology. It´s pretty straightforward. I guess most people would agree that our loved ones and friends are one of the most important sources of happiness in our lives – we don´t need Positive Psychology for this insight (even though they can also be an important source of grieve).

But what about work? Isn´t work a constant source of stress and discomfort for most of us? After all, surveys such as the Gallup Engagement Index regularly show that the greater part of the workforce are not really engaged in their current job. While this finding most likely is based on different causations, I propose that a very important one is a lack of fit between the person and the attributes of a job. That´s why I felt a need to add a second sentence to the above-mentioned quote. While I like the general idea, “becoming (more or less) famous” is a prime example of an extrinsic goal – and pursuing these has been shown to be detrimental to our well-being.

We all need to find something that we like to do irrespective of the (external) consequences. This is the most important learning from Self-Determination Theory and adjacent theories like the Self-Concordance Model. We have to find work that we would do even without being paid. I know that this a “moonshot goal” for most people as things are today – but it´ll be the key to lasting productivity and (workplace) happiness in the future.

My 15+15 Minutes of Positive Psychology Fame in Lincoln, Nebraska…

What do you do when you´re – more or less out of the blue – invited to be interviewed about your take on Positive Psychology by a radio talk host in Lincoln, Nebraska? Obviously, you say yes and turn on Skype. That´s what I did when Nick Hernandez contacted me via Facebook this Monday. It wasn´t completely out of the blue as I know Nick from his regular contributions on the Positive Psychology group on Facebook. But I did not know that he regularly hosts a 30-minutes show by the name of Community Matters on KZUM.org – now I do.

Mostly, we talked about my take on belief systems, a topic that I also explore in my book License for Satisfaction. If you´d like to hear the show – I´ve uploaded it here.

Community Matters - KZUM



SCHLAAAAAND! How the Soccer World-Cup helps to Build a Likeable Version of the “German Nation”

Just FYI: I´m writing these lines under the impression of watching some 400.000 people on TV cheering for our successful soccer team at their reception close to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (picture source):

Berlin - World-Champions

Truth is: I´m not really into soccer. I hardly care about the German Bundesliga (our “major league”). But today, I´d like to write about soccer. Or rather, about the role that soccer – and winning the world-cup 2014 – plays for Germany and the “German identity”.

Where shall I begin? Let me say, that it was kind of strange growing up as a young man in Germany. I was born 33 years after the end of World War II (my father was born during the last months of war) – and very soon, each and every person that has actually fought in this war will be dead and gone (like my grandpa). In spite of this, WW II (and Hitler, and everything that comes with that…) is still the big “national elephant in the room”.

Hitler is still the “big national elephant in the room”.

On a pre-conscious, between the lines level, it still affects everything a German does (or does not). If you want to put it in terms of transactional analysis: Many things that are “OK” for just about anybody in the world, are “not OK” if your´re German – at least not if you´re “too German” (whatever that may be…). As I´ve lived in Pennsylvania for a year during my adolescence (and additionally studied there over the last couple of months) I´d like to give you some contrasting examples from the US, especially concerning the use of national symbols.

  • When you´re walking around in the U.S. sporting a t-shirt displaying the “Stars & Stripes”, people will likely smile at you and give a thumbs-up.  It´s a cool thing to do. When you´re walking around in Germany sporting a t-shirt displaying the “Black, Red and Gold” there´s a good chance that people will frown upon you. What they say without saying it: “Are you a f…ing Nazi or what?”
  • Equally, it´s a really really bad idea to sing the German national anthem – apart from those rare occasions where it´s deemed appropriate, e.g., before extraordinarily important soccer games. In the U.S., you sing the national anthem almost every day (just because the school day starts, or because there´s a middle school basketball game, or just because it´s a beautiful day…whatever…). And it´s cool. The U.S. anthem was played “for me” at Penn commencement 2014 – and I sang it with my fellow American students – not because I feel like I´m American, but because it´s a beautiful song, and it was a celebratory moment, and it was the right thing to do.
  • And don´t even try to say something like “I´m proud to be German” in public. It´s the best way to ruin your reputation, your career, and might even bring you to the hospital if you happen to do it in the presence of people from the (far) left-wing scene.

By the way, I feel it´s not a very intelligent thing to say. It´s not an achievement to be born in a specific country, so philosophically speaking, it´s an “error of category”. How can anybody be proud of something that has just happened to him/her by chance? But the point is: in the U.S. (and probably any other country on this planet), it´s OK to do so.

And this is where the soccer world-cup tournaments come into play. The tournament in 2006 hosted in Germany was at least a light episode of thaw. Suddenly, you would see Germans carrying around German flags, cheering for their country in broad daylight (and late at night, for that matter). Regular, nice-looking people – not those skinhead neo-Nazi dickheads. Of course, they would put the flags onto their cars by the millions. And people from all over the world visited our country to celebrate. They discovered that Germans are mostly likeable, party hard and welcome foreigners with open arms (aside from the aforementioned die-hard assholes from the old school…that, frankly speaking, can be found in any nation on earth). The weather was really nice. The atmosphere was peaceful. And for five weeks or so, it was “OK” again to be German – and to even show it. That´s why we call that time “Sommermärchen” (Summer Fairytale).

