What is a good life

What is a good life

In the World Happiness Report, Switzerland is now in fourth place, behind Finland, Iceland and Denmark. Although the Swiss have lost one rank compared to the previous year, they could call themselves specialists in how to live happily with good reason. But it's not that easy. Because the report is also based on statistical surveys such as the level of gross domestic product or healthy life expectancy. But that doesn't answer the question of what makes a good life. Because individual happiness is subjective. "Everything that is good and everything that is bad is a matter of perception," said the Roman philosopher Seneca (1–65 AD). We have therefore asked the mother of all questions to people of all stripes: What is a good life for you? And - unsurprisingly - received just as many different answers.

Author couple from Bern

Rolf and Sabine Dobelli

The rejection came quickly. "Let's do it after Corona," replied Rolf Dobelli (54) to our request a year ago, "currently heavy workload with children and homeschooling." We would have liked to ask the author the simple question what a good life is for him. After all, the Bernese resident is a proven expert in this matter: his bestseller "What is a good life?" sold millions of times in 40 languages; it has long been considered a standard work in literature on the subject. Probably it took Dobelli exactly five seconds for his negative decision. That's how long he gives himself when someone asks him a favor. Then he decides «and mostly with a no». All too often in the past he wanted to do his fellow human beings a favor, but he did not do himself a favor. "All those", philosophized the philosopher Seneca, "who call you to them, pull you away from yourself."

"It's easier to define what a bad life is."

Rolf Dobelli


A year later, another request. Corona still dominates our everyday life, but the schools are open. And indeed: the five-second guillotine decides in our favor this time. “I'm happy to be there,” writes Dobelli, answering the mother of all questions that so many great thinkers are desperate about: “The Holy Grail of the good life does not exist. It's easier to define what a bad life is. " Such is one full of poisonous emotions such as anger, self-pity, envy, nervousness. "From this follows what makes a good life: the absence of toxic emotions." According to his approach, if you want to lead a good life, you have to avoid everything that leads to a bad life. For example, too often wanting to do the other a favor without paying attention to your own needs. Or: You should stop being angry about your deficits. “It doesn't matter how many areas you are average in. The main thing is that you are more than above average in one thing! " Or: less hustle and bustle, more consistency. There is no need to keep reinventing your life. Rolf Dobelli: "Long-term successes develop like cakes with baking powder."

There are a variety of such thinking tools out there that are designed to help prevent bad emotions. "Everyone can find out for themselves which ones are important to them." Dobelli believes his life has gotten better since he started using this avoidance strategy. His wife Sabine also helped him "with her psychological work and life experience".

"In my opinion, the relentless pursuit of happiness is wrong."

Sabine Dobelli

Sabine Dobelli studied clinical psychology and is also a bestselling author. Under the pseudo-nym Clara Maria Bagus, the 46-year-old native German has just published “The Color of Happiness” - “a novel about arriving”, as it says in the subline. “Fiction with personal usefulness” is what the “NZZ” calls its books, which deal with the major issues of our time - and thus with the question of what makes a good life. Unlike her husband, she doesn't shy away from a definition. “A good life,” she writes, “is one that creates meaning. We often mistake this for a happy life. In my opinion, the relentless pursuit of happiness is wrong. Happiness does not always make you happy - and those who are not lucky can also be happy. More important than fragile happiness is the much more stable sense. A happy moment appears out of nowhere and disappears in an instant. "

According to Sabine Dobelli, anyone who desperately chases moments of happiness is dependent on external circumstances. «We look outside and expect the world to feel good. That rarely works. On the other hand, when we are looking for meaning, we concentrate on ourselves. We take our time and calm to find out what defines us. That brings us into an inner balance. And when we are in our midst, we do things that suit us. Then the moments of happiness come automatically. "


Rolf (54) and Sabine Dobelli (46), author couple from Bern


Social pedagogue and mountain guide from Dallenwil NW

Christoph Fäh

«A good life has to do with gratitude and an awareness of impermanence. I am grateful for this one life on this unique planet and that I can accompany my two children as they discover their world. I am grateful for the little things, for example when I plant tomatoes in our garden and they turn into splendid perennials. And I am grateful that I can keep the balance between personal visions and social responsibility: I can live this balance through being a father, working as a social pedagogue and as a mountain guide. For me, the experience of deep friendships also stands for a good life: being there for one another, supporting one another. I am grateful for my wife and family and feel an inner calm in being with them. I find the great suffering that many people in the world experience painful. I don't suppress the news about it, but I dose it carefully to be present. I focus on the moment: on my family, friends, the forest behind our house, the mountains. That brings me in connection with life. "



Farmer's wife from Noflen BE

Hanni Nafzger

Hanni Nafzger thinks good health is important for a good life and “when you have a job and you are needed”. That is the case with her. In the morning she puts the horse stable on the farm in the Bernese town of Noflen in order. Before and after she prepares the meal. "In the afternoon I'll take it more comfortably." Nafzger is 88 years old and has had a lot of nice and a few less nice moments, “but that's normal”. She would not find it good if there were strife in the area. "We are fine with each other." Nafzger has five children, eleven grandchildren - one of them is record sprinter Mujinga Kambundji (28) - and eight great-grandchildren. "I like it when people are around me."



