UAE Government aims for happiness top 10
Government officials are teaming up with experts to try to boost the UAE's ranking in a global happiness survey in an effort to drive foreign direct investment.
The aim is to improve quality of life of both locals and expatriates, while making the country a more attractive place for prospective investors.
The Emirates Competitiveness Council (ECC) is targeting a place in the top 10 of the World Happiness Report, an annual index comparing the well-being of people in various countries according to factors ranging from income to life expectancy.
It has enlisted the help of the University of British Columbia's Earth Institute, which produces the report, to advise on policies to improve the UAE's ranking from 17th last year, the highest in the Arab world.
This year's gauge is released on September 8.
"When you speak to an investor they will always ask questions like how safe is your country, what is the standard of living, are there good schools? These are important for their quality of life," said Abdullah Lootah, the secretary general of the ECC, the federal agency whose remit includes helping to drive investment.
"Competitiveness rankings can be taken by officials as a third-party proof point that shows how the UAE is performing."
Well-being has emerged as an alternative indicator for measuring the competitiveness of a country, to traditional gauges such as GDP and inflation. Personal income, life expectancy, social connectivity, trust in government and public authorities, and generosity are among the measures used in the World Happiness Report.
The UAE has stepped up its focus on improving the lives of citizens against a backdrop of instability in other parts of the region.
A government-backed fund has been set up to tackle in-debtedness among Emiratis, while last week the President's committee approved grants of Dh243 million (US$66.2m) for education, employment and housing in the Northern Emirates.
"The UAE has been a very peaceful part of the region and lives have been happier here than in other parts of the region," said John Helliwell, the co-author of the World Happiness Report. "One of the reasons for that probably is that there are higher levels of social connections, trust in government and each other, the police and generosity."
Mr Helliwell was a keynote speaker at the UAE's first Quality of Life Conference in Ajman in March, aimed at highlighting the extent of progress in improving residents' happiness and well-being, especially in the less wealthy Northern Emirates.
"Natural resources are different between different emirates but these are not the only indicators of happiness," said Saeed Al Matroushi, the secretary general of the Ajman Executive Council.
"People here are sharing these resources and people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are sharing those resources."
Still, wealth is not considered the most important factor in determining happiness.
"If you look at what determines the happiness of the four most happy countries and the four most unhappy countries, income explains less than a quarter of the difference in happiness," said Mr Helliwell.
"Other important factors include a healthy life expectancy and the most important factor is social connections, so having someone to count on in times of trouble."
Last year, Denmark was ranked the happiest nation and Togo the least contented.
Better way of life, b4
Updated: April 1, 2013 04:00 AM