Sorry city dwellers, Canadians are happier living in small towns: report

Canadian researchers are suggesting that happiness is easier to attain in rural areas and small towns. Getty Images

Canadians living in big cities may be disappointed to learn that their counterparts in small towns and rural areas are likely happier.

That’s according to researchers at McGill University in Montreal and the Vancouver School of Economics, who took a look at the happiness level of Canadians across Canada.

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They did that by compiling 400,000 responses from the Canadian Community Health Survey and the General Social Survey. They took a total of 1,215 communities from across the country into account.

Researchers then analyzed respondents’ answers on overall life satisfaction, matching them up with census data from Statistics Canada.

They looked at which communities were happiest and least happy — and what characteristics those regions had.

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After all that, the paper explained that one trend was apparent: “Life is significantly less happy in urban areas.”

Specifically, they found that the population in the least happy communities was more than eight times higher than in the happiest ones.

Lack of community bond

The paper explained that city dwellers tend to be more unhappy, despite having higher incomes, lower unemployment rates and higher education.

But perhaps the explanation lies in having a lack of community. Researchers noted that city dwellers are more likely to have moved recently, and have a lesser sense of belonging.

Lesli Musicar, a Toronto-based therapist, explained that a larger population often means “there isn’t the same feeling of safety.”

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“People are generally less trusting,” Musicar said. “There’s a heterogeneous population, it’s not a homogeneous population, it’s not like in a small town where there is a lot more commonality.”

Musicar said that can mean prejudices exist, but the best solution is simply getting to know one another. One way of doing that is getting involved in community events.

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The paper also added that cities tend to have more newcomers or foreign-born citizens, which Musicar says can be a difficult experience.

“The new immigrant experience can be a very traumatic experience — the culture shock, the language, the uprooting and trying to re-establish yourself. It’s a huge stress.”

Other factors that may be hurting happiness

And there are housing prices, which are significantly higher in urban areas.

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“The proportion of those spending more than 30 per cent of their incomes on housing is significantly higher in the urban areas,” the paper explained.

There are several other differences among city and rural communities. Rural-area dwellers are more likely to have some sort of religious affiliation, the paper notes.

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And commute times in cities are also higher — duration of travel is an average of 15 minutes in rural areas versus 22 minutes in cities. The paper explains that a dense population in cities may also affect commute quality.

Along with higher commute times, Musicar says those living in cities may have less time with nature.

“Nature can have a huge impact on people’s mental health. When we’re in the city, we don’t necessarily feel that connection.”

Researchers explain, however, that there are levels of happiness within each type of community. The happiest urban communities are almost as happy as their rural counterparts. But the least happy urban communities are “substantially less happy” than the rural equivalent.

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Quebec is the happiest

When it comes to the happiest part of Canada, researchers said Quebec is a clear winner.

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It notes that while big cities are hardly “happy havens,” Quebec City is the happiest among them.

The academic paper notes that the province of Quebec has been found to be the happiest in past research as well, and has a generally upward trend in life satisfaction.

READ MORE: Canada is the 7th happiest country in the world, according to World Happiness Index

Canada’s happiness ranking in the world

The World Happiness Report, which was published in March, ranked 156 countries by happiness levels, based on factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption.

It found Canada to be in 7th place, with Finland taking the top spot.

Canada was in 7th place in last year’s report as well. This year, Canada scored 7.3. Finland’s score is 7.6.

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