Blogging on personal leadership opportunity here came with some advice – to select “an opportunity where you believe you will be realistically able to (begin to) implement actual change in this area while on the programme”, with the “aim of intervention to initiate/ alter a particular activity or behaviour; and/or to influence opinions/ values/ beliefs”, assuming the role of a change agent. I found it wise words after setting a pretty lofty goal of introducing the idea of focusing on personal happiness as a way to shift perspective of those around me from things to personal satisfaction. In a city where material property (and public showcasing of it) is quite high on the general agenda and is one of the main differentiating factors between all those that live in it.
While I have already set out on including satisfaction of individuals as a point in everyday communication, two significant events happened to me which helped align the course further since the first blogpost on leadership opportunity in March – one is learning more about what the word “discourse” means (I literally heard the whole idea of discourse analysis the first time in the first resident workshop in Cambridge), and the other is having an accident while on vacation – lesson learned, don’t drive a motorbike in Thailand, especially wearing only flip-flops and shorts.
Life sucks when you’re in pain. Eternal optimist might say there’s a silver lining of pain making all other problems seem irrelevant, but that was one thin silver lining. Similar perspective on a big problem is easy to transfer to anything that dominates your worries right now, Blog Reader. Same goes for any issue discussed in a business or private communication, especially in meetings and exchanges dedicated to planning action (except maybe if its legal action, though there may be some happiness there too!)
After much suffering during the return home (ever tried keeping your foot elevated during a 7 hour flight?) I found myself in care of a surgeon – wound care specialist. As we had multiple treatment sessions every few days, I came to learn that here was a doc who went to study surgery not because things were easy, but because they were challenging, and that made him happy. I learned a bit about his family and way he handled life back in the day of a grueling schedule of studying by day and working by night in Iraq where he was from, to today’s successful work and life in UAE. He would usually start from something that challenged him or a member of his family recently, then how using a proper mindset turned it around to being a good thing and he would always end up saying how “doing that finally lead to feeling of happiness” or “…and that feelings of happiness start to appear“. Have you ever heard your doctor speak about something like that?
Similar principle, I’m starting to discover, can be applied in everyday chats, directly or indirectly addressing sustainability. I mentioned discourse as a concept back there, didn’t I? Well, in musing about this before starting to write this blogpost, and having in mind that my upcoming dissertations will utilize discourse analysis to figure out that the WHAT and HOW someone says things is formed by their specific context and goals and how that leads to a bigger picture (and policy making). Seems fair to say that my, more or less subtle, changes in language used in meetings went to contribute to the agenda already set by leadership of Dubai government of putting happiness first. Someone might think it’s an easy right when set in that context, but for example when one gets into energy, it’s easy and often necessary to slide into technical discussions and ideas on large renewables (we’re building the largest solar park in the world here) or distributed solar photovoltaics (putting a PV on every rooftop in Dubai) and need to push forward for example more stringent water use efficiency standards on appliances.
Coming up with real world examples of how happiness is put into such a discussion without going into boring detail of specifics of what my organization does is a bit difficult so I’ll try to generalize a bit – as a policy making entity, our job is to communicate with a variety of actors representing sometimes opposing interests (even under the same vision, under which government is aligned). After a round of technical exchanges on who should do what in implementing a specific policy or action, or adjusting the course of the same, we usually deal with ways in which different involved teams will react when presented with change – Middle East is a very consultative environment where very few things are imposed. What I do is try to figure out what makes each of individual teams happy (fulfilling their interests while presenting things to align with their character and cultural values), and then try to make it a part of the execution plan.
Moving forward, I’ll try to use a bit more of the knowledge as I pick it up through research. For example, in this report, there’s an interesting quote (abbreviated by me):
(there is)…potential to use happiness as a motivator. The connection could be emphasized … in civil society. If environmental discourse is changed to include happiness research, the environment versus economy debate could be reframed, with focus shifted from the pursuit of pure economic growth to increased levels of subjective well-being.
So how about to go about change people’s opinion through debate? Anybody ever try to tell you “don’t do this and this”? These kinds of messages (and people!) are really not pleasant – nobody likes to be wrong but even more to be told so. Hostility gets people nowhere. On the other hand, everybody is happy when for example a service provider or product manufacturer offers more sustainable choices to the same consumer we were telling is wrong in the first scenario (making change at the source vs. at demand). Seems like a simple perspective shift but some people seem to have trouble understanding it (including some on our own cohort!).
Another interesting paper looked deeper into this topic and I could not help myself from doing a copy paste, for your but also for my benefit and recollection in next post in this series:
Sustainable happiness is a concept that has the potential to enhance urban planning policies by raising the profile of happiness and well-being, while reinforcing the links with sustainability… In the absence of more explicit discussions regarding public happiness or “Genuine Wealth,” there continues to be tension between sustainability objectives and meeting the more public demands that are embedded in a consumer society view of happiness. Additional research regarding happiness, health and the built environment will undoubtedly encourage such discussions. Fostering an informed discourse about happiness and sustainability will require attention to education.
Sustainability seems to be consistent with behaviour and policies that support high levels of life satisfaction, and sustainable happiness reinforces this relationship. The concept could be used to motivate sustainable behaviour from sectors of the population that are weary of dire environmental messages. One drawback, of course, is that mentioning “happiness” in many academic and policy circles is still met with scepticism. As one transportation colleague suggested, “I don’t care if people are happy, I just want them to get out of their cars!” Another challenge is the current limited set of choices for sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods…Finally, stakeholders who have a vested interest in unsustainable policy and practice are likely to resist sustainable happiness.
So as my own status overview for Dubai, not specific to energy (yet), I’ll borrow and modify the list of steps from this report, now and in the future, in tracking the pursuit of my goal of promoting personal happiness in discourses on sustainability:
|Highlight the close link between sustainable behaviours and happiness||PLANNING|
|Use sustainability projects as drivers for community spirit and vitality||PLANNING|
|Moderate excessive materialism through happiness||ONGOING|
|Nurture basic psychological needs||ONGOING|
|Incorporate subjective well-being when designing and evaluating policy measures||ONGOING|
|Add happiness as a goal of public policy||ONGOING*|
* with a lot of help from Government of Dubai which already put happiness on the policy agenda.
And with that, on I go to make all this more specific to daily work in my organization and family life at home.