This applies for example when you want to add a photovoltaics installation to your campervan, expedition vehicle, garden hut, off-grid house or similar. For having enough electricity year-round from photovoltaics alone, battery size and module size have to be properly dimensioned.

The best tool I found for this is the European Commission JRC's PV potential estimation utility. There, use the last tab "Stand-alone PV".

Note that that the tilting angle of the solar panels is important in winter. Differences of up to ca. 30° from the optimum have no large effect, but above that they get quite important. So having an angle of 0° (flat panels) while you should have an angle of 74° (Germany in winter for example) means you get only about 25% of the power you would get at a 74° angle. You can calculate the exact numbers for this with the SunAngle calculator.

Disclaimer due to legal implications: The following is not to be understood as legal or tax advice. I just document what I found out by my own research for myself, not intending that you try to do it likewise. There is no warranty for adequacy, correctness, or anything else.

As a practicioner of a voluntary simplicity lifestyle (and yes, I love tech), I am troubled with the German health insurance legislation. Self-employed people like me pay public health insurance fees for a so-called “fictional minimum income” even if they don’t earn that or (like me) don’t even want to earn that. So my propoportional pay for health insurance was way higher than the regular percentage. I have to do something about this, and here’s the list of possible solutions I found. It’s a complex issue, like everything in German society laugh

The problem for self-employed people really started in 2009-01-01, when a law came into effect that required plain everybody living in Germany to have health insurance [§ 193 Abs. 3 S. 1 VVG], which depending on ones job type and status would be public or private health insurance [source]. Simply having no health insurance is no longer possible – you can only cancel health insurance when showing that you just switch the insurer, and an insurer will require you to also pay aftwerwards for your uninsured times when taking you in.

The problem gets even more severe because the public health insurers have a rigid and merciless scheme of encashment, some essentially threatening legal enforcement when being 9 days behind the payment’s due date, and even sending toll collectors for seizing. They tell such people they can always apply to German Jobcenter for the Hartz IV public benefit money, but as you all know, your life (life quality) is over once you enter into that … . So this kind of health insurance is essentially a humiliating and stressing experience, which is another reason why I find ways to work around this.

Normal health-insurance fees for self-employed in Germany

The normal fees for self-employed persons, from 2015 on, are:

  • 14.6% normal health insurance rate
  • + 0.9% additional health insurance rate (de: “Zusatzbeitrag”) – in principle charging this or not can differ between health insurers based on competition, but in reality it does rather not …
  • + 2.35% for old-age care insurance [source]; was 2.05% in 2014
  • + 0.25% for old-age care insurance when not having children [source]
  • = 18.1%

When being self-employed, they have to be paid from a fictional minimum income of at least 1417.50 EUR as of 2015, even if not making that (so called “Mindestbemessungsgrundlade”, earlier called “fiktives Mindesteinkommen” or “virtual minimum income”, regulated in SGB V §240 (4); you calculate it for every year as 0.5 × Monatliche Bezugsgröße, using the value for West Germany). And even this is a variant “for self-employed persons in need”. This fictional minimum income tends to be increased by 40-50 EUR a year, or about 3%: much higher than current inflation or wage increase, making the situation even worse year by year. Now on to solutions:

Ways to reduce health-insurance fees for self-employed in Germany

As of 2014-11, sorted by adequacy, the best solution first.

