Dubai leads the way when it comes to opening itself to critics, and – as odd as it sounds – that’s a good thing.
At its fundamental core, the obligation of a government is to lead, and Dubai leads by example, regardless of what the critics say.
On March 20, 2017, to mark the UN-inspired International Day of Happiness, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the creation of the first happiness council, a 13-person body. When making the announcement, he said the world today needs to adopt a new approach to achieve human happiness. This, of course, followed the UAE’s appointment of the world’s first Minister of Happiness, Ohood Al Roumi, in February 2016.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed happiness was the purpose of human existence. The Declaration of Independence talks about happiness. Leo Tolstoy wrote near the end of his book War and Peace that as Pierre Bezukhov was imprisoned he discovered “that man is created for happiness”. The Rolling Stones wrote and sang Happy, with Keith Richards, no less, on lead vocals. Pharrell Williams sings yet another song called Happy.
Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a member of the UAE’s 13-body council, said in March: “Happy countries are the ones that have a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government.”
Happiness as imagined by the UN and the UAE is based on science, Sachs says. The rankings in the annual UN World Happiness Report (the UAE was 21 in the 2017 edition) are based on six factors: per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or business.
When announcing Al Roumi’s appointment, Sheikh Mohammed wrote: “Governments in our region and elsewhere need … to create an environment in which people can achieve their dreams and ambitions.”
Nearly 50 years ago, Bhutan looked for a way to exclude Western influences and promote a national agenda. The king devised the Gross National Happiness philosophy.
In 2005, an American economist suggested the US should pursue a Gross National Happiness (GNH) policy; the next year, the International Institute of Management said the US should adopt a GNH attitude. Ten years after that, Thailand introduced a GNH initiative.
In a March 6, 2017, interview with the LA Times, Al Roumi said: “What is the purpose of government if it does not work toward the happiness of the people? It’s the duty and role of the government to create the right conditions for people to choose to be happy.”
And that is the point: It is the government’s job to provide the right environment for the people living in that country to be able to achieve happiness. To do this, a government and its leaders must set the tone and demand from everyone a certain level of expectation.
Dubai is trying to do this, regardless of what the critics say.