8 August 2022

Survey finds Canberrans to be happiest people in Australia - here's why

| James Coleman
Join the conversation
Canberra cityscape from the air

The ACT and surrounds scored the lowest of the ‘low wellbeing’ ratings of any Australian region. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

People living in Canberra and the surrounding region are happier, on average, than Australians in any other area of the country, according to a new survey.

First conducted by the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute in 2019, the “Living well in the ACT region” survey was this year told by 17.6 per cent of local respondents they were experiencing low wellbeing. This compares to 24.8 per cent of average Australians.

Lead researcher Professor Jacki Schirmer said they didn’t ask people directly for reasons but compared with those from around the country and what is already known about wellbeing determinants, a few clear trends emerged.

READ ALSO Shortage of cold and flu medicine hits Canberra pharmacies

The first is that money does – to some degree, at least – buy happiness.

“Every year for at least the past decade, Canberra has come out on top in terms of median household incomes,” Professor Schirmer said.

“And as much as we don’t like to say that money matters to wellbeing, it actually does. Having enough money to live a comfortable life matters. Once you have that, more money doesn’t matter as much.”

The latest Census showed that the ACT had a median weekly income of $2373 per household. This is well above the national median of $1746.

Our easy access to nature has something to do with it. Photography: Daniella Jukic – We Are Found.

“We’re also a very liveable city,” Professor Schirmer said.

Canberra was voted the world’s third best city to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018. It was also the OECD world’s most liveable city in 2014. A big part of this has to do with our short commutes.

“We have the shortest commuting times of any significant city in Australia and that makes a really big difference.”

Those who take longer to get to and from work every day typically have lower wellbeing, a phenomenon common to the capital cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and even Adelaide.

“More people here get more time to spend doing the things they want to, so we tend to have a better time use balance because of that,” Professor Schirmer said.

READ ALSO Canberra’s round bus shelters are beloved icons, so why don’t we make them anymore?

According to a 2019 report by the Melbourne Institute, the time it took the average Canberran to drive to and from work each day was 51.5 minutes in 2017. This compared to 71.1 minutes for Sydney and 65.4 minutes for Melbourne, but has increased by 20 minutes since 2002.

The Bush Capital, and our easy access to nature areas, also gets a mention at this point.

“It really does work for wellbeing,” Professor Schirmer said.

People also find us to be a friendly bunch, on the whole.

“That was something that surprised us a bit because we don’t have that reputation nationally,” Professor Schirmer said.

The UC survey looks at data from those who have just recently arrived in Canberra and compares that to long-timers.

“It takes people about three to five years to settle in, and by then you have a really good social life and you find the city really friendly.”

Older people were up but the young were down. Photo: File.

The happiest group of Canberrans were older people, another surprise for the UC team.

“For those between the ages of 60 to 75, you have really high wellbeing compared to the average retired person elsewhere in the country,” Professor Schirmer said.

At that stage, a lot of our retirees are living on a handsome amount of superannuation and have paid their house off.

“We were very worried that the pandemic would leave older people very isolated, but we actually found the isolation issues were worse for the 18-29 year olds,” Professor Schirmer said.

However, it wasn’t all good news. Liveability is down by 6.9 per cent on the 2020 survey, with the greatest decline in wellbeing among renters, those living in units and apartments, and those who have lived in Canberra less than five years.

READ ALSO When did age become a source of ridicule instead of respect?

“Carers had a particularly large drop in what was already a lower than average level of wellbeing amongst this group, along with those living with a mental health disability,” Professor Schirmer said.

“This is due to not being able to get the people they’re caring for to appointments, changes in financial support, and having to socially isolate for extended periods because the people they’re caring for are highly vulnerable.”

Professor Schirmer said the data would help inform the ACT Government’s ACT Wellbeing Framework.

“We’re really excited to be doing work that takes wellbeing from being on the fluffy side to being able to really track hard data on who is doing well and who isn’t,” she said.

