The Happiest Country on Earth UAE’s focus on happiness a globally unique approach to citizen wellness

The UAE, with its progressive policies, economic dynamism, larger than life vision and aspirations, and a strong commitment to innovation and technology led progress, has exhibited iconic growth across global indicators over the past two decades. However, it has equally emerged as a beacon of tolerance and proponent of citizen wellness.

Under its pillar of Cohesive Society and Preserved Identity of National Agenda, it is the UAE Government’s objective to make the country amongst the top five happiest countries in the world by 2021. In line with this vision, the UAE Government created the post of Minister of State for Happiness in 2016 and appointed Her Excellency Ohood bint Khalfan Al Roumi as the Minister with the mandate to help orient the initiatives and policies of the UAE administration, in service of a happier society.

The appointment of the Minister of Happiness and centring its policy-making around citizen happiness is a global first for the UAE, and it has been applauded as one of the only nations to take up happiness on a strategic footing and appoint a senior government member for coordinating national happiness efforts. Aligned with this vision, several initiatives like ‘Customer Happiness Formula’, ‘Friends of Happiness’ digital platform, Emirates Centre for Happiness Research, and many others have since been launched by the government.

Happiness as a National goal

Shortly after the formation of the Happiness Ministry, the UAE Cabinet endorsed the National Programme for Happiness, which will serve as the National Charter for Happiness and articulates a commitment towards creating a social environment that bolsters the happiness of individuals and communities. The charter aims to support positivity as an attitude and value, by empowering goals and ambitions through a nurturing and supportive society. These policies and programs were widely recognised as laudable but also challenging when announced. However, almost three years later, the effects of the initiatives are beginning to be apparent. According to a BCG survey released at the World Government Summit 2019 held in Dubai, the UAE ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world(1).

The report ranked the UAE higher than countries such as the USA, Canada, Belgium and France on the index, by measuring ‘income and happiness dynamics’. Gemini Property Developers CEO Sunil Gomes believes the success is largely due to the comprehensive nature of UAE’s programmes, focused on inclusion of happiness all the way from the policy level down to actual initiatives on the ground and even services of all government bodies. Further, the promotion of positivity and happiness as a lifestyle in the community as well as the development of benchmarks and tools to measure happiness has also helped crystallise the impact of the initiatives.

The Dubai Happiness Agenda: Addressing Happiness through a range of innovative initiatives

Adopting a scientific approach to achieving ‘happiness’, reconciling individual fulfillment with community goals, is quite unprecedented and unique as a governmental activity.  Under the stewardship of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Emirate of Dubai has rolled out various programs to inspire and encourage happiness among citizens and visitors. Accordingly, the Happiness Agenda of Smart Dubai, and ‘The People’, a key tenet of Dubai Plan 2021, look at the living experience of the people of Dubai and focus on their happiness and wellbeing in society. The Happiness Agenda, overseen by the Government’s Smart Dubai department, is a structured initiative and efforts to realise its goals focus on four portfolios – Discover (needs); Change (policies); Educate (create awareness); Measure.

Among other initiatives, Happiness Champions have been appointed to oversee implementation, act as guides and provide insights to refine ongoing efforts on the basis of outcomes. The Happiness Meter, one of Dubai’s first strategic ‘smart city’ initiatives, and among the first of its kind globally to measure experiences across an entire city, maps happiness goals through a centralised data dashboard across Dubai’s private sector and government entities that host happiness metre touch points. 60 Chief Happiness and Positivity Officers have been enlisted, who have travelled the world to observe and train in the creation of positive work environments and workforces, and eventually a happy nation. The Dubai Government has also launched a happiness portal for measuring the happiness of Dubai’s visitors and residents. End users are being asked to rate public services with ‘emoji’ responses, to capture the emotional essence of their impact. Happiness Patrol teams of the Dubai Police are issuing rewards to law-abiding motorists, to encourage the practice of rewarding good behaviour, as opposed to punishing the bad.

The success of these initiatives is evident in the recent Happiness Index 2018 rankings released by Smart Dubai, which indicates the Emirate has scored 90% for customer happiness levels during interactions with government and private sector entities, with DEWA, Dubai Customs and KHDA as the leading government entities. (2)

Sunil is of the opinion that this organised and result driven approach will form the basis of successful implementation of the Happiness Agenda. He feels that by applying such a scientific method, the UAE administration can lead the way, much like corporate culture can be influenced through top-down initiatives.

Recognising the potential for workplaces to enhance overall happiness

HSBC’s Expat Explorer 2018 survey, conducted by interviewing more than 22,000 individuals working away from their place of origin, ranked the UAE as the fourth best place to work for expats (3). This is the third consecutive year that the country has placed in the top five. Economic opportunity plays an important part in such an assessment, and the UAE’s emergence as a regional commercial hub certainly helps in this regard. However, there is more to this high placing than mere career progression or salaries. Several of the respondents were eager to praise personal security, workplace environments and an ‘easy’ lifestyle as part of the reason why seven out of ten would recommend the country to someone looking for a new life abroad.  

The UAE government’s Happy Work Environment initiative has been focusing on the five areas (4):

  • Corporate happiness and positivity: Guidelines for a corporate happiness culture, happy and positive employees, and indices to measure corporate happiness and positivity.
  • Happiness and positivity council in the federal government: Aligning government policies and services to realise community happiness, under the oversight of a specific council.
  • Happiness and positivity CEO: Appointment of a happiness and positivity CEO to coordinate with the office of the minister of state for happiness and wellbeing, with a brief to engage both public and private entities.
  • Allocate time in federal entities for happiness and positivity activities: Ensure adequate resources and time allocation for initiatives.
  • Happy and positive government offices: Administration to take the lead in initiatives by organising activities and targeted drives to address the results of research and feedback.

Sunil believes that the UAE Government considerably enhanced the ‘buy-in’ of its Happiness and Wellbeing Program by first focusing on enthusiastically adopting the principle of the initiative within internal departments. In his opinion, setting proactive examples has allowed the administration to demonstrate both commitment as well as real-world examples worthy of emulation.

As a country that hosts populations with roots from cultures all over the world, the UAE is in the unique position to lead the world in an emphasis on resident wellbeing and happiness, which can then be adopted more widely across the globe.  

Sunil feels the developer community in the UAE must also contribute to the vision of the nation of Happiness by creating customer-centric projects. He recommends these not only include environmentally sustainable elements in their architecture but also offer occupiers green environs to promote relaxation; retail, fitness and leisure options to support a healthy work-life balance, and aesthetic designs to break the stark monotony of urban habitats. Additionally, he feels pricing projects within the affordable luxury segment to meet the demands of a burgeoning upper middle class could well empower resident happiness.

Sunil believes the trend for ‘Happy Cities’ is set to grow as the technology-led digitisation of Smart Cities creates an emotional attachment vacuum in urban developments. In his opinion, events like the Happy Cities Summit in Amravati, in its second edition this year, and a first-of-its-kind global summit on urban innovation and focused on happiness, are indicative of greater awareness about ‘what makes a city happy’.


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