Inclusion of happiness and wellbeing in policies is gaining prominence on government agendas

Friday 09 February 2018
Dubai - MENA Herald:

Happiness is a subject taken very seriously in our modern world. On the global level, a movement to consider, evaluate and measure happiness and well-being among individuals and societies has gained increasing momentum in recent years.

In 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution (A/RES/65/309) that calls for viewing happiness as a holistic approach to development, and for considering additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing in development with a view to guiding public policies.

In the same year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) introduced its own ‘Better Life’ Index, an attempt to bring together internationally comparable measures of well-being. The study had 11 dimensions, including ‘life satisfaction’ or level of happiness, and factored in work-life balance.

In 2017, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria highlighted further efforts to ‘redefine the narrative’ and put the well-being of people at the centre of OECD’s efforts as he outlined his strategic orientations for the year and beyond.

He said: “Our goal is to improve people’s well-being through evidence underpinning better policies. This means developing further our productivity and competitiveness agenda, while putting people’s lives at the centre of it by going more social in our work. The “better lives” in our inspiring motto should guide all of our work. Better lives also refer to the non-material dimensions of well-being: happiness, shared aspirations towards a common future and a sense of identity and belonging - factors that lie at the core of the current dissatisfaction with globalisation and the system that underpins it. This implies relying on new economic thinking and innovative approaches.”

He added: “Our goal is to continue delivering better lives for our citizens, and to do so we need a new narrative and model for sustainable progress and prosperity that puts inclusiveness and well-being at the centre of our work. We need a comprehensive roadmap to make this a reality.”

This belief system is finding resonance with an increasing number of nations prioritizing the happiness and well-being of their people in their strategic growth mandates. In the UK, independent organization ‘What Works Centre for Wellbeing’ was set up at the request of former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, with the London think tank collating data to produce information and guidance that government, business and community can use to help improve well-being across the country.

The UAE is well ahead of the curve in this realm

In February 2016, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, appointed Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi as the first ever Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing. Her main responsibility is to harmonise all government policies, plans and programmes to achieve happiness and positivity in the UAE.

H.E. Al Roumi is also Vice-President of the World Government Summit Organization that holds the World Government Summit annually and brings together governments leaders, policy makers, and private sector to shape the future of governments.

The World Government Summit has accorded happiness and wellbeing top priority. The 2017 agenda kicked off with the Global Dialogue for Happiness, a day-long event that brought together over 300 experts and thought leaders including Helen Clark, the then Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, and His Excellency Tshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of Bhutan, to share knowledge on the meaning and importance of happiness. The Dialogue also focused on raising awareness on the important role governments and policy makers play in creating happiness in societies.

Just a month later, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the formation of the Global Happiness Council. The council, set to convene twice a year during the Global Dialogue for Happiness and in New York during meetings of the UN General Assembly, has been tasked with compiling an annual Global Happiness Policy Report. This report will highlight international practices and achievements focusing on happiness and happiness research, and act as a guide for governments seeking happiness in their societies.

The UAE Minister of Happiness and Wellbeing explained the reason behind the global and international movement at WGS 2017. She said: “This is serious business for government. Governments should improve the living conditions of their people. If children are well-educated, if there are good hospitals; people have jobs and they feel safe and secure; and government services make people feel hopeful - these are the enabling conditions and environment that will make people live a happy life”.

“Successful governments have a responsibility to achieve happiness and wellbeing for their people through the inclusion of happiness and wellbeing in the heart of their policies, and the implementation of action plans. Governments need to develop tools for achieving happiness based on the need of their societies and culture.” Al Roumi concluded.

Professor Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics and behavioral science at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, also explained the shift in government attitude at a separate session of the summit. He explained: “My research group has been working on what we now call the economics of happiness for 25 to 30 years and it is interesting to see these ideas come to the front of government policy.

“That is natural as we come to terms with the fact that human beings care about feelings. We know that – we all know that - and yet we obsess about this material progress number GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a primary indicator used to gauge the health of a country's economy.). This is no longer appropriate to our lives.

“Governments are becoming really interested in this. Government statisticians both in public and private are working on this in detail and will do much more in the future. In my country, we collect data on satisfaction, happiness, anxiety and worth as part of official national statistics. This is official data now and it marks a future that many other countries will follow.”

The upcoming edition of the World Government Summit once again kicks off with the Global Dialogue for Happiness on February 10, a day-long event where 500 scientists, experts and government officials from around the world are expected to discuss happiness and wellbeing and their relation to government policies. This year’s Global Dialogue for Happiness will feature 30 international speakers, 27 sessions and six themes: global lessons and experiences, policies, technology and big data, human values, the latest findings on the science of happiness and inspirational stories. It will also witness the launch of the Global Happiness Policy Report.


Related News