Reasons to be cheerful: Scots are among Europe's happiest
Published Date: 15 August 2008
By Hamish Macdonell
Scottish Political Editor
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Sheila Panchal, a psychologist, said: "This suggests the popular image of the nation as glass-half-empty pessimists is outdated.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."
• 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
The full article contains 2238 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.
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* Last Updated: 14 August 2008 11:34 PM
* Source: The Scotsman * Location: Edinburgh