When we think of the British psyche, we tend to think of a stiff upper lip with regard to displays of affection and the recycled World War Two phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Britain is seen as the elder statesman of Europe, the home of the multicultural metropolis that is London and a country steeped in a sometimes turbulent but usually triumphant history. What we don’t normally associate with Brits, though, is a carefree, joyful attitude. Nor, it seems, do Britons themselves. To take a further look at Britain’s largely morose mentality, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) – the national body carrying out analysis of the country – surveyed the levels of happiness, life satisfaction, worthwhileness and anxiety throughout the nation. The survey looks at each county in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and ranks them by each category.
We’ve taken a look at the findings to bring you the lowdown on the happiest places in Britain. It doesn’t take long to realise that if you want to be happy in the United Kingdom, you shouldn’t live in the city: London and its surrounding city-centric counties report some of the highest levels of anxiety and below-average levels of happiness. In fact with the exception of one, all the areas in this list are rural parts of the United Kingdom. Each city is ranked by their score out of a possible maximum of ten and while it’s a pretty close call on some figures, a clear trend for happiness emerges. So whether you’re having a mid- or quarter-life crisis or just planning a holiday, our list of the top 10 happiest places in Britain will definitely lift your spirits.
10. Somerset: 7.3
If you’re not British, you may not have heard of Somerset. But if you are, you’ll know that it is the epitome of traditional elegance and it’s known as retirement central. The county is most famous for the spa town of Bath, which was home to author Jane Austen and has a similar quaint Georgian charm. The town was originally a Roman construction and the historic baths after which the city is named are still a tourist hotspot today. Situated in the south west of England, Somerset is on a frequent train link to London, close to the coastal regions of Exmoor and conveniently located close to the festival mecca that is the town of Glastonbury. Beaches, Jane Austen and Roman archaeology – how could you not be happy?
9. North Yorkshire: 7.4
At the opposite end of England to Somerset, North Yorkshire and it’s number eight contender are both located in the north of England, close to the Scottish border. We did mention that the more rural parts of the UK reported higher levels of happiness and North Yorkshire is a world away from the hustle and bustle of cities like London and Manchester – in fact that county had one of the lowest anxiety levels in Britain! If you want a feeling for what life in North Yorkshire is like, then look no further than everyone’s favourite period drama, Downton Abbey. Well perhaps. The series may not exactly recount the life of the modern day Yorkshireman, but it is set in the county. The nearby town of Ripon, represented in the popular TV series, retains that old-world charm of a traditional English town.
8. Northumberland: 7.4
One of the northernmost counties in the England, Northumberland is nestled below the Scottish border and on the north east coast of England. The rural county attracts surfers, hill walkers, cyclists and all lovers of the outdoors for the remote and awe-inspiring scenery. As well as the many beaches in Northumberland the county is also home to the famous Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Romans as the dividing line between the conquered Roman Empire and the wild Celtic lands of Scotland. The Office of National Statistics survey found that those living in Northumberland were bang on average for levels of life satisfaction and welling, suggesting that they are an all-round contented bunch.
7. Cornwall: 7.5
As far from Northumberland as you can get in the UK for our next port of call, the coastal county of Cornwall is embedded in the British psyche as the ideal spot for holiday homes, fishing and some good old-fashioned fun. Towns like Looe (it’s really called that) and Padstow have built their reputation as fishing villages but today pull in big crowds during the summer season. Those living in the county of Cornwall are called Cornish and historically have their own indigenous language, although it is now rarely spoken. Indeed the Cornish think their region so great, there is even a small Cornish independence movement. Yes, really. They’re also behind the wonderful ‘Cornish Pasties’, which are a must-try if you visit England.
6. Norfolk and Lincolnshire: 7.5
The counties of Norfolk and Lincolnshire border each other and lie on the east English coast. These rural hotspots are far enough away from London to be removed from the high levels of anxiety the city reported in the ONS survey, but close enough to allow you to make easy day trips. Norfolk is most commonly known as the birthplace of the revered Lord Nelson, the one-armed Admiral who died on the battlefield of Trafalgar while leading England to victory. His hometown of King’s Lynn is a popular holiday destination, and heritage and historical sites can be found throughout Lincolnshire as well as Norfolk. The nearby county of Cambridgeshire has many an adorable village with English pubs, tea houses and lots of merriment – and merry is exactly what these east Englanders are.
5. Edinburgh, West Lothian, Scottish Borders: 7.5
Our number five spot is the first of several stop off points in Scotland on our list, and demonstrates that in spite of the hardy weather the region suffers, it seems that the Scots are a happy bunch. The historic city of Edinburgh, along with nearby West Lothian and the Scottish borders, are steeped in history and culture, with Edinburgh in particular a hotbed of activity. The cities university and cultural life has put eyes on Scotland and offers the buzz of a city without the stress of a metropolis such as London. The Scots are indeed so happy that the Scottish Border country reported one of the highest levels of life satisfaction in the UK survey. With Scottish independence a key talking point in the UK at the moment, perhaps it is the country’s sense of self that makes these highlanders so proud.
4. Monmouthshire: 7.6
Let’s face it, you’ve probably never heard of Monmouthshire, let alone been able to place it on a map. But it is one of the most rural parts of the UK that report higher levels of happiness and that’s exactly what Monmouthshire is- rural. The small county is located in south east Wales and seems to be a country lovers heaven. In fact, Monmouthshire is so rural that its main tourist attraction is golf courses, which let’s face it, are cultivated countrysides. If that’s what you’re into however, then you’ll love the place!
3. Northern Island: 7.6
The words happiness-and-Northern Ireland may not immediately spring to mind, but anyone who lives there will tell you otherwise. From the picturesque coastlines of the region to the capital city of Belfast, Northern Ireland has come a long way from its turbulent past. Those living in the are reported above average levels of happiness and life satisfaction compared to the rest of the UK, suggesting that there is more to Northern Ireland than meets the eye. Geographically Northern Ireland is separated from the rest of the UK by the Irish Sea and as such is closest to Scotland. It seems that the further north you go in the UK, the happier you get.
2. Dumfries and Galloway and the Highlands: 7.7
We’ve hopped back over to Scotland again, and the region of Dumfries and Galloway seems to be the place to be if you want to cheer yourself up. The region reported one of the highest levels of life satisfaction in the UK and also one of the lowest levels of anxiety. The place is filled with castles, ruins and other historical site and as it’s situated on the coast, has plenty of thing to keep you happy in the fresh air. In fact, on a clear day you can see across to Northern Ireland where you can wave to all the happy people there.
1. Eilean Siar, Orkney and Shetland Islands: 7.9
The happiest place in Britain is yet another Scottish territory, proving that there is plenty of fun to be had in these northern regions. The islands of Eilean Siar, Orkney and the Shetlands are located off the north coast of Scotland and remote at best. But it seems that this only makes these islanders all the happier, with the highest levels of life satisfaction and worthwhileness in the country. These regions also had the lowest levels of anxiety so if you’re looking for a place to distress and cheer up, these rugged islands may well be just what the doctor ordered! And if that weren’t good enough for you, the Shetland Islands are also home to the diminutive breed of Shetland ponies, which will bring a smile to anyone’s face.