“We’re trying to turn it into real actionable data so we can point to the groups who need support.”

People living in Canberra, and the surrounding regions including Queanbeyan, Yass and Murrumbateman, are invited to take part in the next phase of research by reporting how their wellbeing is going in 2022. Take part in the 10-minute “Living well in the ACT” region survey online.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I see this less as a “happiest place to live” and more of a “least sad place to exist”. The fact that nearly 18% of people living in one of the most affluent cities in the world are experiencing low wellbeing is not something to be proud of. I’d also warrant that if the survey was completed at 8:30m on a Monday you’d get wildly different rates than if it were done at 6pm on a Friday.

On that, it’s also no surprise that the older generations are happiest. They’ve paid off their mortgage, no longer have kids at home, and are happily retired while their investments slowly increase. Meanwhile those aged 18-40 are likely more heavily affected by mental illness concerns due to rapidly rising cost of living and an inability to afford somewhere to live.

Clever Interrobang6:23 am 09 Aug 22

I don’t think it’s fair to say that local people are (in average) earning more money than people in larger cities in this country

The higher paying jobs in this town require specific skills and are in large part filled by people who move here from elsewhere.

Hey Mick! Things have been a little frought lately! How about ringing Jimmy!

Agree that well being has a lot to do with the proximity of nature. I live on a reserve and it makes a world of difference, something we noticed was of immense value during Covid. As for Canberrans being a friendly bunch, I don’t think so. So many people just walk past without making eye contact or saying hello despite being prompted. Sydney is way more friendly in terms of just interacting with strangers, and any bush centre is 10 times more friendly. Lighten up Canberrans, it’s not all about whether someone is as important as you are in terms of whether you talk to them or not.

Population studies like these are of value if you’re primarily looking for averages and what the situation is for the bulk of people, which is what interests politicians. However, much is left out of such research about the rest of the people in Canberra, those who’re not part of the averages.

As a public service town, the averages are skewed towards well-paid public servants and retired public servants who’ve got access to a wide range of benefits not available to other residents. This is a city designed for the public service, with a tendency to ignore those without money, without cars and without secure jobs. Public transport is planned for those who work between 8am-6pm weekdays, not those in hospitality, nursing, trades etc.

We have the highest per capita rate of mental illness in Australia, high rates of homelessness and drug use. This is a beautiful city that is spoiled by the massive inequity and elitist local government.

Well said Psycho, Canberra is a production line of mental illness according to the medicos who the government ignores, the only place in the UN framework where a local council can ‘DICTATE’ Whether you have your ‘ human rights’ (only when you’re rich are you human in Canberra’). The only place in Australia where those in public housing have to stay in Canberra unlike all state tenants who get asked what town do you elect to live in at time of application. Toxic parochialism at it finest. Democratic process only applies to those in the socialist bubble the rest are ignored, legal principles are ignored by govt and innocent people are persecuted for being who they are (yes , their own public servants will tell you this) Many ,many low income people would leave if they had the autonomy of those in the NSW system. But no, government will continue to maintain the status quo ( highest recidivism rate in Aust) and create as much Psycho-social disability as possible, encourage drug use but not allow a smart tenant to get out of ACT when they have a job to go to they must stay in their rut to suit government ideology.
The truth is that nobody in any government has ever cared about such entrapment and never will, in fact it creates employment for mental health staff, legal aid , public housing staff etc
‘Canberra’ has created Australia’s only political prisoners on home soil , segregated and oppressed for no actual reason. I could go on & on.

Absolutely agree, couldn’t have said it better. We think we are a happy integrated city but we’re not. The haves don’t even acknowledge the have nots, the government likewise. Look at the housing mess that confronts so many yet the government continues to tax renters through land tax. You can’t outsource social housing to the private sector then tax it – that’s cake and eating it too. People go homeless. This is the biggest shame on the ACT government.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.