BERLIN (Reuters) - “Happiness experts” from all over the world offered Germany’s Angela Merkel tips on Wednesday on how to cheer up her citizens, often stereotyped as prosperous worriers who view their glasses as half empty rather than half full.
A forum on “What Matters to People - Wellbeing and Progress” heard from speakers whose common theme was that economic success alone does not bring happiness.
“We look at the stock exchange index or currencies on the news each morning and talk a lot about growth in terms of gross domestic product, but we often don’t prioritize what is really most important to people,” Chancellor Merkel said in an address.
Participants spoke about such varied routes to human contentment as keeping elephants off crops in southern Bhutan, mobile phone applications for organic farmers in Kenya or building bicycle paths in Colombia.
The shared conclusion was that once countries have developed enough to meet basic needs, economic indicators like GDP are less important than human relationships and mental health.
Merkel said that when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 she was “astonished to hear so many people think it always rains here and that Germans don’t know how to laugh”.
She tried to put a positive spin on Germans’ famed pessimism, saying that seeing the glass as half empty “could be a form of happiness, because they can see how to get it filled”.
Often herself the target of caricatures of dour German austerity and bossiness thanks to her push for budget cuts in the euro zone, Merkel was told that Germany’s Danish, Dutch and Swiss neighbors all tend to be happier than her compatriots.
British economist Richard Layard, editor of the World Happiness Report, said the main factor making people miserable was mental illness, and that only a third of Germans with anxiety or depression got treatment.
The forum heard from the head of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Commission, U.N. development experts, a Saudi writer on women’s issues, a Kenyan entrepreneur and a former mayor of Bogota.
Merkel’s interest might not have been purely academic, as she prepares for elections in September.
“The electorate will respond to politicians who actually identify the things that worry people - the trouble your child is having in a badly behaved classroom or the fact that your mother is mentally ill,” said Layard.
Reporting by Stephen Brown; editing by Andrew Roche