IT HAS been attributed to green shoots in the economy, resulting in an increase in employment levels and household incomes.
Whatever the reason, a report has found people in Britain are happier now than they have been for the past three years.
The year-long UK government study into the nation’s happiness found that, overall, people in the UK were more satisfied with their lives than at any time since 2011 when records began.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed life satisfaction and happiness indicators were both up on last year’s figures.
Scotland had the second-highest average ratings of life satisfaction at 7.6 out of ten.
However, while people in Northern Ireland gave the highest UK-wide rating for wellbeing, in Scotland people in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland were the happiest and far happier than the UK average.
Experts said improved economic factors were likely to have driven the increase and, in Scotland, political engagement in the run-up to the independence referendum could have also boosted people’s mood.
UK-wide, anxiety has also fallen, according to the survey of 165,000 people, although those aged between 20 and 50 were least likely to be happy – due to being “saddled with marriage and children and paying off the mortgage”.
The ONS said four out of the top five happiest places in the UK were in Northern Ireland – despite comparatively high unemployment – with the remaining happiest people dwelling in Babergh, Suffolk.
The least happy areas were Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, Dartford in Kent, Torridge in Devon, Maldon in Essex, and South Ribble in Lancashire.
The Scottish islands have long ranked highly in quality-of-life surveys, due to the strong community spirit, low crime rate and rural setting. A total of 44 per cent of people in the area ranked themselves at the highest possible level of happiness, with just 5.85 per cent saying they rated their happiness at the lowest level.
This compared with just under a third of Scots nationwide saying they were at the top happiness levels and under 10 per cent ranking themselves at the lowest end.
Moray demonstrated the lowest proportion of the happiest people at 27 per cent.
A spokesman for the Western Isles Council said: “This is not surprising. We have always said that the quality of life in the islands is second to none. We have low crime rates and a fantastic environment plus a unique culture and fantastic food and produce. What’s not to like?”
Dr Jan Eichhorn, Chancellor’s Fellow in Social Policy at Edinburgh University, said political engagement often boosted feelings of wellbeing.
“In Scotland, if you think of the high level of political engagement in recent months, that gives people a feeling of a stronger sense of purpose and we know that can have an effect on wellbeing,” he said.
“Economic factors such as unemployment can also have an effect, but what we have to remember is that there are still a lot of people who do not yet benefit from the slight economic improvement we have seen.”
Dawn Snape, co-author of the report, Measuring National Wellbeing, said positive economic results during the past year had helped boost happiness.
She said: “One possibility is that with the economic news improving, people are feeling more positive about their lives, particularly with the decreasing unemployment rate.
“The unemployment rate has a profound impact on happiness. Not only does it affect the people who are unemployed but also those people around them.”
The economy has shown an improvement in recent months, north and south of the Border. Scottish Government figures last week showed that unemployment in Scotland fell by 15,000 in the three months to July.
But Ms Snape said people in Northern Ireland were a “conundrum”, having scored highly in all aspects of the wellbeing index despite having a high unemployment rate. She said the feeling of wellbeing could be linked to a relatively peaceful situation compared with at the height of the Troubles.
“They’re a real conundrum for us,” she said. “Unemployment is high yet they really buck the trend. At the moment we don’t know the answer to this [high wellbeing]. It may be down to social connectivity, a great sense of community; maybe it is down to how life is going there now compared with 15 years ago.”
Report co-author Glenn Everett said that wellbeing levels dip as people reach middle age, but rise again upon retirement.
“Those in the mid-20s-to-50 age bracket tend to feel less positive,” he said. “They are saddled with marriage and children and paying off the mortgage, so have higher levels of anxiety. Young people are full of ambition and hopes for the future while older people are looking forward to retirement or already enjoying it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the research, first published in 2012, after deciding that the government needed to be informed not only on Britain’s economic progress but also on the public’s quality of life.
The report said: “The year-on-year differences are small but statistically significant. These latest estimates suggest improvements across all the measures.”