Survey: Happiness in the UAE in 2020

Well, you've never been happier... Not since we started measuring anyway... Not the result we were expecting if we were honest, although we can find plausible explanations.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Well that's more than a little odd. Despite Covid-19, lockdowns, the world teetering on recession, and a general meltdown, UAE residents (those that have remained) have never been happier.

Top line data shows a movement over the last three years from those saying they are Happy, to those saying they are Very Happy. There is also an almost perfectly linear fall in those saying they are Unhappy. We have the benefit of having been through the data, and spoiler alert, we can see that while few of us would claim things are perfect in the UAE, there is  a definite sense the UAE is one of the better places in the world to be. Only a handful of respondents think their home country has handled Covid-19 better.

The data also seems to suggest that in challenging years (like 2020) we place more value what we have, while in better times we seem to covet what we don't.

Most strikingly in the top level data for 2020 survey is no one said they were Very Unhappy. This is a number that has been in decline since 2018. To some degree this is unsurprising - very few people are in the country because they have to be. Also falling for a third year is the number of respondents saying they are Unhappy, falling from almost 17% in 2018, to 11% in 2019 to just 7% in 2020. That leaves 93% of respondents in the UAE saying they feel at various shades of happy.

Most encouragingly, the number of respondents saying they are Very Happy has doubled, to 40%, in two years.

We suspect in addition to just a better appreciation of the UAE as a place to ride out the storm, the numbers can also be explained, to some degree, by population movement, with an outflow of those who were less happy. That just logically leaves a higher percentage of those better able to appreciate what the UAE has to offer behind.

Demographics, as we have seen over the last three years, clearly affects happiness. Most importantly is age. With the exception of grumpy teens who are the unhappiest of all groups, the younger the respondents the happier they are. The nuance in the data is that those saying they are Very Happy actually increases with age. Unfortunately so too does the number of respondents saying they are Unhappy. 

Money also matters, although the relationship is less obvious that it has been in previous surveys. The sweet spot seems to be for those earning between 30,000 and 75,000 AED per month. Unhappiness rises again past this point, perhaps precisely because because money is no longer... the point.

Finally, different nationalities record different happiness levels, although whilst there will be something in national disposition, we should also acknowledge that all these factors are interrelated. To generalise, Americans and Europeans have tended to be more senior hires, older, more experienced and therefore better remunerated. The exception would probably be those from the UK, who are in the UAE en masse and represented at all levels.

The Happiness stats from the 2020 survey reflect a country that has so far traversed a difficult terrain extraordinarily well, an achievement recognised by its population. Covid-19 is of course continuing into 2021, and no one would suggest job done. What we can say is so far so very good, and with the vaccination drive in overdrive, we can all hope Q3 and Q4, with the final arrival of the Expo, will be the start of something new...


Happiness 2020: So, who got the pay rise?
Happiness 2020: UAE gains strength during Covid crisis
Happiness 2020: Is growing up in the UAE a good thing?
Happiness 2020: Expo excitement building at last!
Happiness 2020: How has the UAE handled the covid crisis?

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