How happy people are varies significantly by region, city, and even neighbourhood, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.
Researchers at the Vancouver School of Economics are analyzing data looking at life satisfaction across more than 1,200 urban and rural neighbourhoods and communities in Canada. The data reveals that, on average, people living in cities have significantly lower life satisfaction than rural dwellers.
John Helliwell, professor emeritus and one of the researchers, explains the research.
What factors determine if a neighbourhood or community is happy or not?
One way of looking at what makes for a happier or a less happy community is to see what, on average, distinguishes the happiest 20 per cent of communities from the least happy 20 per cent. With all neighbourhoods, urban and rural, taken together, the biggest difference between the happiest and least happy is the extent to which people feel a sense of belonging in their communities.
Other factors, like average incomes and unemployment rates, do not differ between the happiest and least happy neighbourhoods. The happier communities have, on average, lower commute times, and fewer people who spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. On average, people living in cities have significantly lower life satisfaction than rural dwellers, despite their higher levels of income, employment and education.
Those living in more rural communities have more sense of community belonging, as well as lower housing costs that require a smaller share of their incomes, shorter commuting times, and have lived for longer at the same address.
How was this research carried out?
We drew data from several cycles of the Canadian Community Health surveys and the General Social Survey, both conducted by Statistics Canada. The key happiness question asks people how satisfied they are with their lives as a whole, on a scale where zero means extremely dissatisfied and 10 means extremely satisfied. We divided the country up into communities by adding together smaller census units, such as census tracts in the cities and regional in the rural areas, to provide a minimum of 250 respondents in each neighbourhood, corresponding to an average population of about 20,000. Using census divisions allowed our data for life satisfaction to be combined with a lot of other variables drawn directly from the census, based on data from the whole population. Statistics Canada provided much assistance to us, and in turn we are making the data available for researchers everywhere to use.
What are the happiest neighbourhoods or communities? And the least happy?
According to our data, the happiest community in Canada is Neebing, Ont. Not far behind is Shippagan, N.B., Channel-Port-aux Basques, Nfld., Hope, B.C., St. Anthony, Nfld., and Souris, P.E.I. Meanwhile, the least happy communities are generally neighbourhoods within larger cities, in particular Hamilton, Winnipeg, Surrey, Toronto, Peterborough and Missisauga. One of the important features of these new data is the wide range of neighbourhood happiness within the same metropolitan area.
What can other communities and neighbourhoods that are less happy learn from these findings to boost happiness and wellbeing for their residents?
The common element, for happier communities large and small, spread-out or compact, is a sense of community belonging. Other research— including that to be discussed at the June 7 panel on fostering happier cities— has shown that trust, involvement, and a chance to join with others engaged in improving lives are all connected, with each adding happiness. Planners and neighbours need to think of creating times and spaces for these connections to flourish, whether in the laneway, around the corner, or across town.
The paper, “How happy are your neighbours? Variation in life satisfaction among 1,200 Canadian neighbourhoods and communities,” can be viewed here.
A public panel with world-leading experts on happiness research takes place at UBC on Thursday, June 7. The panel, Happy How-To: From Happiness Research to Happier Cities, will discuss the latest research on happiness and how to translate this work into actionable ideas. The panel is free but registration is required.
Register here: https://bit.ly/2IxEnlb