Where do people have the highest life-satisfaction rate? Well, according to a recent Canadian study, those who live in less-populated areas tend to have happier lives than those who are in the most densely-populated places.
What's so great out in the country?
A team of happiness researchers at Vancouver School of Economics and McGill University set out to answer this, and found a rather amazing set of results.
Their chief finding is a striking association between population density - the concentration of people in a given area - and happiness. When the researchers ranked all 1,215 communities by average happiness, they found that average population density in the 20 percent most miserable communities was more than eight times greater than in the happiest 20 percent of communities.
The paper concluded by stating "Life is significantly less happy in urban areas."
Absolutely astonishing. With all the things that urban life claims to offer (social life, events, good food places, ease of access, etc.), all of that just does not seem to be enough to make the majority of people living there happy. Honestly, though, when I really think about it, I don't find the results to be all that surprising.
So what do the more rural areas have going for them?
Aside from fewer people, the authors found that the happiest communities had shorter commute times and less expensive housing, and that a smaller share of the population was foreign-born. They also found that people in the happiest communities are less transient than in the least happy communities, that they are more likely to attend church, and that they are significantly more likely to feel a "sense of belonging" in their communities.
Think about how city people tend to live. Do they talk to their neighbors, or even know their first names? Many times not. But in rural areas, even if your neighbors are a half a mile away, you might see them fairly frequently.
There's also another interesting observation the researchers had about their study participants' work and earnings.
Perhaps even more surprising are the factors that don't appear to play a major role in community-level differences in happiness: average income levels and rates of unemployment and education. People may move to cities for good-paying jobs, but the Canadian study strongly suggests it's not making them any happier.
The findings in this study line up with what American studies have shown: living further from a city correlates to higher levels of happiness.
Does this mean no one can be happy in a city? Of course not, but the studies do provide some insight about what really makes us happy. It's not about a lot of money and things to do, but about being connected with other people in a solid community. Cities apparently don't offer that in the kind of ways that rural areas can.