Dubai: Smiles, sunglasses and sweat were seen on the faces of a large crowd of people who gathered on Saturday by the Dubai canal to mark the International Day of Happiness.
To start the whole-day happiness programme, several hundred people joined a parade to the accompaniment of bagpipes and drums played by a police band. The sweltering sun did not seem to dampen the mood of the cheering crowd.
The parade followed a route by the canal before heading to Box Park on Al Wasl Road — through a part cordoned off by police — and back over a footbridge.
At the end of the parade, cannons fired confetti and glitter into the air as organisers passed out bottles of cold water.
“Happiness is a journey, not a destination,” Ohoud Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness, told the crowd. “Happiness is a walk we take every day.”
“Today’s walk is just symbol of our path towards happiness and positivity as a lifestyle in the United Arab Emirates,” the minister added.
“His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum [Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai] says: ‘positivity is the pair of glasses through which you view the world.’
“If the glasses are dark, you will see the world as full of disasters and evil. With a positive outlook, we see the world as full of possibilities, achievements and happiness,” she added.
“You will even see challenges as opportunities.”
Al Roumi, who was appointed to her post in February last year, is the world’s first cabinet-level official to head up a nation’s quest for happiness.
She told the crowd on Saturday that the happiness event — two days ahead of the International Day of Happiness on March 20 — is the first of many more events to come.
Immediately after she spoke, hundreds of yellow balloons — adorned with smiley faces — rose up into the sky.
Most of the crowd was made up of schoolchildren, teachers, and people from government bodies.
“We’re walking with colleagues, with friends, it’s good,” said a beaming Tina Quijano, a Filipina school bus conductor.
“Being sad, it’s from yourself, but being happy — it comes from your heart.”
A member of the organising team said the morning’s positive vibe had helped bring a smile to his face.
“I’m cheered up,” said Mohib Zahed, a Syrian expat. “I feel bad if there is someone who is not happy today.”
Sat in the shade of a marquee, three young Indian expats were cooling off after the parade.
“It was a pleasant walk. It’s interesting what the UAE is trying to do in terms of spreading happiness,” said Nobi Mathew. He rated his level of happiness as eight on an imaginary scale of ten.
So what in his view is the key to happiness? “One thing I can say is not to be materialistic.”
Children and families can also take part in educational activities as part of Happiness day events.
The happiness camp is located right next to Safa Park, by the banks of the canal. People at the camp can listen in on expert-led sessions on happiness and positivity, and also explore an array of treats from a convoy of food trucks until 8pm in the evening.