Should Every Country Have a Happiness Strategy?

What the Global Happiness Policy Report Tells Us About Happiness Around the World

When I suggest that going to Dubai will make you happier, I’m not being glib. Of course, the aquamarine oceans, tropical palm trees, world-class food and that state of awe you feel whilst feasting your eyes on some of the most prolific architectural feats in history should provide you with at least a modicum of enjoyment. But, when I say that heading over to Dubai (a 14-hour excursion from my takeoff point in Toronto, Canada) will make you happy, these are not the primary reasons for embarking on this annual trip.


The reason I felt so uplifted leaving Dubai this week was rooted in hope. Hope for a future where global leaders are incorporating happiness and well-being into their countries’ policies and economic strategies. Hope for a future that includes a “we” not an “us” and “them”. And, a hope for a future that believes an increase in our Gross Domestic Product shouldn’t come at the cost of our Gross National Happiness.


world-happiness-summit-panel-discussion.jpgDr. Martine Durand, Hadley Gamble, Dr. Robert Diener, Dr. Aisha Bin Bashir and Dr. John Helliwell. (From left to right)


It is obviously still in its infancy. The UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the appointment of Her Excellency Ohoud Al Roumi as the country's first Minister of State for Happiness only two years ago in February at the first World Government Summit. This means there are plenty of opportunities for learning, iteration and growth – but the foundation and financial commitment is strongly in place to make happiness a priority in the UAE a long-term goal.  After spending four days at the World Government Summit(WGS) in my role as a committee member of the Global Happiness Council (GHC), I realized that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making a solid effort to bring the topic of happiness into the forefront of our global discussions.

It also means that Dr. Ohoud Al Roumi is responsible to "align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction." Last year at the World Government Summit she launched the Global Happiness Council, tasked to create the first ever Global Happiness Policy Report. Chaired by SDSN’s Jeffrey Sachs, the report is intended to be a companion to the World Happiness Report (WHR). Decoding the who and why countries are happy – the Global Happiness Policy Report helps to fill the gap on the how to help countries in well-being with the science of happiness and policy applications. It was officially presented to the world on February 10, 2018 at the WSG in Dubai.



As the Cofounder and Chief Communications Officer at Plasticity Labs and Author of Unlocking Happiness at Work, I was involved in reviewing and contributing feedback to Chapter 5, Work and Well-being: A Global Perspective led by the esteemed economist from Oxford Said Business School, Dr. Jan-Emmanuel de Neve. The report includes the following chapters:

  • Good Governance in the 21st Century by Jeffrey Sachs
  • Global Happiness Policy Synthesis 2018 by John Helliwell
  • Mental Illness Destroys Happiness and Is Costless To Treat by Richard Layard
  • Positive Education by Martin Seligman and Alejandro Alder
  • Work and Well-being: A Global Perspective by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
  • Social Well-Being: Research and Policy by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
  • Happy Cities in a Smart World by Aisha Bin Bishr
  • Countries’ Experiences with Well-being and Happiness Metrics by Martine Durand

The workplace happiness chapter captured some highly insightful and provocative research. Here is a small sampling of those insights.

First, being employed significantly contributes to our happiness and unemployment significantly detracts from our happiness. Makes sense. However, according to the report, unemployment has a devastating effect on people’s well-being and proves to leaves a permanent scar even after one regains employment. Research shows that people who have been unemployed typically do not return to the happiness level they had before their unemployment episode (Clark et al., 2001).

Of course, it may not come as a surprise that the report found pay to be an important determinant of job satisfaction. And, this is universal – we saw this as a priority for employees in all industries, across the globe. However, pay is not the most important determination of job satisfaction as once a foregone conclusion in developing compensation packages. In fact, it ranks third, behind interpersonal relationships at work and having an interesting job. In the report we discuss additional factors to happiness (or unhappiness at work) in more depth and you’d be surprised by what we learned. Topics like work/life (im)balance, job security, stress and advancement are explored (among others) while offering a robust picture on the state of global workplace well-being. (Feel free to download the workplace chapter here and the full report here.)

Some will ask, why should we invest in the future of happiness when there are so many problems impacting us right now. When countries are at war and people are dying from starvation, doesn’t this seem like a Pollyanna approach to solving these global problems?

All fair questions.

Here is why I believe we need to proactively imbed happiness into the fabric of our government, our academic institutions, our economic policies, and our corporate governance.  



The Minister’s reason for initiating this gathering of scientists, researchers and industry experts was a belief that “through our discussions we have come to one common conclusion; happiness is not a luxury for people, happiness is a fundamental human goal.”

In her session entitled 'The Global Happiness Outlook', Al Roumi said: "We are here to move from great ideas to great policies and we are here to move from great policies to achieving impact in every home, workplace and community."

Leaders at the highest levels of government from around the world were sharing research and data that clearly demonstrated the benefits to their deeply imbedded happiness strategies, rooted in policy-making and economic process.

Malcom Gladwell

The proof that wellness can be explained from every industry with real-world, practical examples showed up in almost every talk. From Malcolm Gladwell, who shared research out of Stanford that analyzes teacher value and impact. Dr. Hanushek states that a “good” (high-performing) teacher has the capacity to teach 18 months’ worth of curriculum in one year. It that same teacher is not a high-performing teacher, a student will get access to only six months of learning. Since happiness and healthiness is a leading indicator of performance, this is significant to the value we place on developing well-being strategies in schools.


Martin Seligman, Jennifer Moss, Goldie Hawn, and Michelle McQuaid. (From left to right)

To Goldie Hawn who shared her work at the Hawn Foundation. The MindUp program teaches mindfulness in schools across 11 countries, including here in Canada. She shared with me that she is witnessing an incredible shift in students who have trained their brains to improve executive brain function on the school yard. It’s reducing or even eliminating bullying in many instances, starting as early as Junior Kindergarten.

Arianna Huffington spoke about imbedding humanity into technology that helps us to turn off. She urged the audience to end the glamorization of leaders for always being on, and as a result, being perpetually burnt out. “Instead, let’s start glamorizing leaders who can prioritize.” Arianna says.  

Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, stated that, “technology, unless it serves humanity is without purpose. Our purpose is to help the world run better.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the guest country at the Summit in Dubai and spoke to thousands about the progress his country is making. “The goal of human existence is not just progress, but the creation of happiness. Happiness is man's greatest wealth." Modi stands by those words. He’s instituted a minister of yoga and alternative medicine and has initiated an annual international yoga day. India is also slowly increasing its GDP ranking and the country moves up 30 points to 100th spot in World Bank’s ease of doing business list – proving that well-being initiatives at the policy level help versus hinder progress.

The WGS is now in its sixth year. The 2018 Summit hosted 130 speakers and 120 sessions mostly focused on shaping governments. There were over 4000 attendees that consisted of some of the most recognized scientists and researchers, economists and political leaders. Celebrity influencers and activists like Robert DeNiro, and Goldie Hawn were in attendance and UAE royal family also participated. Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, Chairperson of International Humanitarian City and a United Nations Messenger of Peace shared her inspiring message of hope to summit attendees.



The GHC will be working diligently to converting the best of these ideas into reality with the support of an action plan - practical guides for implementation.

At Plasticity Labs, our objective is clear. Help governments understand the benefits of imbedding a happiness policy at the highest of their administrations and clearly support their efforts to build a strategic plan.  

In the end, if we all honestly agree that happiness is a fundamental human right, then I must pose the following question to all of you political leaders waiting in the wings.  

What are you waiting for?


Jennifer Moss