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It is 1968, two men are sitting together in a tent, somewhere in the desert. They share their dreams about transforming the seven Arab Emirates to a world-class country. The men are optimistic and confident; both cannot wait to actually turn their ideas into deeds. The fact that the Emirates are surrounded by endless desert doesn’t pose a problem for these men; they see it as an opportunity to build a new economy. Now, not fifty years later, a futuristic landscape with citizens from all around the world has emerged. The tribe system has been transformed into a unified community and education is one of the most important priorities in this flourishing desert land. Another top priority? Optimism, happiness and positivity.

It is 2017 and I am sitting in a cab from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. We are driving on a long winding road, straight through the sandy plains. It is the third time within a time span of 24 hours that I cross this desert. Yesterday, together with Fennande and our Malaysian partner as we were setting off to give a workshop. Today to promote Happy Office at the Tourist and Cultural Authority. I pinch my arm for the fifth time today just to see if I am not dreaming, it all feels very surreal. However it is real, we are actually in the United Arab Emirates for four days to give workshops. And because we are here anyway, to learn everything there is to understand about the interpretation of happiness at work here. In this context we have set up meetings with different companies and government agencies. The first one is within thirty minutes and at the end of the afternoon we have a second meeting with the management of an ICT company.

Optimism and positivity

Because I have a flight to Amsterdam to catch in the afternoon, I have decided to rise bright and early to meet the Energy Company of Dubai. That session is swiftly followed by a visit to the Chamber of Commerce. For me the cherry on the cake is a meeting with the team of the National Program for Happiness and Positivity at the office of Her Excellency State Minister for Happiness. Yes, that is actually a real thing in Dubai! The United Arab Emirates are very interested in happiness and happiness at work in particular. Schools teach children about gratitude, consideration for each other and of course, positivity. Not only schools focus on happiness, even organisations regularly measure the happiness of their employees. The inspiring leader of the country, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, even wrote a book about it. In short, optimism is the driving force behind the United Arab Emirates and the application to create more happiness at work is embraced by all. I reckon that is the reason why we were received with open arms.

KPI on happiness at work

One thing we did noticed at our meetings is that our view on happiness at work sometimes differs. We personally believe that we cannot make other people happy, but we can inspire and then facilitate an environment for people to become happier, whilst some people believe there is a ready-made answer that allows employees to become 10% happier within a time span of six months. Basically a KPI on happiness at work, and preferably one that has a ‘if it does not work, you will get your money back’-guarantee. Well, if you can construct a whole city from nothing within fifty years, I can image that you have the idea that someone’s happiness is makeable and manageable as well.

Money and happiness

Besides directors and HR-managers, we also talked to cab drivers, hotel staff and random people we’ve encountered. Everyone was eager to talk about topics such as themselves and the United Arab Emirates. There is a lot to be proud of. Most people have seen this country develop and a lot have contributed to the growth themselves. It all looks spectacular, well okay, according to our own standards it might be a little too artificial and cultivated, but everything is clean, well kept and safe. But there is another side to the coin, the costs of living are extremely high, there is a big fear of becoming sick and losing your job in the process, the loneliness of people without their family or friends near can be heart wrenching. Money is a very important condition for happiness in the United Arab Emirates. 

World Happiness Report

All in all this young country is already placed 21st on the World Happiness Report ranking and the authorities are determined to improve. A lot of ingredients are already there, but there is also a lot of work to be done and we would love to contribute to that. For instance by helping multicultural teams and multi-generation teams to flesh out their happiness at work programs. We are determined to visit this magnificent place again to bring our expertise to the table.

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