While the 2011 Happiness & Its Causes conference is not-for-profit, other conferences are very much about big bucks. Happiness has become a multi-million dollar business all around the world with spruikers selling bliss. The buyers are some of the most powerful corporate doyens in the world.
Such a conference was offered to businesses recently, sponsored by the Australian Institute of Management as 350 business leaders including from AMP, Macquarie Bank, MBF, and Toyota gathered at The Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney to listen to one of the great thought leaders of our time – father of the positive psychology movement, Mr Happiness himself Dr Martin Seligman PhD, (WATCH VIDEO HERE!)
The avuncular Seligman – author of the best-seller, Learned Optimism – is peddling the happiness message to top corporations around the world: “I teach the new prosperity,” he told me. “Not how to get rich, but how to stay prosperous in all aspects of life: work, home and body. We need to look at a gross wellbeing indicator, not Gross Domestic Product so we can get ahead without illness, depression, anxiety and fear stopping us in this new, positive paradigm.”
“Happiness is good for the bottom line,” he says, as the corporate crowd applaud wildly. As a finance journalist, I attended another conference a couple of years ago. NSW Supreme Court judge The Hon Barry O’Keefe, was hosting India’s King of Happiness Sri Sri Ravi Guruji Shankar who was on a world tour. The room was not filled with kaftan wearing hippies. To the right of me was a senior manager at IBM and a famous Sydney architect, to the left Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young of the NSW Homicide Squad.
“Guruji” as he is known, believes happiness comes from rigorous breathing techniques which oxygenate the brain. He has had extraordinary success transforming hardened prisoners in jails around the world, and his techniques in banishing depression have been studied at leading universities. He says, “Happiness comes from being like a child. It’s being in the heart not in the head.”
Research shows business leaders are right to jump on the happiness bandwagon. A study done by Flight Centre showed that when staff felt happy sick days dropped by 25 per cent, and staff turnover was down dramatically, saving the company in excess of $250,000 that year. And it’s clearly helpful to business leaders’ own performance.
Buddhist guru Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, takes conferences for management in Australia each year. At one I talked to John Akehurst (Reserve Bank of Australia board member and former Woodside CEO) and Gordon Cairns (Westpac board member and former Lion Nathan CEO). Gordon Cairns told me they were are learning “practical wisdom” from Rinpoche, a science of the mind that can transform thinking into positive happy and calm thoughts with quantifiable results. John Akehurst added: “Happiness is not the “soft and fuzzy” option. This is hard-nosed business practice.”