Reasons to be cheerful: Scots are among Europe's happiest
THE traditional image of Scots as dour, doom-laden pessimists was shaken yesterday by a new Europe-wide survey showing them to be among the happiest people in the Continent.
The research, carried out across 24 countries, found Scots are failing to live up to their caricature. They are now the happiest in Britain and the third most contented in Europe, beaten only by the Swiss and the Danes.
On a ten-point scale, Scots scored a "life satisfaction" rating of 8.06, compared with 7.2 for the rest of the UK.
At the bottom of the scale, with scores of less than five, came Ukraine and Bulgaria.
People all over Europe were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of one to ten. Happiness was divided into five sections: job, family, standard of living, life as a whole and happiness.
In Scotland, the survey found that women were generally happier than men, that people became happier as they grew older and that those with more money were happier.
A degree, or time in higher education, also helped to make people more contented in later life, as did homes in rural or semi-rural areas and working for small companies.
The report also found that people who were married or in long-term relationships were happier than the single, the separated and the divorced.
The results followed increasing evidence this week that the Scottish economy was weathering the economic downturn better than the rest of the UK, with unemployment still falling and house prices continuing to rise.
Sheila Panchal, a psychologist, said: "This suggests the popular image of the nation as glass-half-empty pessimists is outdated. There appear to be much more positive feelings coming out, which we can be very pleased about."
Ms Panchal said part of this might come from Scots having a stronger a sense of "belonging" than ever before.
Dr Stephen Joseph, professor of psychology at Nottingham University, said: "One of the main things, in terms of people's happiness and contentment, is social networks and community cohesion.
"Possibly in Scotland, where communities are smaller than in the south of England, people have more connection with family and friends."
Happiness has eased quietly on to the political agenda over the past few years.
In 2006, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said improving people's happiness was the real challenge facing politicians. He recently asked all his MPs to take a book on the subject away as holiday reading.
The Scottish part of the survey was conducted between May and November last year, after the SNP came to power. It became a party-political issue yesterday, with Nationalists claiming their short time in government had been, at least partly, responsible.
The SNP's Alasdair Allan, a member of Holyrood's communities committee, said: "The fact the survey was done in the second half of 2007 is one measurement of the SNP government's success in delivering a wealthier and fairer Scotland.
"Only this week, we had figures showing unemployment falling in Scotland, while it rose in the UK as a whole – and unemployment is now significantly lower in Scotland than south of the Border."
A Labour spokesman dismissed Dr Allan's remarks, saying that if Scotland had had a glorious summer, then the Nationalists would probably have claimed credit for that, too.
Malcolm Chisholm, Labour's culture spokesman, added: "It is ridiculous to suggest this is the result of a few months of SNP government. A more substantial claim would be to say it was due to progress in the last decade under Labour."
Dr Carol Craig, the chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being in Glasgow, said the very political system that has generated the Labour-SNP animosity may be partly responsible for Scotland's high satisfaction ratings.
"We still believe in fairness at work and the political process. These questions probably played a part, behind the scenes, in the answers people gave, and that is very, very positive for Scotland," she said.
'I enjoy every day for what it brings'
SHIRLEY Spear lives in the community of Glendale near Loch Dunvegan on Skye, where she runs the Three Chimneys restaurant and hotel.
"I grew up in Edinburgh but moved to Skye 23 years ago to take over the Three Chimneys," she said. "We live next to the restaurant, which is in the westernmost point of Skye.
"The location is completely idyllic. We can see the water out of the bedroom window. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
"No matter the weather, the scenery is always dramatic. Skye is a stunning place and I love living here."
Mrs Spear, 55, runs the family business with her husband, Eddie, 61, and daughter, Lindsay, 26. Her son, Steven, 29, works for the Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh.
Although the restaurant business can be extremely stressful, Mrs Spear loves her job. She said: "My life is exceptionally busy, but I get great enjoyment out of being involved in Scotland's immensely important tourist industry.
"This is one of the busiest weeks of the year. Things can be brilliant one minute and dreadful the next, but it's great running my own business. I couldn't be a bank manager, or work in a job where I am stuck in a shop all day."
Despite the credit crunch, the tourist industry is currently booming on Skye. Mrs Spear said: "The credit crunch is a disaster for everyone, but so far we have come off better because we are at the quality end of the tourist market."
Mrs Spear often has to drive from Skye to Edinburgh – a journey which takes her five hours – but she doesn't mind doing it: "Day or night, no matter what time of year, I love driving through Scotland and seeing the rolling purple hills. The scenery is so beautiful."
And with a successful work and home life, Mrs Spear is very happy.
She said: "Happiness is enjoying every day of your life for what it brings, and making the most of what Scotland has to offer."
Mrs Spear believes that Scots are happier than their UK counterparts because of the strong relationship they have with their country.
She said: "People in Scotland have a real sense of belonging which other countries don't really have. The rest of the UK does have a sense of identity, but I don't think they feel like they belong quite as much as we do in Scotland."
