Jul 10, 2005

Galway is happiest county in Ireland

Galway?s the clear grinner - Property - Times Online

A new survey reveals for the first time just where Ireland’s happiest and least contented people live. Mark Keenan examines the reasons behind those smiling — or grim — faces

Happiness may or may not have anything to do with a cigar called Hamlet, but the findings of a nationwide study soon to be released shows that moving to a hamlet of the small village variety may be just the tonic to restore the joys of life.

Ireland’s most comprehensive study into people’s quality of life and happiness has just been concluded by a team from University College Dublin.

The results have been derived from extensive interviews with 1,500 citizens from all walks of life. Published exclusively today by The Sunday Times, they show where Ireland’s happiest and least contented people live.

We Irish appear to be an extremely happy bunch. In a report published last week by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, we were the second-happiest nation out of the 25 states and three candidate countries surveyed.

And last year the Economist’s research unit named Ireland the happiest nation in the world (of 111 nations), with a seemingly perfect combination of new wealth and old family and religious values.

The latest study from UCD’S planning and environmental policy unit details where that happiness comes from. Not surprisingly, high on the list is where we live — our address and its immediate environs.

From the research conducted by Professor Peter Clinch, Finbarr Brereton and Dr Susana Ferreira,

The Sunday Times has broken down the results to divide them county by county to see exactly where Ireland’s happiest people live.

Those questioned were asked to rate their overall contentment on a scale of one to seven, where one was described as “life is as bad as can be” and seven was “as good as it can be”.

It confirms what the European study shows, that as a nation we’re a generally contented bunch. Almost all the answers fell in the top end of the scale, between four and seven. However, there were some interesting variations.

Galwegians are far and away the happiest people in Ireland, and given the previous Economist worldwide survey, arguably the happiest in the world. The highest happiness score — almost full marks with 6.93 — came from Co Galway. And Galway city wasn’t far behind with 6.65, the second-highest score in the republic.

Wicklow dwellers were next, with a very smiley 6.32, and are followed by Tipperary — Ireland’s next most contented county with a sunny score of 6.12. Surprisingly, Limerick city comes next with 5.96, demonstrating that Shannonsiders are a resilient and cheery bunch despite the reputation their city has gained nationally for crime and social problems.

Overall, however, the biggest revelation is what impact rapid growth, urbanisation and congestion can have on morale.

With an overall score of just 4.97 and the only county to duck below the 5 mark, Dublin is completely blue.

Clinch said: “They’re not unhappy. A score of 4.97 is “reasonably content” rather than “happy”, but it underlines that the notion that Dublin has benefited most from the Celtic Tiger is missing the point. The overall objective of economic growth should be to improve quality of life and although incomes in Dublin have grown rapidly, they have not compensated Dubliners for factors like increased traffic congestion, living closer together in more confined spaces, increased costs of living and lack of amenities. These factors lead to lower levels of happiness in Dublin.”

Within Dublin, figures are broken down by local-authority jurisdictions. The unhappiest residents — and also the unhappiest nationwide — are in the South Dublin council area, taking in large tracts of West Dublin and lower income areas such as Tallaght and Clondalkin. The happiness level there of 4.59 is Ireland’s lowest by far.

Northsiders proved happiest in Dublin, with a lukewarm rating of 5.57 for Fingal, closely followed by the city’s most affluent quarter, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, at 5.21. City-centre dwellers registered a stoic 4.72.

Outside Dublin, the scenic but isolated, boggy and underpopulated county of Leitrim was least happy with a rating of 5. However, as the study group from Leitrim was unusually small, this might be an unfair result.

Donegal, beautiful but exposed, large and isolated, turned in a rating of 5.17, easing into the bottom five. Perhaps similar factors influenced Cavan’s low rating at 5.2.

With its growing city experiencing some of Dublin’s problems, Waterford turned in a rating of 5.07, making it Ireland’s third least contented county.

While the survey team did not examine reasons for unhappiness county by county, it would not be difficult to speculate on why Galway is Ireland’s breeziest.

Professor Clinch said: “Most of Co Galway is relatively prosperous economically with a good mix of different employment types. The bulk of Galwegians live in areas within or not far from population centres which are large enough to hold varied facilities and a selection of employment, but not too large to cramp lifestyles significantly or allow access to space and fresh air.”

The scenery in Galway is among the best Ireland has to offer and the presence of sea, lakes and mountains must have a role to play. With its two near-perfect happiness ratings, it seems that Galway comes closest to offering the best of all worlds.

“The survey results suggest that, everything else being equal, the ideal location for an Irish person to live is a small town — somewhere relatively rural, not too isolated, with facilities, services, scenery and worthwhile employment,” said Professor Clinch.

But other points of the survey also helped to determine which factors contribute most and least to happiness.

“What we have discovered is that income, while a factor in determining happiness, is not a major factor.

Up to a certain level additional income could improve happiness but it does not make a difference beyond a certain point.”

But the survey does show that the affluence of the neighbourhood we live in also has a bearing on our contentment.

“Keeping up with the Joneses or even surpassing them is important. Everything else being equal, up to a certain point, the higher your income relative to that of your neighbours, the happier you will be. It is obvious that how well off we feel depends on how our neighbours are doing,” said Clinch.

The type of accommodation you live in and your ownership status will also influence your level of contentment.

Not surprisingly, those with mortgages or paying rent were far less happy than those who owned their homes outright. Generally, the larger and better the home you live in, the happier you will be.

Weather variations are also a factor. A lower mean daily minimum air temperature in January and a maximum in July are both negative influences on happiness.

Kilkenny, a county that appears to have almost all of Galway’s advantages, only features tenth in the survey — and Kilkenny has both the coldest and warmest temperatures in Ireland.

One surprise is that almost all the wettest counties came near the top of the happiness table. “This may be explained by the fact that Ireland’s wettest counties are generally the most scenic,” said Clinch.

But what are the actual benefits of knowing exactly how happy or unhappy people are? Why spend years of research, the resulting costs and exhaustive interviews with 1,500 people to let the rest of us know which Irish citizens are most smug with their lot? “If the purpose of economic growth is to improve contentment, we need to know what matters most to people so we can set priorities for economic, social, environmental and planning policies. Traditional measurements such as GDP do not tell us whether government policies are actually improving people’s wellbeing,” says Clinch.

“The fact that the increased incomes of Dubliners do not compensate for the adverse effects of economic growth and development on their city shows it’s no good being paid more if you spend more time getting to work, sitting in traffic and pay more for a smaller home in a cramped area with poor amenities.”

The UCD report will surely highlight flaws in government policy to redistribute the benefits which are seen to be unfairly accruing in the greater Dublin area.

Indeed Clinch’s research shows that, if it weren’t for those poorer quality living conditions, Dubliners would be as happy as those living in the regions and therefore government policy should focus on improving urban living conditions. Proof also that Dubliners are not moaners by nature and that happy Galwegians may feel differently if they lived in the greater Dublin area.

For now, Clinch believes that lower levels of happiness among the city’s population may already be reflected in an increasing drift by Dubliners to country areas in search of contentment.

“The fact that a significant number of people are already leaving the cities for the country in droves underlines what they already know — that on the whole a rural life, with a good job, lower house prices and good amenities is a far happier lot than a well paid existence in a fraught city environment.

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