Blind marathon runner from Bern

Chantal Cavin

Chantal Cavin went blind in her teens when she hit the ground hard while playing judo, damaging her visual center. Since then she has been dependent on others - and yet has remained independent. "Independence is crucial for a good life." Cavin earns her own money by working in the health and sports center Maru Dojo and as a project manager for the disabled sports association PluSport. "I know that this cannot be taken for granted in my situation." This also applies to the sport she plays: Cavin runs marathons. But first she celebrated successes as a swimmer, where she became world champion. Until she had to stop because of another accident - her eardrum burst. But sport remained important to her, it is part of a good life: "I need physical activity such as breathing, eating and drinking." She goes running every day and can count on the help of 14 guides; whoever accompanies them is challenged, because Cavin's best time in a marathon is 3:14 hours. If she wants to spontaneously insert a running unit, there is always someone in the chat who would like to support her. "I can count on many lovely people," she says, "I'm very grateful for that."



Councilor from Basel

Conradin Cramer

«For me, a good life means living in the now. When I speak to a teacher as the director of education, I want to fully engage in the conversation. And don't think about the next appointment. When I frolic at home with my little daughter, I don't care about the latest emails. I can only live well if I live consciously every moment. This makes it easier not to struggle with the past and to plan calmly for the future.

Just as important: finding the balance between full commitment and relaxation. I often find that difficult. To allocate time for the many demands of my office, for the family, co-workers, friends and for myself. To decide between everything I would like to do as well. To accept that I can never do anything important. I have to look for the balance anew every day. If it is missing, I will stumble.

And: To stay calm because there is so much that I cannot change. The weather, the delivery of a vaccine, a defeat for FC Basel. It doesn't help to get angry about the unchangeable. I would rather take care of what I can change. This takes courage: to step out of your own comfort zone, express differing opinions, make unpopular decisions.

Finally, my secret key to the good life: laugh a lot. About yourself, together with others and sometimes without any reason. And I almost left out the most important thing: love. Nothing goes well without them. "



Positive psychologist, journalist and founder of the Digital Balance Lab from Zurich

Anna Miller

“We feel how we calm down when we stroke a cat's skin, walk in the forest, look into the eyes of the person we love. So we instinctively feel what we need for a good life. But more and more often a small device lies between us and the experience. And we are: physically there, but spiritually far away.

Digitization has opened up unimagined possibilities for us. But a few search queries and likes have long since turned into hours that we look at the screen every day. This has consequences for our health: We feel increasingly stressed, exercise less, and hardly ever switch off properly. So what to do The digitization of our world is a fact. We cannot ignore them. However, we can learn to live well with it. That means: getting into a digital balance. To become from passive consumer to active designer of our digital presence. We can learn to use the technological possibilities for a good life instead of being driven crazy by it. You can start this urgently needed change today: Buy an analog alarm clock and ban devices from your bedroom. Go for a walk without a smartphone. As you work, look up and into the distance from the screen, take a few deep breaths. Turn on automatic out-of-office messages and turn off all unnecessary messages. And consciously connect with people in both virtual and physical space. "



Entrepreneur and funeral speaker from Anwil BL

Martin Herzberg

“When my mother died three years ago, my father and brother asked me to give the funeral speech. I began to deal intensively with the question of what is remembered of a life and what is a good life. There are simpler questions. Because where, on a scale from 0 to 10, is a contented life to be located? When is it a good life? When does a happy life begin? Since then I have been performing ceremonies, weddings, but also funeral services, which is why I have also attended further training to become a ceremony leader. I believe that the more you follow being and not having - and are satisfied with it, the greater the chances of a good life. What use is it to you if you drink a 60-franc bottle of wine but have to do it yourself? Then you'd better drink a half as expensive one in the presence of good friends! So a good life is all about relationships and about the traces of love that a person leaves behind in the end. "


What the dying regret

A real hype has broken out in happiness research about the Australian Bronnie Ware (54). The palliative care nurse accompanied terminally ill people on their last journey and talked to them about whether they had a good life. She heard surprisingly often that the dying would have liked to live differently. Ware published the findings in the book "Five things that the dying regret most":

"I wish I had the courage to live my own life."
Don't just do something because others expect you to!

"I wish I hadn't worked so much."
Even if you love your work - don't lose sight of your fellow men! Almost all the people Ware spoke to regretted investing a lot more time in their work than in those around them.

"I wish I had the courage to express my feelings."
How often does it happen that people only show feelings on their deathbed? Too late!

"I wish I had kept in touch with my friends."
Social contacts make life worth living, for that you need good friends - and enough time to invest in these friendships.

"I wish I had allowed myself to be happier."
Many people persist in old patterns and the comfort of habit without paying attention to whether they are happy themselves. Ware recognized for herself that she too has the freedom to choose: Today she works as a songwriter and blogger.