27 Jun 2014

Not so sauer: is Germany the new optimist of Europe?

With unemployment at its lowest since reunification, a growing economy and a chance of winning the football World Cup, a new study suggests Germany is at its most optimistic in history.

From the country that you brought you weltschmerz, schadenfreude and other existential terms for neurosis and unhappiness, comes perhaps the most surprising find of all. Germany is at its most optimistic in history.

That’s according to a new report by the German Economic Institute in Cologne, which found that more than half of all residents are extremely satisfied with their lives. Just 2 per cent describe their contentment levels as low. And the report says that unemployment in Germany has reached its lowest level since reunification.

Put that all against an economy that is forecast to grow, and life-satisfaction is at an all-time high. The study’s co-author Mara Ewers said that the universal state-funded healthcare has left swathes of pensioners optimistic. “At an individual level people are growing older, staying healthier and feeling supported by the generous healthcare system,” she told Channel 4 News.

“That generates less anxiety about the future and a sense of assurance that the future is taken care of.”

Cause to be cheerful

Of course, from an external perspective, there is much to be cheery about: Germany’s football team have advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup, Angela Merkel appears to have marshalled the country through the eurozone crisis with economic growth of 2 per cent forecast for this year. And when other global manufacturing markets have hit a standstill, car manufacturers like BMW and Volkswagen have been among the top-five performers over the past five years.

The happiest Germans live in the north: Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein registered satisfaction rates of 55 per cent and 53 per cent the study says, while only 35 per cent of those living in Brandenburg in the old east said they were content with their lives.

Although only a tenth of Germans do honorary charity work on a regular basis, these 10 per cent are significantly more content than others.

The data, drawn from a 2012 poll of around 20,000 people, shows that even those out of work were more optimistic about finding future employment. No wonder an OECD study in May suggested Germany had established itself as the most popular destination in Europe for permanent migration, second among leading industrial nations only to the US.

But before we all decide to up and move to a potential World Cup winning country – there are a few caveats. “This study just looks at how the Germans see themselves. They are not the most optimistic country in Europe,” Ms Ewers warns. “That mantle would probably go to Switzerland, Norway or Denmark. Germans are comparatively pessimistic.”