  1. Side-job self-employment without other income. As of 2015, this results in health insurance and old-age care insurance minimum fees of (combined) 171.05 EUR/month (calculated as 945 EUR × 0.181, which assumes the 0.9% Zusatzbeitrag and a childless person). It is the same rate as for all other “voluntary” members of German public health insurance, which is a way to look up the current fee for this category, which is often not published elsewhere. The 945 EUR is the “virtual minimum income”, itself calculated as (1/3) × Monatliche Bezugsgröße [source], in 2015: (1/3) × 2835 EUR = 945 EUR. When exceeding this virtual minimum income (also called “Allgemeine Mindestbemessungsgrundlage” – source), the insurance fees increase proportionally.
    Since a change in the self-imposed rules of health insurers (“Gemeinsames Rundschreiben der Träger der gesetzlichen Sozialversicherung vom 11.06.2013: Grundsätzliche Hinweise zum Begriff der hauptberuflich selbstständigen Tätigkeit“) to determine the self-employment status of people, which became effective 2013-07-01, this setup is quite simple and reliably to achieve and is the preferred option.
    This status and fee is granted if the self-employment is not considered as ones main job. As per the rules referenced above, this required a second major source of income that is at least 83.33% (100 of 120 parts) of the income from self-employment [source, section 3.2.3]. However, starting around 2015 some health insurers started to regularly accept people as side-job self-employed without them having a different “main source of income”, simply because they were reporting to work part-time (it worked this way at least up to 30 hours weekly). I assume this is the new official regulation now, so there is no need to look for another “main source of income”.
  2. Side-job self-employment while listing a different main source of income. In case the previous proposal of not listing any other income does not work out for you to be considered side-job self-employed, you may read on about this proposal for creative ideas to have the required different “main source of income”. (It’s simpler to just try another health insurer though, most should now use the guidelines on which the first proposal above is based).
    So: If you need to show a different “main source of income”, this requires a second major source of income that is at least 83.33% (100 of 120 parts) of the income from self-employment [source, section 3.2.3]. This figure is however just for orientation, so it’s better to err on the safe side and have a second source of income that is larger than ones income from self-employment – which we’ll use below. The simplest and safest way to prove such a second source of income is if it is contained in ones income tax statement under “other income”. So if possible with no or minimal income tax implications, it makes sense to “voluntarily” list all other sources of income in ones income tax declaration, even if not required as they are income tax exempt (like fees below the 720 EUR honorary office exemption limit, profit from Bitcoin speculation after a holding period of a year etc.). In addition, ones income from self-employment should not exceed 673.75 monthly (25% of monatliche Bezugsgrößesource) if taking >30 hours weekly, or more relaxed values for less time invested, or else the health insurer will regularly assume that ones self-employment is the main source of ones income. This can be challenged as per these rules (section 3.2.3) by proving that ones second source of income is the major one, but again, it’s simpler and better to err on the safe side.
    Now how to have that “major source of income” beyond your self-employment? Here are some creative options, and there are many more:

