So near and yet so far. Reuters/Tony Gentile

A surprising result from a pan-European survey on happiness.

For Jean-Paul Sartre, hell was other people. Many in Europe seem to share the French philosopher’s view.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics recently published the results of a pan-European survey on happiness. Thousands of Europeans were asked a range of questions about their relationships, work, health, finances, and much else besides.

As is usually the case, in terms of overall life satisfaction, Scandinavians top the list, while Eastern Europeans are the gloomiest. But things get more interesting when you dig into the details:

What’s notable is that some of the people who report the weakest connections to their local communities—essentially, whether they know and/or like their neighbors—also show above-average happiness. Brits and Germans are the least attached to their local areas, but lie above the EU average in overall life satisfaction.

Equally, some of the tightest-knit communities are relatively unhappy. The vast majority of Cypriots say they are close with people in their local area, but their overall happiness is a bit below the EU average. The gap is even wider for Romanians, Croatians, and Latvians, who report the next-strongest bonds with their neighbors and happiness levels even further below the EU average.

To be clear, the Dutch, Swedes, Spanish, and others manage to combine both above-average happiness and closeness with their communities. On the other side, Italians and Poles are among the groups where both local bonds and life satisfaction are below the EU average.

Of course, happiness is determined by many more factors then whether you get along with your neighbors. But in a surprising number of European countries, the data seem to suggest that plenty of people enjoy life more when they’re living among strangers.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

  2. A man bikes down a busy London street with a food-delivery box on the back of his bike.

    The Rise of ‘Urban Tech’

    From food-delivery startups to mapping and co-living companies, technology focused on urban systems is drawing billions of dollars in venture capital.

  3. An illustration shows two alleys in Detroit.

    Finding the Untapped Potential of Alleys

    “We’re starting to realize they’re just as powerful as a park or plaza.”

  4. A birdhouse hangs from a tree branch near traffic signs in central Madrid.

    Bugs and Birds: New Residents of a Greener Madrid

    Since 2015, Madrid’s government has been trying to increase the city’s biodiversity. Hundreds of birdhouses and “insect hotels” around the city seem to be working.

  5. A man sits at an outdoor table at a McDonald's restaurant, next to a sign urging water conservation.

    How Cape Town Got to the Brink of Water Catastrophe

    And how it stepped back, just in time.