Winning the three titles in 1954, 1974, and 1990 was probably equally important for our “rebirth as a nation”. Earning the title against all odds in 1954 is called “Wunder von Bern” (Miracle of Bern). For the very first time after WW II, there was a glimpse of hope. For the very first time, Germans weren´t constrained to the (Ex-)Nazi role. In 1974, we won the cup in our own country, during a time of thaw with regard to the former USSR and especially East Germany. To that effect, the “world spirit” moved forward in that direction, and we won our third title in Italy in 1990 – in midst of the German reunification process.

But it took 16 more years for the German nation to come to terms with itself – at least for the above-mentioned five weeks of the summer miracle. I mean, looking down from space, there are no “borders”, no “countries”, and no “governments”. But as long as we have to live in a geo-political system that endorses national states, in my opinion it´s a valuable and utterly healthy thing to feel at least a decent level of identification with regard to the country that the “karma lottery” has put us in.

Yet, being born in Germany still means carrying a small share of a huge “historical hypothecation”. And while there may be political entities in other countries that – once in a while – like to remind the Germans of their “historical guilt”, that burden is mostly renewed from within. As a nation, we´re still kind of obsessed with Hitler. Of course it´s not an obsession in an admiring sense. Rather, it´s that mode where one is not able to take the eyes off of a horrible car accident. You´ll find a Hitler story at least every other week or so on the cover of one of the important German weekly magazines. And sometimes, I get the impression that there´s a law requiring our German news channels to broadcast WW II documentaries on a daily basis after 10:00 pm.

To make things worse, there is a well-developed “self-abashment industry” that includes a big chunk of the (far) left-wing journalists in this country. I suspect that – out of utterly low self-regard (and even less self-compassion…) – their greatest pleasure and joy lies in trying to prevent other people from discovering and developing those qualities within themselves. Where foreign newspapers start to write really nice things about “Ze Germans” (please see the Washington Post, the Guardian, and ForeignPolicy.com for current examples), those poor creatures desperately try to find something to grouse about while the rest of the nation is busy celebrating “Jogis Jungs” (Jogi´s Boys).

This morning, they finally found the fly in the ointment so they could raise their priggish fingers: While stepping onto the stage in Berlin, a group of – most-likely dead-tired and hung-over German players – engaged in a dance/song that (in an utterly harmless manner that you´ll find in every German soccer stadium on any given Sunday…) lampooned the Argentinian players for ten seconds or so. The leftist press now tries to talk that up to a #Gauchogate – invoking images of the “Master Race” humiliating the rest of the “free world”.

Dear German self-abashment complex (including the political correctness thought police…): Even the British yellow press starts to really like the Germans. Maybe you want to join them?

I am not proud to be German. That´s bullshit. But I am proud of “our boys” – and how hard they´ve fought and suffered for their title. And I´m proud of my fellow Germans, seeing how they have supported and cheered for the team over the past five weeks, and how they have suffered vicariously by the millions in front of their TV screens and the countless public screenings.

We must never forget. But it´s time to forgive. And that includes ourselves.

We must never forget. But it´s time to forgive. And that includes ourselves. My son is 20 month old now. He was born 67 years after the war. I will work hard to make sure that he can grow up unaffected by that shadow of the past.


Who´s the Boss? A Tale of Cops and Cheerleaders…

Cop CostumeOk, whatever you think…the title is not the tag line for some special interest porn flick. It’s about leadership. Precisely, COP and CHEERleader are acronyms that I stumbled upon yesterday in an article by the name of Forty things every Manager should know about Coaching. They define two antagonistic frameworks of leadership, and ultimately, underlying views of the nature of man.

COP stands for “Coerce – Organize – Punish”. Basically, it describes what effective leadership was thought to be for most of the 20th century (and the eons before that…). You can still “smell” a lot of Taylor´s “Scientific Management” in there. What is says between the lines: People are inherently lazy and incapable. That´s why the leader has to motivate his “followers” using external rewards and punishment to get the desired results. And above that, there´s one person that knows which form of organizing the tasks at hand is the best: the leader – and no one else.

On the other end of the spectrum, CHEERleader stands for Challenge – Empower – Encourage – Reinforce. It´s based on the assumption that people are intrinsically motivated (please read my article on Self-Determination Theory for a little background information), capable or organizing themselves (alone as well as in groups), and eager to learn, grow, and achieve – in short: that people are grown-up individuals capable of deciding what´s best for themselves as well as the companies they work for.

What do you think of this?


Picture source


Barack Obama vs. Gordon Brown: Are you “holding back”? And what if you wouldn´t?

If you´re not here for the very first time, you probably know about Esa Saarinen and his theory about Systems of Holding Back. More precisely, they are defined as “mutually aggregating spirals which lead people to hold back contributions they could make” (“because others hold back contributions they could make”). You can read more about this topic here.

Recently, someone pointed my attention to this short footage of Barack Obama visiting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It´s a perfect example of Esa´s theory. Now ask yourself: How many times a day am I Obama – and how often am I Brown?