    • Donations for private projects. This is quite a wild construction, but sounds reasonable to me. Here is how it works: if you do a non-commercial hobby project, making carefully sure that it does not make a gain, this is not a company, but a private project. So if you collect donations for this, for example via crowdfunding, they are private income, to be stated under “other income” in your income tax statement. You just have to make sure that you don’t profit personally (by buying food etc.), as that would make the project profit oriented, part of your company. Use all the donations for the project itself, and collect receipts to prove it. It is not difficult to collect a few thousand Euros a year in donations for a project with collective benefits that you would have liked to work on anyway. Think open source, open content, open hardare etc.. Even better, since in-kind donations have to be stated with their monetary value in an income tax statement, you can also use moneyless crowdfunding (like on Makerfox). Collecting donations in-kind should be even much simpler than collecting monetary donations, as money is always scarce for the 99%. In effect, you would add donation income on top of your monetary income, and the effect is both reducing your health insurance, increasing your spendable monetary income, and enabling you to work on what you love to do anyway (with the donations).
    • Profit from private sales. As a solo entrepreneur, it is still possible to sell private goods at the same time, also with a profit [source]. It must be in the scale of private wealh management, not a professional activity itself though. Profit from this would be stated in the “other income” section of your income tax statement, and that is what we want. See Wikipedia on Privates Veräußerungsgeschäft for details. To increase your “other income”, you may want to report even profits that are income exempt due to a holding period of a year or longer (of your Bitcoins etc.). The benefit with here is that one can realize any desirable amount of gain on demand, depending on how much other income one needs, and under the condition that one holds profitable assets.
    • Honorary office fees offset by donations. I did not fully think this through, but there is an option (called Aufwandsspende) how people in a honorary office can make donations from what they would be entitled to get (expense remuneration, honorary office fee etc.). So no money has to flow, as it increases your income and your expenses at the same time, but the recipient organization legally must have the liquidity to pay the fees. The expenses are even tax-deductible donations up to 20% of the stated income.
    • Personal gifts. This is quite an elegany solution if you know a donor 🙂 Because donations have high income tax exemption limits [source] and would be in your “other income” section. They must be unconnected to your business activity, of course, and not require something in compensation from you. (So unfortunately, it is not legally permissive to agree to “gift back” every other year.)
    • Mini job. A mini job (≤450 EUR/month) does not come with its own health insurance, but can still serve as your other major sourcee of income to prove that your self-employment is not your main job.
    • Spouse’s income. [source, example]
    • Housewife as a job. Stating that ones main job is “housewife” [discussion]. It would be quite similar to stating that ones other major income is support from ones spouse.
    • Credit. A credit from somebody; just an unproven wild idea though.
    • Proof by necessity. Or maybe you can try to explain to your insurer that you get these by getting non-cash benefits from friends and relatives or other supporters (like free food & stay for volunteer services) or that you get these means of subsistence by being modest and forgoing them – just say that they have to assume that the majority of means has to come from another source because nobody can live from what you live 😉 But that’s just a wild guess, you’d have to try.
    • Grants, awards, prize money. This is not a workable option because: all grants, award and prize money that are connected to what you do professionally as a self-employed person have to be entered into your income tax statement as business turnover [source]. So they won’t appear under “other income”. Only if the award is paid for ones personality, it would be non-business income. But for example all awards that have an application process are usually assumed to be connected to professional activity [source]. So they are income-taxable business income even though most awards are not VAT taxable [source].
  3. Go abroad and use a travel health insurance. For this to work, it seems one has to leave the European Union and also cannot go to several other countries with which Germany has some health insurance related association agreement. Because when staying there and still having the regular residence inside Germany, one still has to pay German health insurance fees and will not be “let out” of German compulsory health insurance. The list of the countries where such an agreement exists is here – it is for pensioners’ health insurance, but probably applies also to other cases (to be confirmed, though).
  4. Emigrate to a country with a national health system. This simply means, go abroad and also have your registered permanent residence there abroad. Then, one has nothing to do any more with the German health insurance system, instead paying into the one at ones location. And by selecting a country with a national (that is, tax subsidized) health system, this is much cheaper. For example, Italy or UK. It can be a bit complicated still to leave German compulsory health insurance since you will have to show a follow-up insurance (b/c you still reside in the EU) and the new insurance may require a confirmation of canceling your old one (which you cannot get before getting the new one …), but it can be worked out somwhow.
  5. Foreign national health insurance while in Germany. This is possible if that public or private foreign health insurance covers your medical needs while you are in Germany. Because then, you have fulfilled the need to have a health insurance within Germany.
  6. Foreign national health insurance abroad. This may be a public or private insurance scheme. Some countries like Spain have astonishing low fees for private health insurance, compared to German levels.
  7. Midi-job plus mini-job plus side-job self-employment. This is the ultimate way of low health insurance fees when living inside Germany and being self-employed. Namely, for 7.6% of 450.01 EUR (which is the employee’s part of the 14.9% rate without sick pay). Which is 34.20 EUR per month, and the employer will pay approx. the same again. The monthly earnings possible with this scheme are: ca. 412 EUR net income from the midi job (2013 numbers), 400 EUR net income from the mini job, and 800 EUR net income from side-job self-employment. Because if your self-employment is a side job, you don’t have to pay health insurance for that part of your work, but for your midi job employment instead. The incom from self-employment is calculated from a yearly average, and only 18 hours per week of worktime are allowed for it to be a side job (to-do: source for this).
  8. Employee job plus side-job self-employment. As an employee, you pay no additional health-insurance fee at all for a side-job self-employment (see however the conditions for this above). So in most cases, this will result in lower total fees, even when including the other social security fees you’ll pay then.
  9. Self-employed with bulking up by public benefits (“Aufstocker”). This is done by approx. 1.4 million people in Germany, see Wikipedia on Aufstocker. In general, public benefits will bulk up what people do not earn in a month to secure their minimum for existence. It can include to have the health insurance paid by the state benefits, and in pratice can be a kind of “unconditional basic income”. But like all kinds of public benefits, this is really the last variant to choose.
  10. Self-employed person “in need”. In German, “bedürftiger Selbständiger”. Self-employment can be your main job then. This rate is the one I mentioned above: 14.9% of 1347.50 EUR virtual minimum income for health insurance, 2.3% of that for pension care insurance. Taken together, ca. 232 EUR as of 2013. This rate was introduced 2007-04-01, and was a progress at that time as before that the minimum fee was about 300 EUR.
  11. Sue the government for the law that calculates health insurance fee based on a virtual minimum income. You’d sue against SGB V §240 (4). This has, in my view, no or very little chance for success because this case was basically decided by the highest court in Germany (BVerfG) in their decision of 2001-05-22 – 1 BvL 4/96. I read through that court decision, and newer changes in law seem to not affect their reasoning.
  12. Time-series combination of these solutions. The most flexible way is, of course, to use the solution from the above list that is most adequaate for you at any given time. Note that you can switch between rates of the same public health insurer as often as you like – switching insurers is only possible every 18 months though.

