Ask a foreigner for an adjective to describe Russians. “Happy” is unlikely to be a top choice.
Far more frequently, in fact, you might hear “dour” or “somber” or “serious.”
Looks like a job for the Ministry of Happiness.
A leading Russian lawmaker and close ally of President Vladimir Putin has taken a shine to what might sound like something out of an Orwell novel but already exists in real life.
Valentina Matviyenko, who heads the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, floated the idea during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, which earlier this year announced it would be establishing a Ministry of Happiness.
After meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in Dubai, Matviyenko told Russian news agencies on April 13 that it was a concept worthy of studying for Russia.
“The idea is that you have to make each person happy, to build happy schools, to provide services to the population in order to make each person happy,” she was quoted by TASS and Interfax as saying.
Such a ministry, she said, “would, before making any decision, have to consider…whether or not this would make people happy.”
The U.A.E. prime minister “said that each happy person can then make happiness out of unhappiness, and that a happy person will not strive to become a terrorist,” Interfax quoted Matviyenko as saying. “It seems to me that such a ministry would be very useful for Russia."
A longtime lawmaker who was governor of the St. Petersburg region until 2011, Matviyenko is considered a close associate of Putin and was among those hit with sanctions by the United States in 2014 for Russia’s forced annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Stereotypes aside, Russia is far from being considered an unhappy country. Last month, researchers in North America and Britain, working with the backing of the United Nations, released a ranking of 156 countries, using indications like gross domestic product, life expectancy, corruption, and “freedom to make life choices.”
Russia placed 56th, just above Poland, but just below Moldova and Kazakhstan.
Interestingly enough, the U.A.E. isn’t the first country in the world to set up such a government agency. A Vice Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People has been in existence in that South American country since 2013.
And the mountain kingdom of Bhutan has for years compiled a gross national happiness index, in an effort to track the well-being of its citizens.
Given all the other issues Russia is facing these days, it seems unlikely that the Kremlin would back the creation of a U.A.E.-styled Ministry of Happiness. If it did, however, it would be at least the second thing that the two countries share in common, the first being something that many experts say is at the source of many of the countries’ modern-day economic unhappiness: oil.