Alberta is a wealthy province, but is it a happy one?

BY ROBERT ROACH

There are stereotypes about every province in Canada. Some of these are bang on and even those that miss the mark are often all in good fun. Not everyone in B.C. does yoga, not everyone in Quebec harvests maple syrup and not everyone in Alberta drives a truck, but these images have some truth to them.

Some stereotypes, however, are both inaccurate and unfair. The image of Alberta as a place to make money and flee as soon as your bank account is full is a prime example. Albertans know there is a whole lot more to their province than its reputation in other parts of Canada as little more than a job factory.

Nonetheless, this stereotype raises a key question – Alberta is a wealthy province, but is it a happy one? Is Alberta a place where you can build a satisfying life surrounded by friendly people or is it closer to the soul-destroying wasteland of strip mines and glass office towers its critics depict it as?

With these questions in mind, ATB Financial conducted the ‘Alberta Happiness Survey’ to find out if Albertans are happy, what they feel is important to their happiness and if they see Alberta as a place where happiness can flourish.

The news is good. Eight in 10 Albertans said they are, all things considered, either very happy or pretty happy. And they said this during the dark days of February when every headline seemed to be announcing a drop in the price of oil or another round of job cuts.

This sounds like a positive result and it is. After all, not everyone is going to be happy all of the time. The loss of a loved one, ill health, a period of depression, losing your job – there are lots of things that explain why a fifth of us say we are unhappy.

At the same time, there are lots of places where a larger proportion of people say they are happy. In Denmark, it’s 97%; in Ireland it’s 94%; in the United States it’s 87%. We don’t know why some places are happier than Alberta, but the international numbers suggest that there is room for improvement on this front in Wild Rose Country.

When we take a look at happiness in terms of life satisfaction, we find the same pattern: Alberta is ahead of some places but behind others. About six in 10 Albertans (63%) gave their life satisfaction a rating of seven or higher out of 10. This is way ahead of Egypt (11%), Greece (37%) and Japan (43%) but well behind Mexico (79%) and Israel (75%). As with happiness, it’s hard to say why life satisfaction is higher in some places, but the fact that it is suggests we can aim higher and look for ways to increase the percentage of Albertans who feel satisfied with their lives.

Two other findings from the survey show that Alberta is a happy place.

First, when we asked Albertans if they feel that the province is a great place in which to find happiness, 79% said yes. This is a very encouraging finding and one of which Albertans should be proud. However, while you can’t please everybody, it should still raise an eyebrow that nine per cent of Albertans said no and 12% weren’t sure.

Second, over two-thirds of Albertans (68%) said they would like to live in Alberta for the rest of their lives. Given the magnetic pull of warmer places and exotic locales, the desire to return home, and other reasons someone might want to leave Alberta (even if they like it here just fine), this is a very positive finding. We are doing something right!

Overall, the results suggest that people might come to Alberta for the jobs, but they often stay for the quality of life. They also suggest that being a happy place is not a given and that there is work to do to increase happiness in the province.

Conducted by Vision Critical between Feb. 5th and 23rd, using a web panel, the ATB Financial Alberta Happiness Survey includes responses from a representative sample of 999 Albertans. A summary of the survey results can be downloaded from ATBFinancial.com/economics.

Robert Roach is a Senior Analyst with ATB Financial. His column is distributed through Troy Media.

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