Keywords (for Germans searching in German): Krankenversicherung als Selbständiger, Krankenversicherung nebenberuflich selbständig, günstige Krankenversicherung selbständig

This is quite some stuff to work through, because everything in Germany is complex 😀

Travel health insurance or the foreign national health insurance?

This will depend on the legislation in that country, and on what type of job status you will have there. For example for Spain, when being employed or self-employed there, you have to be part of the Seguridad Social public health insurance system and pay fees there (though only ca. 50 EUR monthly) [source]. If you want to avoid that and still want to work, you may have have your business registered in your country of origin and only work telecommute jobs – should generate no problems, though I have no experience with that so far.

When not being part of the foreign national health insurance system, you can get insurance from a private health insurer – either a regular rate that covers also costs abroad, or a specialized travel health insurance (which will be cheaper in nearly all cases).

Selecting an adequate insurer

I have no experience with any of the below, but they'd be the first I would look into.

Travel health insurances:

  • Auslandsreiseversicherung der HANSEMERKUR Reiseversicherung. As offered by Mawista GmbH as an intermediate, for example. The special thing about them is that this insurance is possible for up to 5 years in a row, while most other insurers only have a max. duration of one or three years. Costs are a bit higher though, normally 59 EUR monthly (18 – 65 years, without U.S. and Canada).

How to re-enter German health insurance

Once returning to Germany, you have to re-enter the German health insurance system (except you can keep your existing health insurance, which is for example normally possible with travel health insurances for 6 – 12 weeks a year). Here are several options how to re-enter the system, by adequacy:

  1. As self-employed person: "voluntarily insured member" in public health insurance. This is generally the most recommendable variant. However, public health insurers have to accept you only if you have enough pre-existing health insurance time (de: Vorversicherungszeit). They might still accept you if not, but it's not guaranteed by law. If they do not accept you, you would have to enter private health insurance, given the obligation to have health insurance while in Germany.
    The required pre-existing health insurance time is 24 months within the last 5 years [SGB V §9 (1) 1.] This refers to times in the public health insurance only [source], but that should be confirmed again. So when going abroad after 24 or more months of public health insurance, you can stay 3 years without caring about re-entering. To keep your right to re-enter while staying abroad after that, you can re-enter as a voluntarily insured member without entitlement to benefits (because you are abroad). This will cost you about 40 EUR monthly – 2695 EUR * 10% * 14.9% as of 2013 [SGB V §240 (4a), compare Bezugsgröße]. I guess this is what public health insurers usually call "prospective entitlement insurance" (de: Anwartschaftsversicherung). They usually want to tell you to get that type of insurance immediately when going abroad, but that's only needed after three years as reasoned for above.
  2. As non-employed person. Even without entitlement to become again voluntarily insured in a German public health insurance, you can enter it by leveraging the very law that obliges everybody in Germany to have health insurance since 2009. For that, you have to cancel your self-employment when coming back to Germany, and not take on an employee job either. This makes you a person with obligation to get public health insurance according to SGB V §5 (1) 13. a), and any public health insurance has to take you in. This is sometimes called "Versicherung der ansonsten Nichtversicherten", "Auffangsversicherung" or "Bürgersicherung" in Germany. The rate is the same as for other voluntarily insured members, ca. 130 EUR monthly.
  3. As employee. This is the simplest case, as all employees are obligatorily insured in the German public health insurance. However, former self-employed people won't like this 😉
  4. Other options. See the publication "Mitgliedschaft in der gesetzlichen Krankenversicherung nach Auslandsrückkehr" by German Ministry of Health.

