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Downtown Sherbrooke, Que., in this 2006 file photo. At the municipal level, a study says residents of Sherbrooke have the highest life satisfaction. Overall, people living in Prince Edward Island were the happiest. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail)
Downtown Sherbrooke, Que., in this 2006 file photo. At the municipal level, a study says residents of Sherbrooke have the highest life satisfaction. Overall, people living in Prince Edward Island were the happiest. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail)

Economy Lab

Be happy - move to Sherbrooke Add to ...

The old adage about money not buying happiness might be right.



A sweeping study of Canadians has found other factors, like mental and physical health, stress levels, and a sense of belonging to a community, are more important determinants of happiness than income.



The findings come as a growing number of academics and economists are investigating happiness and its determinants -- though there is plenty of debate, and some skepticism, on methodologies. It comes a year after a report commissioned by French President Nicholas Sarkozy recommended greater emphasis be placed on happiness relative to GDP in the development of public policy.



The study, by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in partnership with the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, explored factors influencing the happiness or life satisfaction of Canadians. It's based on data for 70,000 Canadians from Statistics Canada's community health survey.



It's meant to explore the "happiness landscape" in Canada, quantifying the variables that determine happiness, and explain the variation in happiness across provinces, cities and health regions.



Here are a few of the Canadian study's findings:



  • Unemployment, obviously, affects people's happiness. The study quantifies just how much: moving from unemployment to employment has the same impact on happiness as a 151-per-cent increase in income for the average person.


  • A sense of belonging to their local community is a key part of life satisfaction. A one-unit increase in sense of belonging (measured on a 4-point scale) increases the proportion of individuals that are very satisfied with life by 6.5 percentage points. That translates into a 116-per-cent increase in income for the average person.


  • Mental health and stress has a huge bearing on happiness. As measured on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is poor mental health and 5 is excellent mental health, each one-unit increase in mental health on happiness is equivalent to a 309-per-cent increase in household income on happiness.


  • In a similar scale, each one-unit increase in stress is equivalent to the effect of a 136-per-cent decrease on happiness for the average person's income.


  • Income also plays a role, though the study contends it's less important than the above factors. It says a 10-per-cent boost in household income from the mean increases the proportion of individuals that are very satisfied with life by just 0.6 percentage points.


  • Prince Edward Islanders are the happiest in the country, while Ontarians are the least happy. At the municipal level, residents in Sherbrooke, Quebec, have the highest life satisfaction while people in Toronto have the lowest.


  • Canadians are consistently pretty happy. As of last year, 92.1 per cent of the population 12 and over reported that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, a level that hasn't budged since 2003 -- despite the recent recession.


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