Northeast B.C. is dead last in life satisfaction survey

Northeast B.C. residents are less satisfied with their lives than people in the rest of Canada, ranking dead last among economic regions in a StatsCan study released Monday.

The study was culled from five years of StatsCan surveys, which asked respondents to rate how satisfied they were with their lives at that given moment, with zero as very dissatisfied and 10 as very satisfied.

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Of StatsCan's  58 economic regions, Northeast B.C. came in last with a score of 7.84. Nord-du-Quebec topped the charts with 8.40, while the Canadian average was 7.97. Major cities were ranked separately.

Rounding out the bottom five were B.C.'s North Coast and Nechako Region (7.99), Northern Manitoba (7.98), the B.C. Cariboo (7.98), and Prince Albert and Northern Saskatchewan (7.92).

Grande Prairie, which was grouped together with Peace River and Athabasca finished 22 places ahead of Northeast B.C. with an average score of 8.07.

The report looked at data from the agency's Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and General Social Survey (GSS). Around 340,000 individuals filled out the surveys between 2009 and 2013. At least 1,000 people were included in the Northeast B.C. sample.

While the survey does not explain why people living in specific areas might be more or less satisfied with their lives, it does point to several factors.

One study cited by StatsCan suggests economic inequality plays a role in overall happiness.

Dr. Mark Holder, who studies happiness at UBC Okanagan, said so-called social comparisons can be "cancerous" to quality of life.

The contrast between wealthy oil and gas workers and service industry employees struggling to make rent could be one source of discontent.

"If you compare yourself to others, if you're saying 'why is so-and-so making triple my wage, I'm just as valuable to society,' those types of comparisons undermine happiness," he said. "As the discrepancy between haves and have-nots increases, it doesn't affect the happiness of the rich, but it really does impact the others."

He added that exercise, time in nature and spirituality also influence happiness. But next to genetics, healthy social relationships are the biggest factor on life satisfaction.

"Other people matter," he said.

Ashley Moore, who moved to the region three years ago, said she and her husband have found it difficult to build relationships in the northeast. She lived in Dawson Creek when she was younger and now works as an office manager at an environmental consulting firm.

She said differences in income and work hours, as well as between people who grew up in the region and those who recently moved here make meeting people difficult.

"It's hard to meet people if you have hobbies other than hunting, quadding, or work in oil and gas," she said. "Lots of people move here for work, everybody works. That's what they do."

New Brunswick transplant Chad LaKing felt the same way, saying people in the northeast largely keep to themselves.  

"In terms of community, maybe it's because people have been on the East Coast a  lot longer, but it's almost like the common rules of courtesy and being friendly aren't there," he said. "It's very noticeable from there to here."

LaKing used to live in Saint John, which with a score of 8.12 ranked sixth amongst metropolitan areas.

Brent Hodson said he's heard those concerns, but has found the quality of life in the Northeast to be good. He grew up in Fort Nelson and currently lives in Dawson Creek.

"I think if you make something of it, if you know what's going on, the quality of life here is pretty decent," he said. "When I lived in Fort St. John, there was never a day or a weekend I wasn't doing something."

The study has its limitations. Both surveys in the report used a mix of cell phones and landlines to contact respondents. The CCHS notably does not include Aboriginal people living on reserves.  

Respondents in major metropolitan areas were ranked separately. Saguenay, Que.   residents were most satisfied with their lives (8.24), while Toronto (7.81) and Vancouver (7.80) finished at the bottom. 

Holder said that while environment is important, there's only so much impact a region can have on life satisfaction.

"If you're living in Dawson Creek and think moving to California will make your life satisfaction and happiness brighter or better, that may be a bit of a myth," he said.

"There's no recipe for happiness that is going to work for all people."

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