By Patrick Meagher
Farm and country folk will tell you they are happy right where they are. On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many city dwellers I meet that say, “When I retire, I’m moving to the country.”
While there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that happiness is found in farm country and heaven is a wide, open space, every once in a while a research study comes along to find out why.
A team of researchers have compiled responses from 40,000 people across Canada and came to this conclusion: “Life is significantly less happy in urban areas.”
The researchers, from the University of British Columbia’s school of economics and McGill University, figured out what rural people could have told them: Happier communities mean fewer people but more people with whom they connect, shorter commute times, less expensive housing, more church goers and a less transient population. The study also concluded that people are more happy when there are fewer foreign-born people. While that sounds racist, it’s not. People are naturally drawn to and more at ease with people who speak their language and have the same culture.
The study also found that having a higher-paying job in the city doesn’t add to your happiness.
Looking at 1,215 communities across the country, the researchers concluded that densely populated areas like Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener are among the 20 per cent most miserable communities. They were also eight times more densely populated than the happiest 20 per cent of communities. The study was based on a series of survey questions that asked “how satisfied” the respondents are on a scale of 1 to 10.
The Washington Post reported that the Canadian study is similar to U.S. studies that found “the farther away from cities people live, the happier they tend to be.”
Farmers Forum asked farmers to weigh in on the happiness factor. Most did with pleasure. Said Lanark County crop farmer Ron Burgess: “I have two grandsons in university and I tell them, ‘no matter what job you do, live in rural Ontario.’ In the rural areas we have our freedom, our neighbours. We make our own decisions. The city is a sewer.”
Huron County crop farmer Jon Sturdy said farmers have it better because, by and large, they choose their work and enjoy it. “I also like the space.”
Lambton County crop farmer Don Kabbes agreed. “The country is a good place to live,” he said. “The space, nature, seeing crops grow, you know. Seeing animals grow and all that stuff. Less busy, more neighborly. You can pop over and they’ll help you out.”
Pembroke dairy and crop farmer Darcy Smith could think up a lot of reasons why country life is a happy life, including the absence of background noise like police sirens. In the city, “everything’s concrete, infrastructure, hustle, hustle, hustle, pick up the pace, boom, boom, boom. Out here in the country, you have a little fresh air. When I sit on my deck, have a beer or a burger, and look over 300 acres I can hardly see the nearest neighbour. My kids can go play soccer, they have lots of space. The freedom, the open air. I don’t have to deal with crazy people in the subway.”
Of course, the Canadian study doesn’t conclude that country living will make miserable people happy. There can be a lot of misery no matter where you are if you are living with the wrong people or if you are the one making bad choices.
With space to add one more observation I will add my own. I have lived in and out of town. I have lived in downtown Toronto, just off Yonge Street, and have lived in a cottage and in a former rural Eastern Ontario cheese factory. I think that the farther one is away from the noise, hustle and boom, the more opportunities one has to connect with oneself and the universe.
For me, the urban race to the weekend cottage is an escape from the distractions. A quiet walk, a beer on the porch, watching the sun go down over the corn, are all moments when we can make those more important connections. We can only reflect on our lives and great ideas when we are away from bustle and noise because thinking does not like interruptions.
Country living has given me the time and space to contemplate. You don’t have to be a theist to appreciate that contemplation and real self-examination can make you a better person, give you calm and allow you to work through a complex question about life, the universe and everything.
It is also not for nothing that 18th century writer William Cowper once said: “God made the country and man made the town.”