The results have now been published for the government’s new Happiness And Wellbeing Survey. In terms of age, both the youngest and older retired people in our society seem to be the happiest – as may be expected.
In terms of geographic location, a strong pattern emerged across the country, with more rural areas having a higher index of happiness, while the least happy were found to be the larger built up conurbations. The Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles up there in the north of Scotland (and in the case of the Western Islands, to the west of it) scored the highest rate of happiness. London (especially East London), West Midlands, Central Scotland and South Wales scored the least.
The factors that led to this are complicated and very varied, but it could be partly due to rural areas having a slower pace of life, lots of greenery (which is said to lower blood pressure), less noise and a strong community. At the other end of the spectrum, areas such as East London, West Midlands and South Wales are all large built up areas (though South Wales also has much greenery in its valleys), that are suffering from economic decline, higher unemployment, more transient population (in many instances) and more noise.
This of course is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. Indeed, as already stated, though South Wales is a former highly industrialised area, there is also much greenery, large parts of East London have been regenerated for the Olympics and there can be very strong communities in many major cities. At the other rural end of the spectrum, areas such as Shetland can be extremely bleak in the winter months, people can be very isolated (especially if they live on a farm or other rural property without close neighbours and even many villages can be like ghost towns), while crime can also be surprisingly high in many rural areas (with a recent marked increase in the theft of farming equipment and fuel).
Though not all areas can be treated as one and ‘tarred with the same brush’ the pattern revealed in this survey does show that areas that tend to be more built-up and industrialised (including many formerly strong industrial areas), do have populations that are less happy than those living in more rural areas – especially if the latter are more affluent.
Alongside the expected, there were some interesting results. Suffolk people seem to be far happier than their neighbours to the south in Essex, to the north in Norfolk and to the west in Cambridgeshire (a very unhappy county and contradicting other studies). Also surprising was that the residents of East Sussex seemed far less happy than the people in neighbouring Kent, Surrey and West Sussex. Surprising too was the relative unhappiness of Somerset to its neighbours (not including Bristol) and the stark contrast between Cumbria (which scored highly on the index) and neighbouring Northumberland (markedly unhappier than its neighbour).
While interesting to study, many of the results were expected, though as stated above, there were some interesting findings. It would also be interesting to see how these results change over time and if there are differences if the survey is taken at different times of the year – Would Shetland and Orkney residents really be all that happy in the middle of winter?