Images that prove regional Aussies are happier
The World Happiness Report is out, and it contains a fascinating titbit about how Australians might just make themselves happier.
Overall, the news in the World Happiness Report is bad for Australia. We are getting glummer. Last time this report came out we were ranked 11th in the world for happiness. This time we have slipped to 12th, beaten out by the rich but tiny country of Luxembourg.
The World Happiness Report is based on an enormous global survey that uses the established methodology for measuring happiness: asking people how satisfied they are with their life. When you dive into the details, you can see Australia is getting less happy because its cities are getting less happy.
Happiness in Sydney fell more than happiness in Baghdad in the most recent period. Melbourne slid too. What can we do about it? Part of the answer is to build more infrastructure - more rail, more homes, more hospitals and schools. But that just causes a lot of construction congestion.
The problem, it turns out is not just Australia. Around the world, in richer countries, people who live in rural areas are happier and more satisfied than people who live in big cities.
This suggests a tantalising solution. Maybe we should move to the country?
As the next chart shows, richer countries are happier overall. They are closer to the right-hand side, with happiness scores over 7. You're much better off living in Australia than Zimbabwe. If we look at the vertical axis, which shows the difference between urban and rural happiness, we see that people in poor countries are happier by moving to the city.
If you live in Zimbabwe, you're better off in the city than the country. But if you live in Australia, it seems the reverse is true. Country living seems to be correlated with being slightly happier.
The one exception is Finland, which is also the happiest country in the world. Something is going on in the capital city of Helsinki which makes the citizens very very pleased with themselves. You're better off living in Helsinki rather than in rural Finland with the reindeer.
"Although the large cities constitute the driving force of developed economies and are still seen as attractive places to live, their average levels of reported wellbeing show evidence of decline," say the authors of the World Happiness Report.
Everyone knows that incomes are higher in the cities, and that there is access to an amazing amount of options in terms of shopping and culture and medical services. But somehow, that's not enough.
"The urban happiness benefits may be offset by the happiness costs for a large part of the population, such as high costs of living, longer commutes, greater inequality, social isolation, noise, and pollution."
In Australia, the high costs of living seem especially pertinent. The price of housing in our cities has gone quite mad, and it makes country living look relatively affordable.
For around $760,000 in Sydney you can get this one-bedroom apartment.
Or for $735,000 you can buy this 5-bedroom home with swimming pool in the NSW country town of Parkes:
Moving to the country has a venerable history in this country. The "sea change" is well-established, and the so-called "tree-change" is very popular too. But it has always been the preserve of wealthy retired people and artists/potters/poets. Most of us have to live in the city to work.
Or at least we did.
The coronavirus has shaken up the world of work and working from home now has proven doable for many jobs. It might be worth asking: is moving to the country actually plausible? Could we make it work? Imagine waking up to the sound of birds and opening your curtains to a view of trees, not electricity wires. It might be the best thing you ever do for our own wellbeing - and that's backed by data.