“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful…” Powerful words from philosopher and theologian Albert Schweitzer – but sometimes we need a little extra help.
Happiness happens to be a hot topic in Dubai, with the recent debut of the UAE’s Minister of State for Happiness, a burgeoning number of corporate happiness experts and a goal to become to the happiest city in the world. So it’s notable that the emirate’s most recent and most high profile Happiness Festival came via a private organisation; The Happiness Hub. Billed as a “positive psychology consulting and events company”, the organisation is the brainchild of founder and CEO Fiona Barron.
What’s a Happiness Festival?
Supplementing The Happiness Hub’s regular roster of conferences, workshops, consultancy work and retreats, Barron and her team recently organised a free-to-attend Happiness Festival In Dubai, which looped in a wider community of like-minded people from various corners and disciplines, with the common goal of helping people become their best self – as an individual, in relationships and at work.
According to Fiona, the festival was organised around nine streams of content; Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment, Children’s Wellbeing and Wellbeing for Men.
What happened at the event?
“The Happiness Festival was our introduction to sharing positive psychology in a creative, dynamic and engaging manner,” said Fiona.
It’s the same concept that’s at the core of The Happiness Network, which is just about to launch, giving members access to over 30 workshops across the year, providing tools and methods to improve our lives with topics in positivity, relationships, mindfulness, creativity, work and family.
Each workshop is designed to provide practical toolkits to help people on that journey towards turning one-off experiences into the daily habits that will drive and enhance happiness. “In addition we will be working with corporate companies to help them launch tailored events, trainings and employee wellness strategies,” she adds.
How does it apply to the workplace?
We asked Fiona for her take on how a focus on happiness is impacting the workplace in the UAE: “There are so many, but one that I think is particularly interesting at the moment is mindfulness in the workplace,” she explained. “It’s a business strategy that’s gaining increasing popularity, both for individuals and companies, making a tangible difference to performance on both levels.
Mindfulness allows you to be more present in the moment, a value that many of us lose in our working lives, as we strive for new targets or worry about various issues. That focus on the present has been proven to increase concentration, resilience and productivity – three traits that most of us would find useful in our professional lives.”
The power of meditation
Mindfulness and meditation were among the key “disciplines” being showcased at the event. The technique of meditation has become incredibly en vogue in the business world in recent years, with high profile and outspoken advocates like Tim Ferriss (author, The 4-Hour Workweek), Bill Ford (chairman, Ford Motor Company) and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. The festival offered visitors a chance to practise meditation techniques, with practitioners and advocates giving tips on how to get started. There was a natural focus on how meditation is linked to happiness; easing stress by being mindful about what we need to do (or stop doing) to feel lighter and more focussed – whether at work or play.
“There are techniques people can use in an office environment, although some techniques need a quiet place”, explained Reshma Mulani, coordinator of The Art of Living, a meditation centre in Dubai. “The best times to meditate are early morning or before you go to bed, but meditation can definitely help with studying, sharpening your focus, concentration and memory.” The Art of Living is currently offering a “Happiness Programme” on weekday evenings.
Disconnect to reconnect
In among the packed roster of yoga classes, relationship workshops and mindfulness seminars was a particular focus on social media (and its perils). Hajra Hussain, a chartered psychologist and positive psychology specialist at Amity University Dubai, spoke on the “Impact of Social Media on Happiness”, bringing to light some of the on-going issues that social media could trigger if not used in a balanced way. With relatively high social media adoption in the UAE, an estimated eight in 10 individuals regularly access social networks on mobile devices and users have an average of seven accounts each. “As a result, individuals are somewhat disconnected with reality,” claimed Hajra.
“Research indicates that too much time spent on social media correlates negatively with wellbeing and happiness,” she explained. “Individuals should look to use social media in a balanced way. This can be done by decreasing the daily amount of social media use and instead increasing the amount of time spent being mindful, having face-to-face social interactions, reading books and relaxing. Turning off notifications, understanding as to why you are signing in, avoiding using social media as a past time are also key factors in a positive balance. In essence, switch off to switch on.”
Clap along if you feel like…
For employers, we can expect endless debate on the ROI-factor of happiness management: “Bob, are you sure that free taco Tuesday really boost our bottom line?” But for employees, an increased sense of entitlement to happiness-boosting perks will lead to more savvy and targeted job applications: “I really feel like I should pick the company that offers flexible working options.” Money talks, but the best talent will also be enticed by company culture, transparency, opportunities and flexibility – the list goes on.
Thanks to strategic moves by the UAE government, and third party organisations like Happiness Hub, an increased awareness on both sides should help to nurture a healthier workplace culture. And, while it may not be quite so simple, the happiest Gulf nation is already setting the standard, and the pace of change for the MENA region.