Gross National Happiness “GNH” is a concept that was developed by Bhutan’s (a small kingdom located at the end of the Himalayas) fourth King Jigme Singye Wagnchuck in 1972. The goal was to create a system to develop the economy that would be based on Bhutan’s spiritual values and culture rather than the Western concept of Gross Domestic Product “GDP” that is more a measurement of materials and products.

Since Bhutan’s announcement of happiness as a measurement of economic growth countries such as Canada, South Korea, and the United Kingdom have developed similar systems to measure the happiness and wellbeing of the people. Now the UAE is joining the happiness movement, in a big way.

On the first day of the World Government Summit Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister of Dubai, announced the largest ever change in the UAE’s Federal Government. Changes included the streamlining of current ministries and included a newly formed UAE Youth National Council, which is to be headed by a 22-year-old female Minister of State. Another big announcement that caught headlines was a brand new role within the UAE Government, “Minister of State for Happiness”.

In last year’s World Happiness Report the UAE was ranked as the happiest country in the Arab World (20th happiest in the world). Even in Dubai Plan 2021’s Sheikh Mohammed’s first objective is quoted as “Achieving people’s happiness.” So why does happiness matter? How does happiness impact the social, economic and political progress of the UAE’s goals and ambitions?

First of all we need to look past the definition of happiness as people walking around with big smiles on their faces and a “Hakuna Matata” outlook on life. Happiness in the sense of a national strategy is more about the outcomes and results that are achieved when citizens and residents of a country are happier.

Several studies have shown that happier people are less likely to get sick, and more likely to live longer lives. Any company CEO will tell you that happy employees are much more engaged, and a study by the University of Warwick showed that happier people are 12% more productive and their unhappy counterparts.

Happier people are more likely to have a positive impact on society, participate in the political process, volunteer and be a source of support in their community. From an individual consumption standpoint research by Cahit Given of Deakin University’s School of Accounting found that happier people are more likely to save more money and less likely to take debts, this could be due to their ability to find happiness in ways other than materialistic means and luxury.

Furthermore countries that have been unable to harness the positive energy of their citizens and allow them to pursue their ambitions have only created frustration and rid entire generations of dreams and hopes for the future. This alone has created a recruitment pipeline for certain groups trying to create instability within the region, and slow down national building and all forms of progress.

The pursuit of happiness at a national level is hard work and not a one size fits all strategy, different things make different people happy. It takes a deeper dive into the lives of people and strong understanding what makes people feel fulfilled in their day-to-day lives. Happiness at a national level is ensuring people know that it is their right to dream big dreams and ensure they have the opportunities to bring those dreams to life. It is a strategy that gives them hope, that with hard work and passion anything is possible, and knowing the government will be a source of support every step of the way.

What I love about the UAE is our leaders ability to identify what’s next for the people, the country and the region. Identifying what we need to do to grow, continue to progress, and inspire our neighbors to do the same. The constant conflicts and wars throughout the region have left millions in despair, with no homes, no security, and worst of all no hope. We are at a turning point in the region where we need to find ways to give people a reason to keep going, a reason to care, and a reason to smile again, a Minister of Happiness might just be the thing this region needs the most.