screenshot of the "Passage" video game

Somehow I managed to miss this weird artful open source little computer game Passage since 2007; but I got a tip to it today (thanks, Jasmine!). Let me propose you to watch this 5 minute full walkthrough of Passage. Or even better, install the game and play it yourself. It will take 5 minutes, too. (Don't read ahead in the post … we only have something to talk here if we talk after you know the game 😉 )

You can also watch this on YouTube: "PASSAGE: the sweetest game I've ever played.." by sparrowmella.

What you think, readers?

It makes me think a lot … . How this cute girl (sparrow) in the above walkthrough has no idea what this game is all about, but finds out while playing and even is happy enough to find "her friend". And how it all does not matter in the end, with just the two tumbstones and a score remaining. There's not even a scoreboard that would keep track of this for surpassing it in the next round … . So it does not matter either that sparrow did not really find out how to make scores in the game.

Passage is the Memento mori art form in computer games. Let me quote some words from the explanatory Creator's Statement of Jason Rohrer:

"Yes, you could spend your five minutes trying to accumulate as many points as possible, but in the end, death is still coming for you. Your score looks pretty meaningless hovering there above your little tombstone. […] Passage is a game in which you die only once, at the very end, and you are powerless to stave off this inevitable loss." [Jason Rohrer: "What I was trying to do with Passage"].

And ohh … the emotions. sparrow's walkthrough is really authentic about that, from "Yay, I have a friend!" to losing the friend at the end … and I had to snuff myself then. This seems to be quite common with this game "There have been a number of people who have written stuff about this being the first videogame to make them cry, says [the game’s author] Mr. Rohrer." [source]. Why is that? In my humble opinion, because the game reminds us of a truth that we like to hide, ridicule, forget or ignore. That everything good here is going to be lost, and will not count anyway. That we are all going to die and are powerless to avoid it.

"“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun? One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever." [The Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:2-4]

“Makers”. Last night (yes, whole night) I had the pleasure of reading Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” sci-fi novel. My first novel in 14 years that I finished. Ok, I skimmed at times. But still. The great thing with inspiring novels like this is, they can create intense emotional impressions, and from reflecting on these, you learn a lot. Things you otherwise only learn by real-world experience. Here’s what I learned from “Makers”.

Cory Doctorow – Makers
(image by ben_oesteen on Flickr, licenced CC-BY 2.0)

The “ups and downs” theme. The novel’s main theme is the ups and downs, coming and going of all social and organizational development. In my words: Every empire starts with a kingdom, a kingdom with a chief of clan, a clan with just a household and somebody wanting to dominate. In the other direction, every empire ever built has also fallen apart. Rome disintegrated within decades in the third century.

Lifecycle, applied to grassroots movements. And here came the first key insight from “Makers” for me: this full cycle also applies to grassroots social structures. That’s a disappointing insight, but a true one. The novel illustrates it in two halves: for the rising half cycle, how these “ride” parks or museums agglomerated into coops and finally got associated with Disney, plus one of their creative brains bought by Disney. And for the decaying half cycle, how the Kodacell company, starting as a huge incorporated grassroots innovation network, fell apart completely in a wink. Let’s imagine a real-world example: the Open Source movement developed its own institutions by now, and these, over the course of decades or maybe centuries, will become so rigid and cold that a new movement will justifiably fight against them, and finally render them obsolete. (For me, socialized in “old school” Linux open source culture, it’s already weird to see how the thousands of young talented Android developers at XDA Developers have a near complete disregard for licencing: their full site and wiki does not mention what licence is applied to content and code.)

