Most of Canada's other major cities trailed well behind Ottawa, with — wait for it — Toronto and Vancouver being the least happy.
People who don’t live here might claim that Ottawa is cold and boring, but new data suggest the city has its own reasons to smile.
In a study released by Statistics Canada, Ottawa ranked in the top 10 happiest out of 33 metropolitan areas across the country.
The survey asked 340,000 people across the country to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of one to 10. On average, Ottawaans rated their life satisfaction at 8.1.
This was high enough to rank Ottawa 10th overall — the highest out of any metropolitan area with a population over one million.
John Helliwel, a life satisfaction researcher at University of British Columbia, said Tuesday that “it’s harder in big, fast cities to provide the kinds of social contact to support a happy life.”
Ottawa provides the economic benefits of living in a city, but its pace isn’t quite as rushed as some of Canada’s other metropolitan areas.
“In smaller communities, people have a chance to make the people they meet in the streets their friends rather than just people they’re going past,” said Helliwell.
Ottawa might not be quite as small a community as cities such as No. 1-ranked Saguenay, Que., but it does offer a more intimate approach to city life. Most of Canada’s other major cities trailed well behind Ottawa, with — wait for it — Toronto and Vancouver being the least happy.
When the statistics were adjusted to individual social and economic context, Ottawa fell behind Montreal among big cities, but still ranked high.
One reason behind the city’s happiness could be a strong sense of community. Helliwell said some of the most important aspects of life satisfaction are “knowing your neighbour, trusting your neighbour, time spent with family and friends, and feeling a belonging in your community,”
Seventy per cent of people in Ottawa ranked their life satisfaction at eight or higher. Only 12.4 per cent rated it at zero to six. Only six cities had a lower percentage of people giving low ratings.
Lower happiness can often relate to financial issues, and lack of social support. “Across the world, countries where many people feel they have no one to call on at times of trouble are unhappy countries,” Helliwell said.
When stacked against the 2013 World Happiness Report, Ottawa’s happiness comes out higher than any individual country — including Canada.
Not feeling as happy as the rest of the city? Helliwell said his research has found certain things make people happier.
One thing that Helliwell said people often overlook is the powerful role of generosity.
“It’s often been held that what makes people happy is getting to better situations themselves, but it turns out that people are astonishingly generous and they like living in generous places.”
Alongside generosity, other factors include health, financial stability and a strong network of social support.
The StatsCan study also found that women tend to be happier than men, and married people are happier than those who aren’t. When individual economic context was taken into account, aboriginal people reported some of the highest levels of happiness.
Helliwell said this kind of research “allows individuals and policy-makers to have a better idea of how society is doing.” He said that other measurements such as gross domestic product and unemployment rates only cover certain aspects of life, while satisfaction gives a blanket statement of how people are really feeling.
World Happiness Report’s Key Variables
The World Happiness Report looks at life satisfaction on a global scale. It has identified six main variables that explain about three-quarters of the difference in life satisfaction.
Money: On a global scale, the report finds that richer countries allow for more life satisfaction. In general, people in a sound economic situation will show more satisfaction with their life.
Health: Life expectancy usually creates a happier country. On a Canadian scale, the StatsCan study found that healthier people were happier people.
Support: Having someone to rely on in times of trouble leads to a happier living. Whether it’s family, friends or community, nobody can be alone at all times. A healthy social life is key to living a satisfying life.
Trust: Feeling like institutions such as governments and businesses are trustworthy helps to drive up satisfaction. Having a trustworthy local government and supportive local businesses can make some cities happier than others.
Generosity: People like to give. Being generous and helping others feel better helps to contribute to happiness. Areas with more community initiatives, donations and generosity are happier areas.
Freedom: Freedom to make key life decisions such as employment, lifestyle and personal expression is an important factor. Without feeling safe to express themselves and pursue their dreams, people are much more likely to feel unsatisfied.