Don’t worry, be happy

Below is today’s editorial in the sycophantic Khaleej Times. Cloying. The very idea that the world should adopt the UAE model is just pandering to the theme.

The UAE cabinet has endorsed a National Happiness and Positivity Charter which aims to instill concepts of happiness and positivity in all aspects of life in the UAE. The program will feature several initiatives such as instilling happiness in government policies, programmes and services; promoting positivity and happiness as a lifestyle in the community; and developing benchmarks and ways to measure happiness.

The UAE’s happiness regime is less than a month old. It is far too soon to assess whether it is useful to the UAE; let alone whether it is relevant to other nations.

Ohood Al Roumi is Minister of State for Happiness of the United Arab Emirates. For International Happiness Day she wrote that “happiness is knowing that you and your family are safe; that there is opportunity open to you and your children; and that you can depend on a high degree of care, dignity, and fairness in your society. Happiness is not something that is bestowed from on high; we all must work to achieve it. But, as I see it, our role in government is to create an environment that enables happiness and a positive attitude toward life to flourish.”

It is a sensible view; where the government creates a framework that allows positive change to happen.

The country’s vice president (and ruler of Dubai) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid made clear that there are practical reasons for the campaign stating that “focusing on happiness is both feasible and fully justified. … Studies have shown that happy people produce more, live longer, and drive better economic development in their communities and countries.”

The trouble is we all have different things that make us happy; for instance, my happiness would be improved by people learning to drive with courtesy and common sense. But I doubt that is part of the program.

But the UAE is run by dynastic ruling families. Benevolent but still autocratic. Over 80% of the population are in the UAE on work permits and can be returned to their home nation at any time. The majority of the UAE’s population can have no official say in the governance of the nation.

Can people be happy in this context?

Can you truly be happy when you are working twelve hour shifts, six days a week in high heat and in working conditions that are barely tolerable?

Can you really be happy in a nation with such a massive gulf between those who have and those who have not; between the entitled and the rest?

Can you really be happy when ostentatious wealth buys happiness for many?

Yes the UAE is tolerant. But it is exactly that tolerance that also generates its wealth through the service and tourist sectors that are critical to the nation’s sustainable growth.

Tolerant yes. But open; not yet. In the 2015 press freedom index the UAE. ranked 120th of 180 nations. Just ten years ago it was in the top 70. Dissent or disagreement is not tolerated. And that is my problem; if you cannot have free speech; if self-censorship is a requirement of compliance; then can you truly be happy? Can you be happy where even writing this feels like a risk, albeit small.

I don’t know the answers. But I do know that the Khaleej Times would make me happier by debating how to achieve the government’s goal. One simple statement in the editorial says that the UAE wants a culture where there is an equal opportunity for all in society, and where merit and transparency rule. That is simply not possible in a society which allows long standing foreign workers no residence or status. It is society of un-equals which by its nature cannot provide equal opportunity for all.

So embrace the intent; welcome the initiative; but let’s see where it takes us before we hail its success and tell the rest of the world to follow us.

Khaleej Times Editorial – 22 March 2016

UAE’s happiness index is a role model – It is a doctrine for collective growth and security, and the world should emulate the UAE model.

The UAE believes in happiness and positivity as a lifestyle pattern, and this is what differentiates it from the rest of the world. With people from more than 200 nationalities living on its soil to realise their dreams for a better tomorrow, the credit goes to the visionary leadership of the country who have made coexistence, growth and transparency the fundamentals of an interactive society.

Which is why His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, endorsed the launch of corporate happiness and positivity initiatives as a corner stone of good governance. The goal is quite simple i.e., to usher in happiness, and create a culture of tolerance and forbearance.

It is, indeed, a phenomenon, which propels positivity in the right direction, and guides not only the individual, but also the public and private sectors to attain the hallmark of collective betterment. “We are at the beginning of our journey, learning day-by-day to achieve goodness and happiness for the individual. We wish happiness for all the peoples and countries in the world”, Shaikh Mohammed remarked, making it categorically clear that the sky is the limit for the UAE, as it believes in achieving the best for generations to come.

The path for the UAE is to strive for excellence. By inculcating the values of tolerance and mutual self-respect, the UAE is, in fact, rewriting a social contract for a pluralistic and heterogeneous society. This is no small achievement in an era when conflicts and discords are all around, and human values are rapidly being undermined. The Emirates wants a culture where there is an equal opportunity for all in society, and where merit and transparency rule. This aspect ultimately streamlines happiness, respect for law and a sense of commitment towards society as a responsible citizen. It is a doctrine for collective growth and security, and the world should emulate the UAE model.


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