So is it all just a waste of our time? At this point we could argue that all this building, fighting against and rebuilding of society structures is a waste of resources. That we should rather invest to keep our social organization ever young and flexible. Indeed, a way to use your time more efficiently, by a tight bit. What you can’t argue is that maintaining great society structures is a lot of maintenance work. Even building completely new society structures from scratch is maintenance, in the bigger picture: you replace a failing part of global social organization.

Social change activism as maintenance. So, social activism is never going to be building a great society, once and for all. It’s always part of humanity’s “eternal” struggle to keep society in good shape, if necessary rebuilding it in a completely different way. Let this point sink in: activism is not building, engineering. It is maintaining.

Activists, relax. This also means that activists can all relax a bit: the fate of the world does not depend on their proper invention and construction of society, because society will have to be rebuilt again many times in the centuries to come. This should help activists to know their fair share of maintenance work to contribute, but to also know that “more does not make it better”. The big thing, society, will fail again anyways, just like it always has, and generations afterwards will have to build it again. Sure, one generation (like after-war) has a bigger way to influence how a society is built, a bigger workload, a bigger responsibility. But even they should not forget that what they do is the necessary maintenance of a constantly deteriorating and failing organism.

There’s more to life than activism. So let’s not forget that there’s more to life than fixing the fabric of society. What? It’s also in Doctorow’s book. The two things the protagonists of “Makers” did not regret were (1) doing what they like to do, like hacking and inventing stuff, and (2) investing in good personal relationships. Because, just like society, relationships need maintenance to be and stay enjoyable: they are also subject to these ups and downs, and you see how every relationship in the book is at least once on the brink of being destroyesd, and a lot of them are.

The danger of failing to relax. And there’s one special danger for personal relationships, exemplified in a sad twist in the epilogue. Revealing the only lack in character of the most glorious and brilliant woman in the book (which is, of course, Hilda). She took up her activist fighting again so hard to lose the beautiful relationship to Jerry over that. That annoyed me so hard that I changed around the end for me (it’s a CC-BY-SA book after all). But Mr. Doctorow has a point with that sad twist: society maintenance is infinite work after all, necessary, but not fulfilling after seeing its Sisyphus character. So better limit yourself to your fair share of maintenance and enjoy your mate. Somebody should’ve explained that to Hilda in time …

I guess I should change around the “Makers” ending again: rather than letting Hilda and Jerry just stick together happily ever after, I will now go for adding a few more pages where Hilda has learned her lesson. She’s smart enough, after all 🙂 And with that lesson learned, there’s indeed such a thing as permanent love, not to be destroyed by the rather unimportant coming and going of good state of the surrounding society.

Life is more than fighting something bad. Life is also about enjoying something good!

“But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.”

[The Bible, I Cor 13:13]

Detect language » English

Detect language » English

“For rent”. Too easy to find in some places …

Getting around a bit in Europe, you easily get to know how people’s life is not a box of chocolates. That guy who destroys his body and his really intelligent mind by too much weed and psychedelics, seeing no other way to get over a broken relationship. The young woman who suddenly expresses a desire to die, like by jumping from the mountain we sat on talking (but thankfully, she’s alive and well). All the nice-looking houses I walked by in Málaga, noticing people’s shattered dreams from their “For Sale” signs. It saddens me how we, the humans, search satisfaction in vain.

But aren’t we already very creative in our search? We try everything, from yoga to hashish, from power to strong opinions. Not to forget the favorite of Westerners: stuff for consumption, security and independence. Our effort to search and maintain satisfaction is so encompassing that it summarizes what we as humans do. Our whole culture (“non-survival activity”) is just about that.  Still, we mostly don’t find it.

What are we doing wrong?

What is it that we search?

