Fairways to Happiness - A Look At Happiness in Dubai - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Fairways to Happiness - A Look At Happiness in Dubai

Our narrator is an ex-pat New Yorker who had overstayed his recommended time in the city (not past 14 years) and jumps at an opportunity to exit the city,  joining his finance in Dubai. Exploring his new home using Google map, he discovers a patch of green and upon further inspection, he discovers a golf course. A eureka moment and one that connected him to his past. Not only with the game of golf but feeling a sense of home while playing the game. 

Director Doug Morrione (director), inspired by his relocation to the UAE — the first country to appoint a federal minister of happiness —started interviewing ex-pats from around the world. The question on the table is asking what ingredients are needed to have a happy or maybe just a satisfying life. 

Sadly, the film is just a parade of talking heads. Citizens from Dubai, Nepal, England, Austria, Ireland, Ukraine, The United States, Bangladesh, and other destinations tell us about their lives growing up. These stories are placed side by side with their lives in Dubai.  Kudos to the director for choosing an interesting group, pulling from everyday folks, a priest, a monk, a veterinarian, and an educator. 

I think the director might have overestimated an audience's interest in the UAE and golf. And despite the diversity in those talking heads that share, it’s still a rather boring film and you can feel the 85 minutes. 

Here’s an director Doug Morrione shared about why he decided to make "Fairway To Happiness" and connecting the dots. 

Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman is the Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the Penn Department of Psychology. He is also the Director of the Penn Master of Applied Positive Psychology program (MAPP). He was President of the American Psychological Association in 1998, during which one of his presidential initiatives was the promotion of Positive Psychology as a field of scientific study. He is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism, and pessimism. He is also a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression and build strength and well-being. He has written more than 350 scholarly publications and 30 books. Dr. Seligman's books have been translated into more than 50 languages and have been best sellers both in America and abroad. https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/people/martin-ep-seligman  


In 2014, my wife and I moved to Dubai. I had been working in the trenches in NYC for years as an editor and producer for many networks and post-production companies, as well as a professor of video and film at The New School graduate program in Media Studies. Much of my extended family hailed from Brooklyn, and they all said the same thing about New York: “Get in for ten years, master a skill, then get out before your life goes by in a flash.”   

Perhaps it was a combination of general “NYC fatigue,” as I had given up on the subway, and was furiously riding my bike 10 miles through traffic to work downtown—only to sit in an edit bay and slog through hundreds of hours of poorly conceived and shot Reality TV footage—but either way, when my wife suggested we follow her job to Dubai, I said, “Fine, let’s go.”  I had no idea what to expect from living in the Middle East (and my parents were worried about the region) but at least I wouldn’t be berating taxi drivers from my bicycle in traffic and urging strangers to pick up their litter on the street.   

The adjustment to life in Dubai was perplexing and difficult at times. But, the country has an 85% expat population, so it’s really more like living in a Muslim-governed international experiment. My new friends came from a multitude of different nationalities including British, Norwegian, Ukrainian, Russian, Filipino, Indian, and Emirati. Many of them were in the same boat—finding their way to Dubai for one reason or another and trying to make a new life for their families in a very foreign city.  

The leadership in The UAE is determined to modernize living and to focus seriously on well-being and “happiness” for the government, private sector professionals, and the population at large. When I arrived, the World Happiness Report was just becoming a popular study, and the UAE was the first country to create the position of Minister of Happiness, all of which was a far cry from the daily grind and stress-producing “man-up” ethos of living and working in Manhattan.   

I read the World Happiness Report and after talking informally with experts, was taken by the idea that happiness could be quantified and curious about how the science of the relatively new field of positive psychology was being employed to improve life and learning environments for students in schools. I saw clearly the stark differences between this kind of forward-thinking and what I had come to view as a stalled and jaded outlook on the meaning, purpose, and progress of my life in New York. I began to wonder whether or not other ex-pats in Dubai were having the same reaction to the new ways of positive thinking and well-being living that I saw.  

Fairways to Happiness is the result of my efforts to dig deeper into these issues and to come up with insights into real life in modern Dubai, to prompt thinking about one’s happiness and well-being, to examine the science of positive psychology and education, and to spark an interesting and productive discussion among viewer audiences.   

I interviewed dozens of ex-pats from many countries and asked them to juxtapose, as I had, their home-country life and work with their new realities in Dubai. I consulted experts, including Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, local positive education professionals, and others, including a monk, a priest, a veterinarian, and a life coach—all of whom contributed to the narrative.  

Towards the end of my interviewing and after producing a rough cut, it became clear that, while I had a wealth of expert and ex-pat “talking heads,” the film needed a lighter foil—a counterpoint to bring the discussion down to earth, to keep the audience engaged, and to make the content more relatable on a human level.   

This has been edited. 

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