Nurturing Happiness – a Clarion Call to Leaders

Earlier this year Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, announced the establishment of a new post, the Minister of State for Happiness in the UAE:

Since then, Ohood Khalfan Al Roumi has been appointed as Minister of Happiness, and the new minister has moved quickly. His primary mission is to harmonize all government plans, programs and policies to achieve a happier society. To this end, he has launched the National Program for Happiness and Positivity. This has three main pillars:

  1. Promoting happiness and positivity in government work (policies, programs and services of all government entities, as well as internal work environments)
  2. Promoting happiness and positivity as a lifestyle in the UAE
  3. Developing indicators and mechanisms for measuring happiness in the community.

Work on the program is well under way, and involves both the public and the private sectors. For starters, the UAE government has appointed 60 “Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers” who represent federal and local government entities. And the government is equipping the newly appointed officers. The minister has signed an agreement with the Oxford Mindfulness Centre at Oxford University, to train the candidates on how to employ mindfulness principles to spread happiness and positivity. (Full disclosure: I am an Associate Fellow at Oxford University). The minister has also signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California – Berkley to implement of the Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers training program, and develop national capacities in the field of happiness and its practical applications. The next push is to inspire the private sector to follow suit.

Wow! That’s ambitious. And inspiring!

From the research literature, we know quite a lot about the factors that contribute to happiness*. Key among them are:

  1. Self-acceptance
  2. Personal growth
  3. A clear purpose in life
  4. Positive relations
  5. Environmental mastery and
  6. Autonomy.

You will, I expect, not be surprised to see that money and fame do not feature prominently on the list. Yes, money and fame can influence some of the six factors. They can contribute to environmental mastery and to autonomy, but the effect, even here, is limited.

What is great about this list of factors is that so many of the factors are under our direct control … or, at the very least, subject to strong direct influence from ourselves. We can all practice self-acceptance as we acknowledge who we are, recognize our strengths and our limitations, process forgiveness and redemption and mature in our perspective on ourselves. We can all achieve personal growth by being open to experiences, by staying curious, by learning something new every day. We can all strengthen the clarity around our purpose in life by reflecting, speaking with friends, experimenting, journaling and daring to make strong, values-based commitments. We can all invest in relationship building – deepening existing relationships and opening up new relationships.

As leaders, we have substantial influence on the happiness of the people we lead. We can give our people (partial) autonomy in the contexts where we work together. We can increase their environmental mastery by giving them direct control over factors that are critical to their work. We can role-model self-acceptance, personal growth, a clear purpose and positive relations. And, we can encourage those we lead to explore these factors for themselves. What an opportunity; what a calling!

I am inspired by what is happening in the UAE. One could ask all kinds of questions and it would be easy to take a cynical stance. And many have – referring to aspects of the Emirates society which are not so happy. But this is bold and exciting. Let us be inspired by this example to nurture greater happiness in the contexts where each one of us operates.

* See, for example, Carol D. Ryff, Life Satisfaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
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