It’s a Monday morning, the sun is shining and the spring birds are chirping, but walking down Georgia Street during the morning commute you don’t see many smiles. If you’ve lived here all your life, you may be surprised to learn that this is not the norm – Vancouver is in fact the least happy city in Canada.
In a survey released this week, Statistics Canada revealed that of 33 census metropolitan areas in Canada, Vancouver ranks the lowest in life satisfaction.
With data collected between 2009 and 2013, Statistics Canada found that life satisfaction in Vancouver is measured at only 7.8 out of 10, while the happiest metropolitan area, Saguenay, Quebec, measures at 8.25. Canada as a whole lands near 7.97.
The survey sampled almost 340,000 survey respondents aged 15 or older who reside in one of the 10 provinces. Toronto scored just higher than Vancouver with other Ontario cities making the bottom ten, including Windsor, Guelph and Barrie. Edmonton also scored below 7.9, as did Victoria and Abbotsford-Mission.
The happiest cities were all on the east coast, including Saguenay at the top, followed by Trois-Rivières, St. John’s, Greater Sudbury and Quebec City. The highest scoring B.C. city was Kelowna at 7.98 out of 10, just above the Canada average.
While many have their own reasons to believe Vancouver is the unhappiest city in the country, research has found that “physical characteristics of geographic areas, such as urban size and population density, natural endowments, economic opportunity or deprivation, and access to, and quality of, infrastructure, amenities and services” plays a large part in people’s reported life satisfaction. As well, levels of trust and the quality of social connections in neighbourhoods and workplaces can influence happiness significantly.
According to the findings of a landmark 2012 study by the Vancouver Foundation:
- Metro Vancouver can be a hard place to make friends. One-third of the people we surveyed say it is difficult to make new friends here. And one in four say they are alone more often than they would like to be. In both cases, people who experience this also report poorer health, lower trust and a hardening of attitudes toward other community members.
- Our neighbourhood connections are cordial, but weak. While most of us know the names of at least two of our neighbours, the connections typically stop there. Most of us do not do simple favours for our neighbours (like taking care of their mail when they are away) and fewer have visited a neighbour’s home or invited a neighbour over.
- The most often-cited reason for not knowing neighbours is that people seldom see each other. However, another significant reason seems to be indifference: we prefer to keep to ourselves, or have little interest in getting to know our neighbours.
- One-third of the people surveyed do not know if their neighbours trust each other. And barely a majority thinks that the ties in their neighbourhood are growing stronger.
- It isn’t enough to know your neighbour’s name and say hello. Instead, things like doing small favours for one another and inviting each other over lead to greater trust, greater commitment to community and the willingness to work together in the neighbourhood’s interests.
- Many people in metro Vancouver are retreating from community life. In the past year, most of us have not participated in neighbourhood and community activities. It isn’t a lack of time that stops people from getting involved. The most often-cited reason for not participating in neighbourhood and community life is a feeling that we have little to offer.
- There are limits to how people see diversity as an opportunity to forge meaningful connections. Over one-third of us have no close friends outside our own ethnic group. And we generally believe that people prefer to be with others of the same ethnicity.
- Many people believe all new immigrants and refugees, regardless of where they come from, would be welcome in their neighbourhood. However, some residents rank which groups they believe would be the most and the least welcome.
- The affordability issue in metro Vancouver is affecting people’s attitudes and beliefs. Most people believe Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy. These same people also tend to think that there is too much foreign ownership of real estate.