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Many policy experts are emphasising the importance of understanding subjective wellbeing and happiness. One longstanding method of measuring subjective wellbeing is to ask respondents to rate their perceived quality of life. We did just that recently with a large random sample of Canadians (n=2,053). The results provide a snapshot of Canadians’ subjective wellbeing. Additional analysis also provides some hints as to the determinants of self-rated quality of life and the distribution of happiness in Canadian society.

First of all, Canadians are a relatively contented lot. Only single digit numbers consider their quality of life poor and the clear majority of Canadians are happy with their lives. Looking at the underlying patterns, there seems to be two crucial determinants of wellbeing – socioeconomic status and physical health. There is a very clear straight line relationship between income and quality of life. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure is linked to claimed wellbeing. Another key factor is educational attainment, with the university educated being the most happy. We also probed on self-rated health, which is a strong determinant of actual health. We found that those with the best health were the most happy. So the tickets to wellbeing appear to be health and wealth. There are other factors, but these are the clearest.

In looking at the regional patterns of quality of life, there are some interesting and mildly surprising findings. First of all, subjective wellbeing broadly declines from West to East but, more specifically, Alberta is the epicentre of happiness in Canada while Quebeckers are least satisfied with their quality of life. Notwithstanding the stereotypical joie de vivre depiction of Quebec life, this finding is consistent with earlier research we have done suggesting greater levels of social disconnection in Quebec. The Alberta finding is quite notable and when looking within the Alberta only cases, we see that it is in fact Alberta males who are even more content with their quality of life (79%).

The Alberta happiness advantage is linked to health and wealth but there may be another hidden variable at work here as well. Generally speaking, a sense of control of one’s life is a major source of happiness and security. Albertans enjoy relatively high levels of economic security but they also have high levels of political efficacy and have a government which closely reflects their political preferences. This is evident in the fact that Albertans are the most content with national and federal direction and links to other recent research showing that Albertans now having the highest sense of attachment to Canada.

One final perspective is the issue of future happiness. Who is relatively most optimistic about their future quality of life? Once again, the hub of Canadian optimism about future wellbeing is Alberta. Notably on this indicator, Quebeckers are much more optimistic about the future than their current lives.

Click here for the full report: full_report_qol_2011

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