ANALYSIS: High score for satisfaction could suggest low expectations – but it's not as simple as that
THE data from this survey is good news for Scotland and detracts from the notion there is something seriously wrong with Scottish society and the Scottish people. It also gets us to put our weather in perspective. None of the top nine countries in this league table – Scotland is number three – are noted for their sunny climate and France and Portugal come much lower in the list.
In general, the picture which emerges from this data fits international trends. It shows married people are happier, unemployment detracts from life satisfaction significantly and older people are often happier than those in their 20s, 30s or 40s.
The survey is based on five questions and doesn't really give much in-depth understanding of why Scots would score themselves as happier or more satisfied with life than the Irish or people in the rest of the UK.
At an anecdotal level, many people moving to Scotland from elsewhere in the UK often particularly like our emphasis on family and community, as well as the real sense of Scottish history and culture. This emphasis on collective institutions could help buffer Scots from excessive individualism, which can undermine happiness.
Many commentators think it unsurprising that in world surveys of happiness it is often Scandinavian countries, with strong community values, who consistently come out top.
If we were to speculate on why Scots may, on average, be happier than other Europeans, we could single out factors such as lower levels of long-distance commuting in Scotland, in comparison to those in London or large English conurbations and closer proximity to family members, thus more social support.
Belief in the political process may also be a factor. People in democracies generally report greater life satisfaction than those in totalitarian regimes or the ex-Soviet bloc. Low-level corruption, and lack of patriotism, are often used to explain why countries like Italy do not score high on life satisfaction surveys.
However, we must keep this in perspective. Scots scored well on the question: "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?" But being content could arguably mean respondents had low aspirations which led them to be relatively content and happy with their lives. This complacency may account for Scotland's low business birth rate and low productivity.
This survey also suggests there are two Scotlands – the majority group who are reasonably affluent and generally content and the deprived minority who are not just unhappy and dissatisfied but who have poor health and low life expectancy.
Finally, we must be aware that psychology is complex and to say people are satisfied with their life does not mean they are optimistic.
These observations are designed to facilitate understanding of the complexity of these issues and not to detract from a valuable survey which happily shows Scotland in a favourable light.
• Dr Carol Craig is chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being.
A dour and miserable nation? You must be having a laugh, mate
WE gathered three Fringe comedians to find out what they thought. Craig Hill from East Kilbride is appearing in Craig Hill Makes Your Whole Week!, at the Gilded Balloon. Jimeoin from Northern Ireland is also at the Gilded Balloon. John Bishop from Liverpool is appearing in John Bishop: Cultural Ambassador at the Pleasance Courtyard.
Craig Hill (CH): So the survey is basically saying that Scots are happier than expected.
Jimeoin (J): Happier than expected, that's the thing, it's the expectations.
CH: That doesn't mean they are happy, it means everybody thought they would be dour.
J: They're third happiest, aren't they, who's happiest, the Swiss?
CH: There must have been a rumour around town that we were unhappy.
John Bishop (JB): Scottish people aren't happy. I have found people in Edinburgh scowling at me, crossing streets or you go into shops, they are very abrupt. Overall, Scottish people can be friendly and happy but I have found some scowling.
CH: It depends on your lot, because we always thought our lot was going to be s***. We use humour in Scotland quite a lot to deal with s***.
JB: There was a recent survey that said of the ten postcodes in the country where people's life expectancy was lowest, four of the lowest ten were in Liverpool, so we are the only ones who make Scottish people look healthy. If you're not going to live a long time, you make the most of it.
CH: You die younger, therefore you're happier. Who wants to be older if they are going to be dour?
J: "Dour", that's a lovely word, dour.
CH: Do you use that word in Ireland?
J: No, no only "shut the dour".
JB: They say the survey was done by the Scottish Government. When Trotsky was doing a lot of surveying, the Russians were the happiest people in the world.
CH: If you ask people were they happy with their lot, they could say yes because they never expected much anyway.
JB: I'm not sure there's such a massive difference between (national] audiences. If you're funny, you're funny, and if you're not, you're not.
J: Nationalities, it's b******s. It's Monday, and Friday. I find doing a gig in a working city is a breeze. Anywhere people have real lives. You go somewhere where people are down the pits, and they want a laugh.
If things are going well, you don't need to laugh. I know a lot of people who are well-to-do, and they are not happy.
JB: The show I do is about Liverpool being the Capital of Culture, and that's a load of b******s. One of the things that come up is why does Liverpool produce all these humorous people? And the thing the sociologists come up with is back to the fact they are used to having a bit of a s*** life.
CH: Up here everybody uses humour as a way of dealing with strife.
J: The Irish are not really interested in letting you know that they are happy.
CH: Everybody's funny in Ireland. You have to be really good to do comedy in Ireland because everybody's just as funny as you are.
JB: I think that comes as well from cities that have ports. Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool, they have that thing of foreigners coming all the time, so the easiest way of communicating with someone is making them feel happy.
If you haven't had any pain, then what is there to laugh at? The Scots' reputation for dourness, let's face it, is not the people, it's the weather. It's hot, cold, wet, damp, freezing. It makes being here harder but it means the welcome when you get inside somewhere is a lot warmer.
CH: Because you're out of the rain. It's that simple.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west