The first reason for not finding might be this: because we don’t know what we search. We may feel a diffuse inner emptyness and try something to fix it, but don’t know that it is satisfaction we search. Which is “living in accordance with your ideas and wishes”, also called happiness. Without using the proper concept, we have difficulty choosing the right actions, and also cannot communicate properly to get help from our fellow humans, who also search the same thing but in something else.

The second reason is best explained along illustrations. Of my friends, only two I consider “satisfied”:

The first one “just” wants to have economic power, a family, and lots of interesting and expensive stuff to deal with. That’s still limited, because it is just about private life. It even worked out, as he met with a lot of luck: inherited wealth, “good genes” for motivation and bite, an economically valuable hobby. He has a high self-esteem, which allows his success in a challenging economic environment, but also hides his own failures and deficiencies from himself (so that they don’t affect his happiness). In case of failure, he uses his innate motivation and tries something new quickly, forgetting about the bad success. This way, in time, he arrives at a satisfying outcome. And for really bad personal calamity, he has a strong trust in God, protected from doubt by a strong self-confident opinion about his beliefs. And so it works.

Another friend is also satisfied, and it works completely different: he’s very relaxed and humble, not caring for his many bad successes and failures. He developed a sophisticated mental way, including both self-irony and deep philosophy, to admit his failures but keep them from affecting his emotions (they would rather infuriate others’). But he’s also very sociable and so, together with some luck, has found both a superb relationship to a woman and an interesting, well-paid, permanent job even before finishing his studies (in twice the normal time). Interestingly, he seemed just as satisfied when he had neither job nor girl, by means of his failure-ignoring capabilities. (Note: To illustrate, I remembered the pic below. We kinda shared a flat for two years. Once he completely forgot my birthday, but would show up at midnight with that improvised “cake” and a present he found in his room 😀 That was the kind of humble self-irony he was capable of, feeling not awkward, but happy in a hard to understand way when pulling something like this.)

The birthday cake I remember the most!

What these both have in common is that their satisfaction is provided not by one thing but by a system, “a set of interacting, interdependent components forming an integrated whole”. That may be the second reason why satisfaction does not work for most of us: we try one thing, tinker a bit, throw it away and try the next, unaware that we’re working on a system which needs several components and an informed design to work. Searching satisfaction in one component is as hopeless as driving around in a wheel.

Systems engineering for satisfaction

Of course, “system” is just a model. It helps discuss and understand satisfaction, but necessarily simplifies and distorts its reality. Other models can be just as valid. But because the “system” model proved useful above, let’s explore what systems engineering can teach us about building our own satisfaction system. (And yes, everyone has to build their own unique one, because some parts are unique: character, memories, body, personal situation.)

