Just happy to be here – 92 per cent of Canadians satisfied with their lives

A new study of life satisfaction in Canada finds that among the provinces, Prince Edward Island takes the happiness crown.

A new study of life satisfaction in Canada finds that among the provinces, Prince Edward Island takes the happiness crown.

The study released Tuesday by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards found that on a scale of one to five, the average level of happiness among Canadians aged 20 and over was 4.26 in 2007-08.

At the provincial level, life satisfaction was highest in P.E.I. at 4.33 and lowest in Ontario at 4.23.

Andrew Sharpe, the centre’s executive director, said P.E.I. had a number of factors going in its favour that resulted in a slightly higher level of happiness than the national average. These included a strong sense of community belonging, less stress and fewer recent immigrants.

Recent immigrants — defined as having migrated within the last nine years — are found to be less happy compared to non-immigrants. Sharpe said the unhappiness among immigrants may be linked to their employment status.

The study found being out of work had a negative impact on people’s happiness. Relative to household income, moving from unemployment to employment has the same impact on happiness as a 151 per cent increase in income for the average person.

“We all know that (immigrants) suffer from high unemployment or they often are underemployed or they basically are out of the labour force completely because they’ve just given up, so I think that is linked to the problems of adapting to Canada in the short-term,” Sharpe said.

In 2009, 92.1 per cent of the population aged 12 and over were either satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, up slightly from 91.4 per cent in 2008. The study also looked at factors influencing the happiness or life satisfaction of Canadians, and found that it’s not all about money.

In fact, household income was found to carry less economic significance for happiness than other variables like mental health.

A sense of belonging to the local community was a key determinant of individual life satisfaction, while high stress levels were linked to lower life satisfaction.

Sharpe said while there aren’t major differences in mental health across the country, there’s more of a sense of belonging in Atlantic Canada, smaller urban centres or rural areas than the big cities.

“People feel more attached to the community in smaller places and therefore that contributes to overall happiness.”

While those with higher incomes are happier than lower-income earners, Sharpe said they found it’s not an individual’s absolute income that matters for happiness as much as how it compares relative to others.

“If all your co-workers get a raise and you don’t, you’re not going to be as happy, whereas if you basically suffer a decline in income, your boss cuts your wages but he cuts everyone else’s wages (so) that they’re about the same, there’s no real difference,” Sharpe said.

“So it’s kind of ironic that basically it’s relative income more than absolute income that’s really crucial. Many studies have found that so it’s not new, but we have evidence of that.”

The study was based on data gathered by the Canadian Community Health Survey from Statistics Canada.

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