The Science of Needs

The Happiness Agenda adopts a globally unique approach to transforming the happiness of the whole city that is firmly rooted in science. The Happiness Agenda expands on traditional approaches to societal well-being, introducing a requirement for meeting individuals’ essential daily life needs, to encompass the whole city experience. To achieve happiness at a city level, the Happiness Agenda sets forth a series of programs designed to discover, influence and satisfy individuals’ affective, basic, cognitive and deeper needs — the essential ingredients for happiness.


People need opportunities to be happy in the moment. We are focusing on making those moments possible.

An individual’s affective, or emotional response to a stimulus, determines how her or she will react to a situation. Affect is an evaluative system which will lead to an approach-avoidance response. Affect is one component of Subjective Well Being, allowing a person to experience positive emotions. To satisfy individual’s affective needs, the Happiness Agenda will seek to provide opportunities that lead to positive emotions & feelings such as fun, joy, and other pleasures.


 In celebration of International Cookie Day, a service center distributes free cookies to all visitors, and encourage visitors to take photos of their cookies to share on social media.

Why? Visitors get to enjoy a yummy cookies and the thrill of sharing a photo on social media – and the “likes” that provide a quick happiness burst as an instant result of sharing.

  • Value-add: Encourage employees to bake the cookies together, and distribute these homebaked cookies instead. Employees will benefit in the long-term from strengthened bonds formed by working together on a project for the benefit of others.
  • Value-add: Encourage visitors to share a small donation to a local charity in ‘exchange’ for the free cookies. Visitors will benefit from enriched spiritual well-being from doing good for others.


Satisfying people’s basic service needs is the first duty of a city. Happiness and well-being must build from there.

Living in a city, people have a lot of basic needs regarding services. From water and electricity, to reliable transportation, to healthcare and an internet connection. At the most elemental level, people need to know that the service is available, and how to access it. By extension, people need a service that is efficient, convenient, and easy to use. Even greater value is derived from services that are personal, automatic or transparent. Further positive value may be derived by a reduction in cost of time and money.

The Happiness Agenda seeks to meet people’s basic needs by providing people the ability to access services in an easy and convenient way. Satisfying individual’s basic needs provides the platform on which people can achieve a higher frequency of positive emotions and sustained emotional well-being.


A government department releases a smartphone application that makes bill-payments easier and less expensive for their customers, since they will save time and transportation costs to travel to a service center.

Why? Customers will benefit from a new, easier and convenient method for accomplishing a basic service, freeing up time and money to focus on other activities.

  •  Value-add: Incorporate surprise prizes and rewards into the mobile app.  Users will be delighted by the ‘random’ prize (such as coupons or discounts) earned from using the app.



People who are satisfied with their quality of life are more likely to feel positive in new situations.

Subjective Well-Being (SWB) is equated to the sum of Affective & Cognitive needs and cognition is a process that is related to assessment, and is for interpretation and understanding. With respect to Well-being, this can be related, for example, to a person’s assessment of their ‘Satisfaction with Life.'

Helping people make positive assessment of their lives in important domains; for example work, health, family, housing & income, can lead to improved overall perception of well-being. The Happiness Agenda therefore seeks to help people achieve a high sense of well-being and satisfaction with their lives, in turn enhancing individuals long-term and short-term happiness.


A government department releases a ‘friendly neighborhood’ policy designed to strengthen social bonds between neighbors through activities like holiday parties; neighborhood festivals; and community meet-ups. 

Why? Individuals benefit most when social bonds in their community are strongest. Opportunities to develop strong friendships, or strong relationships with colleagues, contribute to individual’s overall life satisfaction. A happy community is more resilient. 

  • Value-add: Give community members an opportunity to have say in the future of their community: if a new development is being proposed in their neighborhood, provide an opportunity for members to view and comment on the build plans in the early stages of development. Individuals benefit from having an input of the communities in which they live.


People’s desire to achieve a sense of meaning and purpose in life is a driving force for sustained happiness.

Aside from functional needs, people also have needs associated with deeper meaning and purpose in life. Individuals who have discovered their own sense of meaning and purpose and more likely to experience a state of ‘flow,’ characterised by intense and joyous focus on a particular task, to the exclusion of all other needs. Such needs may also be related to people actualising their true self.

The Happiness Agenda will aim to support people in engaging and meaningful activities that maximize their sense of purpose and pleasure.


A government department commits 1% of their annual budget for a merit-based scholarship fund for city residents to support their pursuit of eligible passion-projects, including projects in the arts (writing, art, music) and innovation (research, product development). 

Why? Individuals are happiest when they are engaged in personally meaningful activities that maximize their sense of purpose. A scholarship fund provides individuals the opportunity to pursue these opportunities by taking care of some of the basic needs that often stand in our way.

  • Value-add: Provide a communal space where individuals who are working are their passion projects can meet and collaborate. Individuals benefit from opportunities to engage with like-minded peers.
  • Value-add: Host an annual banquet or exhibition where individuals can present the results of their projects to public audiences. Individuals benefit from recognition for work that they are passionate about.