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The unemployed are dissatisfied with their lives. The Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) has been investigating income, employment, education and life satisfaction since 1984. The researchers were now evaluating data from 2007 to 2014 on life satisfaction and unemployment.
They evaluated the feelings of fear, sadness, anger and happiness separately. The result: unemployment first leads to fear, then to grief and those affected lose their joy.
The fear is a reaction to the shock of losing your job. Familiar ties and everyday rituals break, the entire system in which those affected have set up their lives no longer exists overnight.
New situations are also fraught with fear per se, but depending on people's personality, they overcome fear through curiosity. Unemployment, however, provided that the dismissed did not previously work in a slave job, to which (temporary) unemployment would be the better alternative, that the new situation is worse than the old one.
The fear in the first phase of unemployment was evident in all respondents.
We know from fear research that fear of a new situation subsides if the people concerned find their way in it. The unemployed interviewed also showed fear at first.
Although they were in control of the fear of long periods of unemployment, their life satisfaction declined permanently. Even though they got used to the condition, they were much more sad and joyless than non-unemployed.
The study showed that life satisfaction, or rather, a permanent feeling of happiness, has nothing to do with the emotional state, but with the cognitive perception of one's own life situation. Unemployment therefore shapes the way people think and act.
Long-term unemployed, even after years of getting used to their situation, are never as happy with their lives as they were before.
What does happiness research say?
Happiness research can explain why this is so. On the one hand, the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term flow for a work in which a person is completely absorbed. Flow arises in the area of tension between excessive demands and insufficient demands.
Whoever gets into this state does something, as much as he can in a specific area. He has to challenge himself, the goal must not be easy to achieve, but at the same time not so high that he cannot achieve it.
In other words, flow comes into being. Now one could argue that unemployment does not necessarily mean not working. Those affected could theoretically pursue their interests and experience “flow experiences” when painting a picture, renovating an apartment or painting a car. Theoretically!
In practice, they probably perceive such jobs as occupational therapy as long as they do not receive any recognition for it, that is, this work is recognized as work, and in capitalism this means getting money for the work.
Poverty and misfortune
At the latest, when those affected slip into the mills of the Hartz IV system after a year, they also suffer from an endangered existence. Happiness research is also clear here: Surveys show that money only increases well-being to a certain limit.
However, people who suffer material hardship and do not know how to pay their rent or feed their children feel much more comfortable if they enjoy sufficient wealth to no longer have these problems.
In addition, there is psychological terror and the threat of job centers to deprive them of their livelihood. Hartz IV addicts lose human rights such as their dignity, choice of place of residence and work, postal or banking secrecy. Like children of authoritarian parents or prisoners in prison, they are under the constant control of the job centers.
This ongoing psychological emergency, as studies on victims of totalitarian systems have shown, leads to chronic stress, even when the situation relaxes.
In addition, those affected are constantly suggested that they are not worth anything, and something that sticks to the psychologically strongest is left when it is constantly thrown at with dirt.
The lost happiness
Happiness research knows factors for feeling happy in life.
1) Activity and employment
The possibilities for this are extremely limited for Hartz IV addicts. They have no money to take part in cultural activities, and if they deal with things that give them pleasure, the job center will put their thumbs on the lazybones.
2) Deepen social relationships with other people
The unemployed lose many of the social relationships they had at work. The stigma of unemployment sticks to them, and their social relationships are often reduced to those who are affected by the same hardships.
3) Systematics in everyday life and planned actions
Both require freedom of action. Hartz IV addicts have this freedom very limited. They can hardly plan their actions because the job center has what they do and what they leave out. To plan everyday life systematically also requires the freedom to do so. For the unemployed, however, the job center determines how they set up their everyday lives.
4) Curb worries about things that could happen.
For Hartz IV addicts, the concerns about what can happen are not fanciful, but bitter reality. Flying out of the apartment because it is “ten square meters too big”, slipping below the subsistence level, because the job center imposes arbitrary sanctions or freezes in winter because they cannot pay the electricity bill are justified concerns.
5) At the same time, however, reduce the demands and expectations
Hartz IV addicts cannot lower their expectations and expectations of a good life unless they can accept the fact that they lay down on the street and die.
6) Orientate to the present, not to events that could only happen as a possibility and also not to what cannot be changed.
It also helps those affected to sound out their scope for action at any moment. However, their options for action are limited in the present. Even those who are always looking for a way out and only get the next slap in the face longs for times that were real or supposedly better.
7) Accept yourself
This is permanently prohibited to those affected by Hartz IV. The neoliberal propaganda suggests that they are to blame for their own situation and that they have to qualify more with one-euro jobs or further training soap bubbles to get out of their situation. This manipulation is subliminal. Anyone who accepts himself still has existential hardship.
9) Establish close relationships, few close relationships are better than many acquaintances
Close relationships are life insurance, especially for those affected by Hartz IV, and this even applies literally, because many addicts play with the idea of suicide. For some unemployed, close social relationships based on respect and love are the only protection they still have against the job center.
In summary: All factors that provide the basis for being permanently happy do not apply to the unemployed or only to a very limited extent. For people who get caught in the job center, misfortune is not a subjective feeling, but an objective reality. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)