Monday June 4, 2012
Joy gene alert
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
A recent study finds that Germans are ‘incapable of enjoying life.’
APPARENTLY, the Germans’ “joy gene” is kaput. As I scrolled down Der Spiegel online news about a week back, the headline, Study Finds Germans Incapable Of Enjoying Life, stood out.
It even trumped my original reason for trawling the website, which was to read commentaries on Bayern Munich’s dismal defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the Champion’s League final, which I should add was (and remains) no laughing matter.
Anyway, Rheingold (a Cologne-based market research and consultancy institute) had found that “46% of Germans claim to be increasingly unable to enjoy anything due to the stress of daily life and the feeling of being constantly reachable.” Fifty-five per cent of the study’s younger participants even claimed to have lost their ability to feel good. The researchers concluded that, “Our joy gene is increasingly defective – we’ve forgotten how to enjoy ourselves.”
While this is no scientific study, it remains an eyebrow raiser. Yet how reflective is it of reality?
I know I’ve repeated myself oftentimes about the lack of spontaneity when it comes to fun pursuits like going for massages or catching up with the extended family for a mini-reunion.
The precision planning that goes into preparing for such activities, for example, often overwhelms me.
This is in stark contrast to the spur-of-the-moment adventures I’ve had back home. One minute we are breakfasting on karipap sardin and kuih bom and the next minute my niece says, “Shall we go to Malacca, ah?” Three hours later, my sister, my niece and I were counting change at the Malacca toll plaza. We were there for only three days but returned rejuvenated and high on laughter and onde onde.
I bet if I were to float such an idea here to say, my mum-in-law, we’d still be discussing logistics and the fact that it might not be such a good idea after all.
Our family reunion dates are fixed a year in advance and an activity programme is sent out to all members closer to the date via email for voting and approval. In other words, organised fun. Last minute tweaks to a finalised programme have on occasion caused consternation.
Or take the recent discussion among some of my singing group mates regarding our stage outfits for an upcoming performance. To me, the singing is as much fun as the dolling up. For some others, hemlines, necklines and colour combos are salient issues. I’ve now settled for a no-frills, teal, sleeveless, sheath. Sigh.
The study was spot-on in its description of “a typically German sequence of steps to enjoyment, which the researchers named ‘pleasure DNA’.” The first step involves the feeling of having earned something. This is followed by preparation for the longed-for pleasure, such as booking a day of wellness treatments. But then comes the biggest hurdle: letting go and clearing the mind. Although some 91% said that pleasure makes life worthwhile, only 15% could recall moments in which they were able to forget their worries and feel truly happy.
Perhaps the latter is bound to the aforementioned feeling of being “constantly reachable.” It would be unfair to claim that the malady of having a Smartphone or tablet PC as an additional limb is limited to the Germans alone. Yet, constantly flipping through these gadgets won’t help with unwinding after a stressful day at work. Owning neither, I’m a strong proponent of the iQuit button for when things go overboard.
However, many here seem unable to do so as they are innately programmed for perfection. This is undoubtedly an admirable trait in reasonable doses. The study found that “81% of those surveyed said that they experience pleasure best when they have managed to achieve something first.”
This is not to say that the Germans can’t party. They certainly “radiated a zest for life” during the 2006 soccer World Cup finals.
“But this mood shifted beginning in 2008,” says Rheingold psychologist Ines Imdahl. The problem, she believes, is that Germans feel weighed down by the ongoing European debt and currency crisis. “It’s more than simple complaining,” she adds. “People have the feeling that we have to shoulder the entire crisis here.”
I can totally empathise here. Even I get agitated every time I read or hear news of yet another European country threatening to go belly up financially, with the prospect of Germany footing the bill.
Then there’s “pleasure pressure” – a situation where enjoyment turns into an obligation. Frankly, I cannot relate to this but it is interesting to note that when faced with various leisure activities, some people then feel they “must” enjoy them all.
Most boggling, however, were the two-thirds of respondents who imagined that they might actually feel good by doing something provocative. “A motorcyclist reported experiencing delight when he blew exhaust fumes in the direction of a convertible driver as he accelerated at a green light.”
Well, whatever makes you happy. Right?
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She loves the word “chillax.”