Revealed: the happiest place in the UK

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OrkneyDavid Cheskin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The happiest places in the UK are roughly the most northerly places you can get (and even then you'll need a boat): Eilean Siar, Orkney and Shetland. It's a shocker for anyone who thought you needed big cities, endless entertainments, and summer sunshine to put a smile on your face.

So why did they take the title, and did your home town make the list of happiest - or glummest in the UK?

The top five was made up of:

1 Eilean Siar, Orkney & Shetland
2 Rutland
3 Anglesey
4 Wiltshire
5 West Berkshire

The bottom five, meanwhile was:

North Ayrshire
Blaenau Gwent
Swansea
County Durham
Blackpool

So why these particular areas?

Part of the issue has less to do with where you live - but the circumstances of most of the people living there. Those who are married, have jobs and own their own homes are the happiest in the UK. Therefore the areas with high employment and affordable housing tend to produce happier communities.

Happiness is also related to the crime rate, environment, access to local services, transport, noise, safety and health. However, one of the key factors which is likely to have had a major effect on the happiest areas is a connection to the community. These island communities are likely to be more close-knit than urban areas where people come and go very regularly. Second-placed rural Rutland is also likely to benefit from community ties.

Who is happiest?

The statistics also found that teenagers and the retired were likely to be happiest - presumably because they don't have the pressures of work (or lack of it) and supporting a family. Dr Ros Altmann, Director General Saga said: "Both the ONS figures and those from Saga's SMILE index measure suggest that people are happier once they reach retirement and generally enjoy the early part of their retirement." The peak of happiness is between the ages of 65 and 69.

The survey also found that women were happier than men, and that largely people in Scotland and Northern Ireland were happier than those in England and Wales.

So what can we learn from this?

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher doesn't think it was worth a fraction of the time and money spent putting this together. He said: "This is a statement of the bleeding obvious, a waste of taxpayers' money and it makes ministers look even more out of touch. You don't need a 'happiness index' to know that people without a job are unhappier than people in work - and we have over a million young people unemployed."

The idea was that it would help shape policy. Glenn Everett, the ONS's programme director, said: "Understanding people's views of well-being is an important addition to existing Official Statistics and has potential uses in the policymaking process and to aid other decision making." If we work out what makes people happy, we can therefore work out what we need to do in order to make more people happy.

The problem

However, there's a major gulf between knowing that people would be happier if they had a job, a strong relationship and owned their own home, and making that happen. There is also a risk that these figures could distort policy. Take the fact that health has a surprisingly low affect on happiness. Healthy people didn't all report themselves as happy, and very sick people also showed surprising happiness. However, how many people would like to see the government use this as a reason to cut spending on healthcare?

The jury is out on whether this research is worth the effort. However, one thing we can take away from this is a sense of pride in our resilience. We hear today that the recession is deepening, and that this brief spell of sunshine will be well and truly over by the weekend. Yet somehow the vast majority of people are smiling through it: 75% of people in the UK rate themselves as happy.

Perhaps we have started to see the positives in life. Or maybe it's just that we're only ever happy when we have something to complain about.

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