  1. It’s cross-discipline! In addition to needing several components, you need to integrate several types of them: genetic, mental, material, social and (I think) transcendent ones. To a limited degree, you can supplement one for another, like more meditation to cope with material scarcity. But what you can’t do is getting satisfaction from accumulating just one thing. But Westerners often try just that with materiel stuff, and advertising wants to keep us as unsatisfied consumers …
  2. Start with the parts you can’t change. Which is, your genetic disposition. Also, your character is super hard to change. The same for the general level of wealth. This is the stuff that has to be in the system because you have no alternatives.
  3. If you forget one part, it won’t work. That’s special about systems: they depend 100% on each and every component. You can’t drive a car without its steering wheel, accelerator pedal, petrol hose, … .
    My own story of forgetting a part is this: I had always focused very much to have “meaning” in what I do, and wondered why I lack motivation to live and to work, even to work for my meaningful tasks. Until I found recently: Everything loses its meaning when life is not enjoyable. Because what’s the meaning even of fixing the world and helping others, when after that, they would experience their life to be as joyless as your own? So now I added “beauty” to my life: just enjoying life, and it also motivates me meaningful work that provides a good life to others. At least that’s the idea now – it’s kinda hard to change own habits. But the insight is that, on their own, neither meaning nor beauty provide any satisfaction to me, yet together it can work.
  4. Design, try and error. When designing your own satisfaction system, you can’t really know if it works until you start living it. But you can let other designs inform yours, and profit from the experiences of others. But still, because everybody is unique, there is a place for try and error. And for the “try often, fail fast” approach of rapid prototyping, like in software development …
  5. Use compatible parts. If you want satisfaction, want it first. You have to throw out or modify other things you want or values you have, if it’s impossible to fit them into the “system”.
  6. Use a doable design. Some ideas how to achieve satisfaction are just too complex or too much work for one gal or guy. For example, some philosopher and activist folks can be constantly unhappy about “the state of the world”. I know it too well. But the world won’t become Utopia in our lifetime, so we can keep that as a grand goal but should tie our satisfaction to more modest successes. In my case, I want to be happy about every step towards a free-to-copy, small, local Utopia. Or, as it can happen to me, being happy during that work itself because I think it’s meaningful.
  7. Use a socially responsible design. This means simply: don’t derive satisfaction at the cost of others. For example: a person who constantly refuses to understand and discuss the problems of others, while constantly discussing their own with them, would rob the satisfaction of socializing from others. And if everybody employs an approach at the net cost of others’ satisfaction, it simply would not work out on society level. It works out only if “you do to others as you want them to do to you”. That simple Golden Rule 🙂
  8. Make it agile. As a person one always changes, and so do our surroundings and situations. So better don’t design a static satisfaction system, but make it easily adaptable and reconfigurable. (I admit this is a completely theoretic idea so far, but it “sounds good”. Maybe somebody can map this to the practical search for satisfaction. I recommend “Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems” for inspirations, esp. p. 13.)
  9. Make it redundant. A redundant system includes backups and provides n × 100% satisfaction in total. A scaled system provides 100% satisfaction in total, but in parts. So in case of a failure, all but one part still provide you satisfaction. That’s worse than redundancy, but better than zero. Both designs require that one has more than one way for satisfaction. That is also, more than one set of ideas and wishes in life.
  10. Make it sustainable. It is possible to derive some satisfaction from eating, recreational shopping, drugs, smoking and so on. But when overdoing these, using them as the basis of all satisfaction, in the long run it can ruin a person instead of providing satisfaction. Used carefully however, in the right amount, pretty much everything that humans can do and enjoy has its place. (Two female friends of mine enjoy special moments of the year by smoking a cigarillo together … so harmless!)
  11. And make it resilient. People care to go off-grid with their house, to make it resilient against failure of the central electricity and water infrastructure. In the same way, we should make our approach to satisfaction resilient against being crushed by external events. From this perspective, it’s for example not a good idea to make satisfaction revolve around a day job. When losing my job, I want still feel meaningful, valuable, and also my lifestyle or anything else relevant for my satisfaction should not collapse.

I will create a follow-up post to analyze my own (so far, largely failing) approach to satisfaction and ways to fix it. I also want to look into explaining a person’s satisfaction system as a diagram. And finally to develop best practices, patterns and instructions how to design and implement an own satisfaction system. This will also include ways to measure and track satisfaction, maybe a smartphone application that asks me about my satisfaction at random times. Ideas welcome!

(A ton of thanks to my friend María for the discussion that inspired everything above!)

On a nice evening with a friend in Málaga this October, we developed this idea for political street art. (We were kinda oversugared from the best icecream in town … it explains something, doesn’t it? 😀 ) Initially we wanted to cut our own “Espere Revolución” signs and install them over the city’s normal push-button boxes for pedestrian traffic lights. But for now, it’s a mockup.

Political street art: Espere Revolución (small excerpt size 1024×768)

Political street art: Espere Revolución (large size 2048×1365)

The pedestrian traffic lights sign in the image reads: “Touch the button”. Then you push it, and it says then: “Expect revolution.” (It’s normally “Espere Verde” – expect green light. Plus a standing person with both hands down.)

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0

Credits: The original image was created by flickr.com user david buedo and published as flickr image 6949945397 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 2.0 licence. Thank you!

Modifiable version: Just tell me in the comments if somebody wants the GIMP .xcf.bz2 file of this, with layers for easy modification to make other signs as well.