UAE Happiness Ministry Example for All Muslim Countries

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Money can buy clothes, luxuries and well being but one thing we cannot buy with money is “Happiness”.

Research shows that happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort.  Money is important to happiness, but only to a certain point. Money buys freedom from worry about the basics in life—housing, food, and clothing. Genetic makeup, life circumstances, achievements, marital status, social relationships, even your neighbors—all influence how happy you are. Or can be.

Researchers estimate that much of happiness is under personal control. Regularly indulging in small pleasures (such as warm baths), getting absorbed in challenging activities, setting and meeting goals, maintaining close social ties, and finding purpose beyond oneself are all actions that increase life satisfaction.

In 2012, the United Nations (UN) declared March 20 to be observed as the International Day of Happiness. The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all peoples. The United Arab Emirates is the first Muslim country to take a step in this regard by appointing its first ever minister of state for happiness in February 2016.

The objectives of the ministry are to create programmes, policies, and legislations to achieve happiness and positivity in society. Incentivize entities: Both public and private, to launch and champion initiatives, projects, and policies to achieve happiness and positivity in society;to instill a culture of happiness and positivity. The woman who leads the country’s attempt to secure happiness for its citizens is Ohoodbint Khalfan Al Roumi. Al Roumi’s ministry aims to promote the UAE’s plans, programs and policies to promote happiness in the UAE society.

In addition to her role in UAE, The United Nations Foundation has also announced the selection of H.E Al Roumi for membership of the Global Entrepreneurship Council (GEC), making her the first Arab member in the council. UAE, the oil rich seven-state federation, was ranked No 20 on the World Happiness Report, above the United Kingdom and below Belgium.

What would a minister of happiness do?

In theory, a minister of happiness works to improve the levels of happiness in the country through a variety of policies measuring the effectiveness of the government’s various social welfare programs.

Speaking of her role, Ms Al Rumi said: “Happiness is a serious job for governments. The main job for the government is to create happiness. In 2011, the UN encouraged the member countries to look at happiness for a holistic approach for development.” Ms Al Roumi, who was speaking to CNN, said: “The role of the government is to create an environment where people can flourish – can reach their potential – and choose to be happy.

“For us in the UAE, happiness is very important. I am a very happy and positive person and I choose to be happy every day because this is what pushes me, this is what motivates me, this is what gives a sense of purpose to my life, so I always choose to see the glass half full,” she said.

Who invented the idea?

Bhutan is a tiny and remote kingdom nestling in the Himalayas between its powerful neighbors, India and China. The Bhutanese government believes that every citizen’s pursuit of happiness is its main goal. This goal is actually enshrined in article 9 of the country’s constitution.

This is why every single person in the country gets asked the question, “are you happy?’’ as part of the census of the population. In the last census carried out in 2015, 35% of the population answered ’extremely happy’, 47.9% said they felt ’moderately happy’, and only 8.8% of respondents said they were ’unhappy’.

Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. Instead, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

“The Ministry of Happiness sounds sort of Orwellian and sinister given that this is a surveillance state, but it is in line with their quite high self-regard,” Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times.

Another country that joined the race of happiness is Venezuela who has reportedly created a Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness in 2013.While in recent years; many other European countries have joined on the happiness band wagon.

In 2018, Finland takes the top spot as the happiest country as measured by surveys undertaken by Gallup from 2015-2017. Rounding out the rest of the top ten in order of overall happiness are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia. The US ranked 18th, dropping down four spots from last year. In addition, Finland’s immigrants are also the happiest immigrant population in the world, based on the available data from 117 countries.

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. The World Happiness Report 2018, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, and 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants, was released on March 14th at a launch event at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican. A launch event was also held on March 20th, celebrating International Day of Happiness at the United Nations.

This report also considers the happiness of immigrants. The report includes four chapters on migration, both internal (within-country) and international (cross-country), investigating the happiness of migrants, their families left behind, and others living in the cities and countries receiving migrants.

“The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” said co-editor Professor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia. All of the top ten countries for overall happiness 2015-2017 are in the top 11 countries for immigrant happiness based on surveys covering 2005-2015. “Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries,” said Helliwell. “Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose,” though the adjustment of happiness is not complete, as migrants still reflect in part the happiness of their birth country.

The focus of the latest happiness report is the social aspect, which has significant impact on the level of overall happiness in a community.

Among the surveyed nations, 41 are Muslim countries whose scores of happiness level vary significantly due to differences in socio-economic progress.

It is noteworthy that most Muslim countries that occupy the top 50 are the Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain.

Malaysia, Algeria and Turkmenistan have also been featured next to the Gulf nations.

Apparently, the top 10 happiest Muslim countries are oil producing nations, despite the recent decline of global crude oil prices that led to the slowdown in the oil and gas industry, and job losses, evincing that happiness depends on more than income.

Another contributing factor may be that the UAE has already embarked on a happiness initiative via its “National Happiness and Positivity Charter”. It has also appointed a happiness minister in its cabinet to nurture a happiness atmosphere throughout the country’s public services and corporate sectors.

On the other side of the prism, it is striking that a large number of Muslim countries occupy the bottom two quarters of the index list, whereby the bottom 10 Muslim countries are Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Afghanistan, Yemen, Guinea, Togo and Syria. The report shows that countries in this segment are mostly African nations that are waiting to fulfill their expectations of development, despite 50 years of self-rule and self-proclaimed democracy.

The non-African countries that fall under this segment are mostly suffering from wars and political instabilities. Syria, for instance, is witnessing the deadliest civil war ever seen in recent decades.

The report is also illustrative of the happiness level changes that took place among Muslim countries in a one-year period. While the majority of these countries have recorded progressive improvements, some countries like Afghanistan (0.434 points), Egypt (0.373 points), Gabon (0.344 points), as well as Senegal (0.316 points), stand out. Brunei and Oman, unfortunately, are not included in the report, despite being among the more promising Muslim countries in terms of socio-economic development.

Arguably, the world happiness report might not be the best evaluative scheme that may provide for us an Islamic outlook of development. Its multidimensional approach, however, opens a new horizon for countries to gauge comprehensively their achievements in different life segments. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation should perhaps helm the initiative to develop its own benchmark that complies with the Islamic philosophical concept of happiness, something that is not foreign to Islamic intellectual heritage.

An Islamic index of happiness could perhaps provide a more culturally coherent gauge to help in the pursuit of producing yearly happiness reports for Muslim countries. Some attempts have been made but we have yet to see a full-fledged Islamic happiness index, to be made available for general use.

The UAE happiness initiatives should be seen as an exemplary benchmark for other Muslim countries to follow. With the emerging global trend of evaluating happiness at the national level, it is timely now for all Muslim countries, including Pakistan, to set their happiness agenda.

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