Happiness, that perennial preoccupation of philosophers, intellectuals and ordinary folk since antiquity, has finally made its way into the political and economic lexicon, and as a factor in evaluating the performance of governments.
Logically, this is surely the most important issue for all countries. In the final analysis, all the emphasis on growth rates, per capita income and gross national product is meant to result in humans feeling happier about themselves and their living conditions.
The United Nations Happiness Report is a new way for people across the world to view their countries. Scandinavian countries are seemingly in the best shape, taking most of the Top 10 spots, while the United Arab Emirates ranked first among Arab countries, taking 14th place among 156 countries on the list.
Development plans that do not have a direct impact on a person’s happiness are a waste of a country’s resourcesMohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Happiness levels are determined by economic activity. Depressed nations have low productivity and creativity, apart from being vulnerable to poverty and terrorism. There are many indicators to determine people’s happiness but the U.N. report is arguably one of the best ways to do so.
The U.N. is cooperating with universities and research centers in the world to issue the report. The rankings are based on education, economic growth, public administration, health provision, security, positive social relations, freedom of choice, entrepreneurship and opportunities. The U.N. adopted this measurement approach at a conference in April 2012.
It is important to note that the U.N. does not rely solely on economic indicators in its assessments. The classification is more comprehensive than that. It comes from an understanding that wealth does not necessarily translate into human wellbeing, and that people who have little material possessions, but have a positive outlook on life, can be the most joyous people on the planet.
The list proves that countries that have invested in their people are the best places to live. Opening up channels for development and education, and consolidating the concepts of liberty and individual independence, manifests in a country’s economy, and the lives of individuals and their relationships with each other and institutions.
Development plans that do not have a direct impact on a person’s happiness are a waste of a country’s resources. Human beings must be the focus of all development, with an emphasis on creating an environment free from oppression, marginalization and nepotism.
Even China, a country that appears to be far removed from these standards, is focusing on the happiness of its people, with politicians increasingly using this word in their public speeches.
In the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates has been a pioneer in entrenching the concept of happiness in public life. The country has launched an initiative in Dubai to measure people’s happiness and satisfaction with government services. Dubai’s experience is important and can be replicated in other countries. The goal here is to gauge how people feel and then tackle any grievances and complaints they may have.
Happiness cannot be achieved by merely providing people with material benefits or architectural marvels. There must be a focus on other important aspects of human life, in particular love, respect, morality and living in peace with others. Families, mosques and the media must play a role in highlighting these elements.
It is crucial for us to start talking to each other about our existence, to determine honestly how we are living. One of our main problems is that we are oblivious to our true reality. To find solutions and a way forward, we need to first admit to ourselves where we have gone wrong.
This article was first published in Arab News on November 27, 2014.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi