Gina Schoeler is co-founder and acting Minister for Happiness and Well Being at the Ministry of Happiness. Does it exist? Of course. Everything started with a question: What is happiness? That is what Gina Schöler and Daniel Clarens asked themselves during their studies of communications design in Mannheim, Germany. The ministry of happiness turned into their final project. In the meantime Gina Schoeler works in her profession but kept her role as reigning minister. Everything starts with a question we thought as well and asked her about the subject we all want to know about.
Schoeler sees the components of happiness „as a big dynamic puzzle that changes all the time a little bit. A main pillar however is acting with purpose. That is very high on my list because it allows me to do something each day that enables beauty and purpose. When I ask others about what makes them happy people respond first ‚family and friends’. I agree with this since my social structures are important for me too. Often they mention more free and quiet time. I agree with this as well but currently I have multiple different projects that all demand a lot of time. Sometimes I wish for more small islands of silence but at the end of the day that is my responsibility.“
Happiness is personal responsibility
„Personal responsibility is a prerequisite for happiness“, the communication designer confirms right at the beginning of our conversation but struggles to define what happiness actually is. „Everybody that deals with this topic has her own definition and perspective. Almost all viewpoints have in common that happiness can be learned in a certain way. One can summarize all surveys, statistics and experiences with acting with personal responsibility.“ Finally she agrees to give us a definition for happiness too. It’s not hers but the best one she has found so far:
„Happiness is conscious well being“
As a result of her tenure as minister for happiness and well being Schoeler realized „that we are doing better than we think but we are not entirely capable to see it. […] This is where we begin with our exercises and practices to open people’s eyes. There is no need to cover the big topics of life. It starts with everyday observations.“ To create possibilities in which people can meet others and happiness is important for Schoeler when she says we need „small islands that provide the opportunity to engage with something positive.“
Happiness is transformational
Happiness is something different in every phase of life, Schoeler assumes and quotes neurobiologist Tobias Esch who is convinced „that sense of happiness and criteria for happiness change with each phase of life. A child is happy about a chocolate bar, an old lady gives an entirely different answer.“ That is why it is so important to continuously check in to see what makes us more satisfied now. But this is problematic when many people as Schoeler suspects „think about the past or fear the future when they think about the question.“
Happiness is relative
Time is an important topic to clarify when dealing with happiness. Is it a magic but short moment or a long-term condition? „If we extend the notion of happiness to general satisfaction then the word is identical to well-being and life satisfaction. The small word happiness however seems to be more about a moment.“ This is why the minister’s suggestion for dealing with time weighs even more as she suggests „to forget time more often. I work whenever I have a new idea, when I am surrounded by nice people or when I am full of energy. It does not matter if it is on a Friday night or Monday morning. I also think it is important to let time just be time. It’s just a number on a clock.“
Happiness is indirect
It is a paradox but even if we change something that makes us unhappy it will not make us happier instantly, Schoeler remarks. „At first people are not happy after an important decision. „To quit a job because of bellyache is not the right solution. It is a process that one must ponder with for a while. Particularly the big, courageous decisions in life that involve intuition do not lead to happiness at first. Question marks remain. That is the same for all people. Uncertainty emerges before the decision and even more fear afterwards. Such decisions require brevity to lead the path for oneself.“
Happiness is continuous development
Is happiness hard work? Must it be hard to reach? No, Schoeler states. „Many people around me and also myself are crafting their individual happiness each day. We do this sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously; sometimes automatically and sometimes by working on certain questions. I refer to it therefore as constant work and not hard work, because it is fun to do. It becomes apparent that one starts and transforms something but not because it is done through discipline. With discipline I cannot reach a certain level of happiness in two years.“ What truly matters for Schoeler is the insight „that happiness is experienced when learning new things, making new experiences or when just staying curious.“ Even on a more general level Schoeler sees the solution in „maintaining curiosity and asking questions. Not just asking others but also oneself and to answer honestly. There will be unpleasant answers too.“ That requires also courage. „Our courage can frighten and help us to form our own path in life. We grow and gratify ourselves when we had the courage to deal with a new challenge and to master it. People realize when life takes them towards the right destination or into a dead end. Will one go back, more speed or less? One’s goal should be to not get stuck in the dead end but to steer confidently right or left.
Happiness is not a trait
We saved maybe the best for last. Happiness, Schoeler thinks, is not bound to a certain personality profile and sets it straight: „I have met so many different people and cannot state that the quest is easier for extroverted or introverted people.“
That is an encouraging statement and at Age of Artists we now all embark on our personal search for happiness. What terrible thing can happen after all? Our minister might suggest it’s more happiness.
Read the full interview with Gina Schoeler here (German only).
Gina Schöler running a street campaign to learn about perspectives on happiness
You find the ministry here: http://ministeriumfuerglueck.de
Picture Source: Gina Schöler, Ministerium für Glück,
Portrait Gina Schöler by Marco Schöler
Workshop Carl Benz School and Street Interview photos by Daniel Clarens
Transcript by Eugen Buss