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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies


With today set to be the hottest day of the year, topping yesterday, where temperatures were pushing 40 degrees in parts of the UK, we're seeing all sorts of weather warnings and advice to help people stay safe and keep their families (and pets) safe in the heat. I was working in London, thankfully in an air conditioned office yesterday, and when I nipped out to get my lunch (I was living my best London life, so naturally I upgraded from Greggs to Pret for a transcendent chicken caesar baguette!) it was like walking off a plane on a summer holiday! Incredibly, the tube journey later that day was one of the cooler parts of the day, but sitting in the sweltering heat in Kings Cross station, watching my train delay get longer and longer, and then eventually sitting on the train, crawling along at 60mph due to the heat, taking five hours to get to Newcastle (usually a journey that comes in comfortably under three hours) made for a long and toasty day!

What's always interesting in these situations is that the extremes of temperature that we're seeing in the UK are not that unusual in many parts of the world. Even as the mercury rises to 40 and above, that's not particularly uncommon in many places. And as a result, social media is flooded with people poo-pooing those who are showing concern for the safety of themselves and others and making comparisons with the temperatures that holidaymakers experience (and very often specifically seek out) when they go abroad.

So what's all the fuss about? Well the difference with what we're seeing in the UK at the moment, vs what we experience abroad has two dimensions to it, both of which have some interesting lessons attached.

Firstly, it's the difference between expectations and reality. When we go abroad, to Turkey or Greece, or Spain, or further afield, we expect it to be hot. When our expectations are met by reality, we have nothing to complain about. We are satisfied. In the UK, we do not expect it to be hot - or certainly not this hot - even in the height of the summer! As such, our expectations are not met. If we absolutely love the heat, then our expectations have been exceed and we are delighted! If we are not fans of the heat, our expectations have been missed and we are dissatisfied.

At the moment I'm reading The Book of Joy - a conversation between the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and in that book, they talk about something which can also be found in the book Engineering Happiness by economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells - the Fundamental Equation. What the fundamental equation tells us is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. If our expectations are set beyond reality's capacity to meet them, we will be unhappy. Conversely, if our expectations are set below the level of reality (i.e. reality exceeds what we are expecting) then we will be happy!

Consider a situation where two people from very different socioeconomic backgrounds received a card on their 21st birthday from their favourite grandparent. The first person, someone raised in privilege and born with a silver spoon in their mouth, opens the card and finds a crisp £50 note inside. Giving the means at their disposal all the time, and with their knowledge that their grandparent is a billionaire, perhaps they expected more. A share of the family business on their special birthday. The keys to a sports car. A penthouse flat. £50, in comparison to their expectation, seems a bit shit and they're disappointed.

The second person, however, comes from a much more modest background. Their family have had to scrape by, living hand to mouth through their entire life, with their parents and grandparents sometimes missing meals in order to ensure that the children don't go hungry. The beloved grandparent who is handing over the card is someone to whom money has not come easily and they've worked hard and long past retirement age, with little in material possessions to show for this. When this person opens the card, they're overwhelmed at the generosity of the gift inside. Their expectation was for nothing more than a card from a beloved relative. This have been far exceeded. The same situation, perceived by two different people with different expectations, can have dramatically different impacts on their happiness.

And so it is with the weather. If we expect it to be roasting hot, whether we like that type of weather or not, we're more likely to receive it positively, or at least without upset, when it happens. If we expect that summer temperatures in the UK won't exceed 25 degrees, then when the mercury hits 40, we will have a reaction one way or the other.

The second lesson, is one of preparedness. In Australia, where it's regularly very hot, the infrastructure is designed for that heat. Train tracks and road surfaces are designed for hot temperatures. Buildings have air conditioning. People are more readily able to access ice to cool their drinks, their wardrobes contain more clothing that's useful in the heat. We saw what happened in Texas with the big freeze, but we know that in Canada, Scandanavia and beyond, those type of cold weather conditions are not unusual and the countries continue to run.

If I'm outside in 40 degrees in a heavy wool three piece suit, I'll probably be having a bad day. If I'm out there in shorts, tshirt and flip flops, with sunglasses and factor 50 on (remember I'm ginger!) then I'll fare much better. The same applies in the snow - If I'm driving my rear-wheel drive sports car with low profile tyres and minimum grip, I'll be having a tough time. If I've got my all-wheel drive truck with snow tyres, it's a different story.

So what does all of this teach us as leaders? Well firstly it's about setting expectations, for ourselves and those around us. Many times I've seen and heard of leaders promising their people the earth, for reasons often beyond my comprehension and then watching those loyal, capable employees become almost unmanageable when these promises are not met. Be honest, be good to your word and be conscious of the fundamental equation - happiness or unhappiness is not a function of a situation alone, it's a function of the situation and the expectations we had for that situation.

Secondly, consider this in our own lives. Where are we dissatisfied? What impact are our expectations having on this dissatisfaction and how can we better manage them to close the gap and improve our own happiness?

And finally, what's around the corner that we should prepare ourselves and our people for? We can't prepare for everything, but with the data showing rising global temperatures, hotter summers are something we should all be prepared for. What else do you need to be ready to handle?

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