UAE takes lead on happiness in Arab world with new ministerial post

The National
Publication date: 
Feb 09 2016

ABU DHABI // The happiest nation in the Arab world is planning on getting even happier.

As part of a major Federal Government shake-up, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, on Monday announced the new post of Minister of State for Happiness, the first of its kind in the region and one of the few in the world.

“It’s a historical decision,” said Saeed Al Nazari, an Emirati who started a UAE chapter of the Global Happiness Organisation, a non-profit body that aims to promote happiness worldwide.

Mr Al Nazari – whose first name, aptly, means happy – said the move was a natural progression resulting from the Government’s focus on people’s satisfaction.

“Leaders have appointed happiness ambassadors and advisers, and we’re seeing the Government take happiness into account in all entities as well as using as strategy,” he said.

Another country with a similar post is Venezuela, which created the vice ministry of supreme social happiness in 2013.

Bhutan is also known for measuring the country’s progress through a gross national happiness index, which takes into account its citizens’ psychological well-being.

Globally, the UAE is the 20th happiest country, according to last year’s UN World Happiness Report, which placed the country between the UK (21) and Belgium (19), as well as ahead of all other Arab countries.

The establishment of the new ministerial position did not come as a big surprise to Dr Suad Al Marzooqi, an assistant professor at the UAE University’s department of psychology.

“The leadership in the UAE always looks for two things from their people – one, that they are positive, and two, that they are happy,” said Dr Al Marzooqi, who is also a clinical psychologist.

She said she envisioned the position would entail the new minister working with every ministry, because the issue of happiness had to be addressed in all departments. “I see it as an umbrella position for all the ministries, as you need every minister in the Government to search for the people’s happiness.”

One of the most important challenges awaiting the new government official was backing and expanding research into what precisely constitutes happiness for the citizens and residents of the UAE.

“Unfortunately, we don’t carry out enough research in our society, and without studies you don’t know what the problem is,” she said.

Educating people and providing them with quality health care were the most important factors in increasing general satisfaction, said Dr Al Marzooqi. She said promoting happiness among the public was essential in creating a harmonious and progressive society.

“If people are happy, they will give more than they take, and they will face problems with a positive attitude rather than seeing them in a negative light.”

Having conducted and presented many findings on the subject, Mr Al Nazari said it was well known that happiness was directly correlated to production in societies.

Because happiness was difficult to define, Sahar Al Mansoori, 20, said she was also in favour of conducting studies to see what the majority of the public desired.

“For me, it’s being around family and friends and for all of us to be secure, but for many others here, it’s luxury and wealth,” said the medical student at the UAE University.

One of the ways she felt that the Minister of State for Happiness could boost morale was to steer people away from equating materialistic wealth with happiness.

“They could help change the mentality of people in regards to this,” she said.

Mr Al Nazari said the onus also fell on individuals to work towards happiness

“I always thought I was walking toward happiness, but now I know I am walking happily.”

During his studies, he said, he learned that many people on their deathbeds said they regretted forgetting about the present and focusing on the future.

“Live happily and do it now, not tomorrow.”