Monday, March 20th was International Happiness Day. Did you remember to celebrate? Sure...it’s a relatively new holiday. In fact, it was proclaimed an official day of festivities by the U.N. General Assembly a mere five years ago, so most nations haven’t exactly begun formal recognition of I.H.D. However, one country has gone bonkers and given everyone the day off: The United Arab Emirates.
See, the Persian Gulf state is the first nation on earth to have a formal cabinet position dedicated to happiness. Her name is Ohood bint Klalfan Al Roumi. Her Excellency has only been on the job less than a year, and this is her biggest project to date. “Some may dismiss the holiday.” Al Roumi explains, “But I assure you, it’s a science. It touches on medicine, health and the social sciences.” She’s right. There are numerous studies that prove that happy people are healthier people.
So far, only a couple of other nations are taking part in government mandated happiness awareness. The pioneer of the movement is the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. In 1972, they instituted the first-ever Gross National Happiness Index. It incorporates a complicated rubric to measure joy. Every year, they update the rankings. (Denmark is #1, the USA is #13). Also, Venezuela has a Vice-Minister of Social Happiness and Ecuador employs a Secretary of buen vivir, or good living. Other than that, the remaining 234 nations on earth are yet to embrace this life-changing trend.
Let’s get back to the UAE. It seems the minister is barraged by questions for help. People ask her to make their marriages happier. They want their parents to laugh more. But the biggest problem the minister faces is that most people confuse happiness and wealth. “When we talk about happiness, I don’t refer to pleasures or monetary accomplishments.” Al Roumi clarified. “It’s the authentic, long-term happiness” that really matters.
Readers must be asking: Why is the Middle East telling us to be more happy? The region is the world’s angriest. Well, the UAE ranks #28th on the Bhutanese Index, so they clearly are an exception. Cynics are quick to point out the United Arab Emirate’s dismal human rights record. ‘They need a better Minister of Justice, not a Minister of Joy,’ posted a fellow blogger. While the UAE is a bit oppressive, we feel they have managed to find a good balance. Dubai has emerged as sought-after destination for Muslims and Westerners alike.
It seems the USA could learn a lot from the UAE on this issue. We too confuse happiness with wealth. Look at our TV shows: We love to peer inside Kardashian mansions and eavesdrop inside the luxury condos of the Real Housewives. Rappers tell us to “Get rich or die trying.” While we love to talk about Second Amendment rights to own machine guns, we forget about another important message from our founding fathers: The pursuit of happiness. These words appear in the Declaration of Independence. Don't forget: Our forefathers left Europe so they could lead more joyous lives!! While it may not require a cabinet position, it does deserve more attention.