Life Satisfaction Canada: Canadians Are Happy, But Where Are They Happiest?

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TORONTO - If you're happy and you know it, a new report suggests you might be from Canada.

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards says more than 90 per cent of Canadians surveyed report they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their lives.

The centre tracked numbers collected by Statistics Canada in its community health survey between 2003 and 2011.

Canadians have stayed happy through that entire period, with 91 per cent reporting life satisfaction in 2003 and 92 per cent saying so last year.

The scores were enough to officially rank Canada as among the happiest countries in the world.

The centre says a Gallup world poll taken in February 2012 rated Canada as the second most satisfied nation, ranked only behind Denmark.

Centre executive director Andrew Sharpe said the numbers tell a compelling story about the standard of living most Canadians enjoy.

"We do have high levels of income. We have weathered the financial crisis better than other countries of the world," Sharpe said in a telephone interview. "We do have a good health system. We complain about it, but at least there's full coverage of all Canadians ... We do have a lot of advantages as a country."

The StatsCan data — compiled in biennial surveys between 2003 and 2007 and in annual surveys from 2008 onward — asked Canadians to rate their own levels of personal satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10.

Those who assigned themselves a score of 6 or above were considered to be pleased with their lives as a whole.

The numbers have remained relatively static in most cases, but Sharpe said some age-related trends have begun to emerge in the most recent figures.

More of Canada's young people are reporting feeling contented, while the country's senior citizens are expressing more reservations about their lot in life, he said, adding the gap between the two age groups has widened considerably over the past several years.

About 94 per cent of Canadians between 12 and 19 years of age reported feeling satisfied in 2003 compared to 92 per cent of those over 65.

By 2001, the number of satisfied seniors had fallen to 89 per cent while youth happiness scores had shot up to 97 per cent.

Sharpe attributed some of the change to the economic turmoil that has roiled the job market and depleted savings for those nearing retirement, leaving the country's youngest residents comparatively unscathed.

The data, however, suggests there may be other factors at work causing seniors to feel less positive as they age.

Sharpe said the stats show the need for policy makers to analyze issues impacting seniors, since current approaches appear to be coming up short.

The trend among Canada's aging demographic illustrate why it's important to track happiness alongside gross domestic product and other more traditional indicators of well-being, he said.

"I think the goal should be to improve happiness. It sounds trite, but what's it all about? It's about the life satisfaction of Canadians," Sharpe said.

Satisfaction levels also differed by region, according to the centre's analysis.

Average scores taken over the eight-year period suggest residents of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador were most likely to be happy with their lives.

Satisfaction scores were lowest in British Columbia, Ontario and Nunavut.

The StatsCan data that formed the basis of the centre's report was gathered from 65,000 people nationwide, but excluded some of the populations most likely to report dissatisfaction with their lives.

The Canadian Community Health Survey does not collect data from people living on aboriginal reserves, full-time members of the Canadian Forces or those currently in institutions.

Sharpe acknowledged data from those excluded demographics could lower scores, adding even the current high numbers should sound a cautionary note.

"I don't want to go to complacency. 'Oh, aren't we great,' therefore there are no problems in Canada. That's not where this is going," he said. "We can do better."

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