Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, surprised the World Government Summit held in Dubai this week when he announced major structural changes in the government. One of the most noteworthy was the creation of a Ministry of Happiness.
Upon first hearing of it, the idea might seem odd; however, it falls within the context of an existing idea in the UAE.
Many might be unaware that in 2014 Dubai officially launched a “Happiness Index Application” for 14 governmental entities. It provides government agencies with a smart tool to “measure happiness” on websites, tablets and iPhones.
The experience of the Ministry of Happiness will be an important marker in the development of management and putting humans as the main axis of developmental projects.Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
At the time, the initiative was unusual since such indicators are usually linked to figures dealing with growth rates. The application was thus definitely out of the box.
Measuring happiness on an annual or quarterly basis did not meet the requirements of a rapidly-changing world and expectations indicated that happiness should be monitored daily, Sheikh Mohammed explained.
Since then, there has been a central network that monitors the Happiness Index and sends daily reports to decision-makers about the situation in specific geographical and governmental areas. The aim is to provide desired services to boost people’s happiness. The Happiness Index is a change since it focuses on people’s happiness and comfort.
It is true that even in countries with high growth rates and healthy economies, citizens may be unhappy.
In 2012, the United Nations adopted indicators for measuring people’s happiness. An annual guide was issued, which ranked countries in order according to their rates of happiness. This was carried out in cooperation with global research centers.
The indicators depend on education, economy, public management, health, security, positive relationships, freedom and entrepreneurship.
The measurement of happiness is essential as happiness is obviously what people desire and strive for.
Frustrated people reflect negative views of society; hence, there is a decline in innovation and productivity, which can give room for the growth of extremism and terrorism.
A wealthy state does not necessarily mean great happiness; in fact, the opposite may be the case.
According to the U.N. Happiness Guide, people in Scandinavian countries are the happiest while other similar countries are way down on the list.
In other words, rich people are not necessarily the happiest; there are people who have lower incomes but are happier.
Venezuela was first to introduce a Social Happiness Ministry, but its primary focus is on old people and special social programs for them.
The new ministry in the UAE is linked to several indicators that measure people’s satisfaction and happiness regardless of their jobs or nationalities.
It is vital for Arab countries to invest in indicators of happiness and link them to the performance evaluation of ministries. They must also promote cultures of happiness built on love, peace and dialogue thus enabling citizens to live in happiness and dignity.
The World Government Summit brought together a large number of officials, intellectuals and researchers who spoke the language of the future.
They enumerated the challenges that face governments. Not only did they offer solutions but they also talked about creative ideas that will take societies to new and improved levels. A vital decision was made to change the summit from a global event into a global organization that works throughout the year and focuses on future prospects in all sectors.
Mohammed Al-Gergawi, minister of Cabinet Affairs and chairman of the World Government Summit’s organizing committee, said that the aim of the event was to answer future questions and work on the necessary knowledge to prepare governments to face challenges in the near and distant future. This requires that governments let go of bureaucracy and encourage innovation, development and competence.
The experience of the Ministry of Happiness will be an important marker in the development of management and putting humans as the main axis of developmental projects. If governments succeed in creating happiness for their people, they will guarantee stability and growth and will take governmental work to a whole new and much sought-after level.
This article first appeared on Arab News on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.
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