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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

United in happiness: making the UAE the happiest place on Earth

We speak to Saeed Al Nazari, an Emirati who is on a mission to make the UAE and the Middle East the happiest places in the entire world.
Girls take a selfie photo.  iStock photo
Girls take a selfie photo. iStock photo

Happiness is a state of mind. It’s a domino ­effect. You can find it without having an exact location for it.

These are the sentiments of one of the UAE’s happiest residents, Saeed Al Nazari, an Emirati who proudly has a glass half-full outlook, a keen interest in making people happy and who took it upon himself to approach the Global Happiness Organization’s world body with the view to starting a chapter in the UAE.

“I contacted the Swedish organisation and told them there was an opportunity here in the UAE – the UAE is a model for happiness in the Middle East, and it has aims to be the happiest nation in the whole world,” he says.

His approach was well received, and the UAE chapter was launched this year as part of a movement to spread happiness across the globe.

At the time, the head of the world body, Ludvig Lindstrom, said: “The reason we decided to launch a Global Happiness Organization in the UAE is because of our good contacts with people in the community who are passionate about our work and know a lot about the research behind happiness.”

Lindstrom went on to say: “Al Nazari definitely has the capability of making the organisation take another big step in its journey in creating a happier world.”

Al Nazari, 23, whose first name means happiness in Arabic, says he is very proud of the GHO position he now holds, which is one of many community leadership roles he juggles in between working full-time for the Government.

As its happiness president, it’s his job to ensure the UAE chapter is the best and most attractive in the world.

“When we do something [in the UAE], we usually ensure it is the best,” he says. “We will ensure we embed happiness in every person’s DNA. We will work on community happiness with activities that generate happiness in the community … then we will focus more on corporate happiness, ­because if a person doesn’t feel happy at work, he won’t feel happy at home.”

Happiness is considered very important here, so much so that the UAE Government launched an initiative aimed at measuring its people’s happiness and satisfaction when it comes to Government services.

When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched his Dubai 2021 report last year, his first ­objective was to “achieve people’s ­happiness”.

Lauded as one of the few global leaders putting his community’s well-being at the forefront of his Government’s decisions, Sheikh Mohammed was quoted at the time as saying: “We shall start with government departments – our goal is that the private sector will be included ... to develop the experience of a distinguished and high quality of life for nationals and residents alike.”

The focus seems to be working. Just a few weeks ago, the UN World Happiness Report pegged the UAE as the happiest nation in the Arab world for the third consecutive year, 20th globally ahead of Oman (22), Qatar (28), Saudi Arabia (35), Kuwait (39) and Bahrain (49).

Aside from the rankings, the UN’s report also noted that “increasing happiness is considered a proper measure of social progress” – unrivalled progress is one of Al Nazari and his team’s goals.

“I can’t do it myself,” he says. “I usually trust a team, and I have a team of volunteers. Most of them work full-time. We meet in the ­afternoons or on the weekends … and years from now, we can look back and be happy with what we have achieved.”

According to Al Nazari, who studied human resource management and foreign policy at New York University and spent many of his formative years focused on the well-being of others, being happy is essentially up to us.

“Happiness is all about our own decisions; it is about what we do, and again, global studies show that happiness is a domino effect. If you are happy, you make another person happy, that person becomes happier and it creates a happiness ecosystem.”

He believes this is embedded in the UAE’s culture. “Since the birth of the world, we have this culture. If there is a poor person, we give them money. It is based on our ­Islamic culture. The founder of our country did it. If there is someone in need, we cover their need; if they require something, we will always be there.”

He refutes the suggestion that happiness is linked to money. “If we look at the happiness index, the countries that are rich are far behind the UAE in terms of happiness. If you compare the United States from 20 years ago to now, people are wealthier now, getting a better lifestyle, but if you compare the happiness index, they are going down.

“Every year, they are getting lower in terms of their happiness. They have a lot of issues with their lifestyle or with their relationship with their leaders, with their government – all of these things affect their happiness.”

Al Nazari knows that people face challenges in their lives every day, and that happiness in the workplace can play a sizeable role in our contentment.

“Many companies focus or invest a lot of procedures, a lot of documents majoring in performance management … but we should never miss the human part of the human resources,” he says. “The things that make people happy are not things they are forced to do; none of the happiest people in the world were forced to do anything.”

So, who and what inspires Al Nazari’s happiness?

“What makes me happy is first achieving my dreams, and secondly, making the people I care about and love happy.

“My father and mother tried very hard to make me happy in every aspect of my life and they gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted.

“And the Prophet Mohammed’s stories, his quotes, his goal, was to make the whole generation a happy generation. In the Quran, he says don’t be sad, whenever we work on something, we should be happy with it. And treat people the way we like to be treated.”

As head of the UAE Global Happiness chapter, Al Nazari plans to help breed greater happiness across the region.

“The Global Happiness Organization will make people aware about happiness; we will show them they can find happiness in the simplest ways and how they can find happiness within themselves,” he says. “What we want to do is let the happiness topic be the trendy topic here ... we are seeing the desert transforming.”

mhealy@thenational.ae