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The Unavoidable Cruelty of Happiness Events

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar April 04, 2017

From the moment we started to write about the topic happiness at work we got invited to all kinds of happiness events. Think about happiness at work presentations, keynotes, seminars, masterclasses, workshops and even daily events completely focused on this newly discovered hype. It feels like the hype is spreading like wildfire.

Please believe us, these events are not always fun. This week, for example, we found ourselves dancing twice in big crowds of around 300 blue suits. On two different events! Obviously, both dancing stints were mandatory and filled with awkwardness. Nevertheless, both speakers were convinced this jovial exercise would fill our bodies and minds with happiness. But it didn’t work for us (and many others in the room). Even worse, it promoted the urgent need to escape and to get out of this awkward situation as soon as possible. Is there something wrong with us, or with the happiness events?

Preaching to the choir

Too many of the events we are attending feel more like consultation sessions for a toxic mix of Chief Happiness Officers, happiness consultants, funsultants and happiness coaches (these job descriptions really exist, we don’t make them up). On the same events we often encounter happiness evangelists who are just preaching to the choir. They are trying to convince people who are already convinced, trying to make believers out of people who already believe. This seems pointless. Sure, it is easy money but what is the meaning of trying to convince a group to accept an opinion that they already agree with?

Hearing the same stories over and over

Besides preaching to the choir we also repeatedly hear the same old stories time and again. We absolutely agree with the fact that engaged employees have a positive influence on key business outcomes and boost productivity, profit and sales. But this doesn’t mean that every self proclaimed happiness guru needs to recite stories and theories of Google as if they are the absolute truth.

We now even hear such stories from senior executive bankers who have suddenly turned themselves into Chief Happiness Officers. It seems that watching a couple of TED movies and reading some bestsellers can bring any former banker the instant happiness wisdom. Sadly, it turns out that we frequently hear keynote speakers share stories (without a slight of criticism) that are filled with cliches, that are simply not true or that are based on myths. Do these self-proclaimed happiness gurus even know if they are preaching the truth, spreading myths or are just telling fairy tales?

Focus on the wrong things

Now comes the unavoidable cruelty of almost every happiness event. Why is it that most of the happiness gurus force us to do happy chappy and artificial things like high fives, thumbs up, blowing up balloons, and crazy dances that might give you (and this is a stretch) some joy for a short period of time but do not last for more then 10 seconds? We have now visited over 50 inspiring workplaces around the globe and during none of those visits we have encountered anything that came close to this nonsense (except for this awkward moment at Zappos).

This is the inconvenient truth most of the happiness gurus do not want to hear. Those artificial and superficial practices simply can’t replace or compete with the more constructive, structural and deeper practices that create an engaged workplace on the long term. We personally cannot imagine spending the day giving each other high fives and thumbs up. Because realistically, we also need to deal with serious stuff such as decision making, conflict handling, and letting people go.

The real life

Sure, we all want to be happy at work but forcing mandatory happiness upon people works rather counter productive. Organizations should open their eyes and stop introducing and promoting all this happy chappy bullshit. Instead, they better invest their time and efforts in experimenting with the real deal.

The most inspiring workplaces we visit are the ones that allow people to experience a range of positive and negative emotions. The emotions that cover all aspects of life, not just happiness. In fact, they never pretend that everything is happy and bubbly. Because people also want their work to be meaningful, to have a purpose, to be able to fail and to belong to something that is bigger than themselves.

Real happiness at work is achieved through lasting change which can be found in many different shapes. It can be found, for example, in increased levels of freedom and trust by letting employees decide themselves when, how and where they work. radical transparency. But it can not be found in high fives.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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