Can you actually sell happiness?
Among the exports of oil, pearls and metals, the UAE is about to list a new commodity on the market: happiness.
A happy nation
According to the 2018 World Happiness Report (WHR), UAE ranked 20th worldwide, effectively making it the happiest Arab nation. Other GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain also ranked in the 50 happiest countries. Internationally, Finland placed first.
Now, a new initiative dubbed Happiness A-Z is aiming to share the nation’s joy with Arab countries suffering from low happiness rates, starting with Egypt and soon to be followed by Jordan and Lebanon. Tahani Al Terri, the initiative’s co-founder, said that the initiative’s purpose is to “instil the culture of positivity, tolerance, and happiness in the behavior of individuals in order to turn happiness into a behavior and a habit”.
Following political unrest and the significant devaluing of the Egyptian pound after floating practices by the country, it is not surprising that Egypt ranked 122 out of 156 in the World Happiness Report. Statista estimates that Egypt’s national debt will arrive at $224.93 billion in 2018. In 2017, the national debt of Egypt amounted to an astonishing 103.26% of the GDP.
For the pursuit of happiness
The programme’s first project is set to launch in Sharm El Sheikh in August, and will take a touristic approach. It will provide coaching on the secrets to happiness, the strategies and mechanics of happiness, and the methods of instilling happiness in oneself.
While it is an individual effort backed by private individuals and organizations, the initiative does fit with the UAE’s overall objectives regarding happiness in the state. In 2016, they appointed their first minister of happiness in an effort to “drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction”, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum had explained.
To further this objective, Abu Dhabi University (ADU) launched a happiness course in April as part of its Public Health programme’s core requirements, the first of its kind in the country according to the Emirates News Agency (WAM).
Can happiness actually be exported?
Regardless of whether happiness can actually be measured through the criteria on a survey, the important question remains: Can it be bought and sold?
Let us for the sake of argument assume that happiness is quantifiable and measurable. How does one sell it?
Happiness in a country is often measured through variables and scales. A myriad of organizations and sources, such as the World Happiness Report, classify different contributing factors like income, safety, employment, education, health services, equality, GDP, economic stability, tolerance and satisfaction.
WHR explains that safety plays a major contributing factor towards improving happiness, and most expats in the UAE who come from nearby politically unstable countries highlighted this as one of their main sources of joy.
Happiness A-Z’s approach seems focused on achieving happiness through satisfaction and the promoting of equality, mostly by mentoring and coaching.
Happiness, prepackaged and labelled
So how would the UAE feasibly sell happiness?
It could fund more organizations and initiatives such as Happiness A-Z, which would then offer their services to other countries.
An alternative, more indirect method is through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). By starting new projects in economically stagnating countries, new jobs would be created and more investments would follow. GDP would also improve.
Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) agreements between the UAE and foreign governments could also lead to positive results mirroring those of FDIs. By bringing Emirati business and human values to these companies and countries, they would also be bringing with them the inherent traits from which happiness stems back at home.
A similar example of this is when Western companies, and especially franchises, begin operations in a country for the first time. They bring with them all the values and business practices that have made them successful in their home country, as well as support local communities. In 2013, Fast Casual reported that McDonald’s was teaching its franchisees in the Middle East how to succeed internationally.
Exporting high-quality Emirati media to neighboring countries could also have a positive influence on foreign populations.
Again, Western media proves this with their array of Hollywood films and popular TV shows. The current wave of feminism storming through the West has also ignited a similar movement in the Middle East through their wide-reaching media, which in turn promotes equality in countries lacking in it.
If happiness can now be sold and bartered, it’s entirely possible that other human values such as intelligence and compassion will be next to hit the market, absurd as that sounds.