London – A Fascinating but Unhappy City?

London - View of Tower Bridge.

London – View of Tower Bridge.

Just returned from a decent business trip to London.

I am there more or less frequently, and it is an amazing and fascinating city.

However, this time it struck me that, although being in one of the most famous cities of the world, people on the streets look above average unhappy.

Everybody seems to be in an extreme rush, many people show unhappy or outright sad faces (although weather was ok) and very few people seem to laugh on the street (or on their cell-phones) or have a chat with a stranger. Even more so than in other big cities I know of.

How is that?

It might be a purely subjective observation and obviously winter time all cities look a bit more depressed, but I doubted this is the only reason, thus I did a bit of research and found a study about London happiness that confirmed my observation:

Londoners are on average significantly less happy than other inhabitants of the UK.

And this is despite of the fact that London offers the highest earnings, an extremely wide offer of leisure and cultural activities, a huge party life, very modern atmosphere and generally is said to be a great place.

Happiness Levels of London in Comparison to UK. Click to enlarge.

Happiness Levels of London in Comparison to UK. Click to enlarge. Source here.

Observe that the overall happiness difference is significant, about the same distance as it is from the moderate/hard-pressed earnings group to the comfortably off group.

It is also interesting that a happiness gap even exist for the wealthy achievers and urban prosperities, two groups that should particularly flourish in a city like London and are likely to be able to afford the very costly life there.

I leave speculations about the reasons of London relative unhappiness to you readers, but maybe this findings are another sign that progress, money, career opportunities and a busy life are not automatically a happiness provider – in contrary to whan many seem to believe…



ps. In any case London still is worth a trip I’d say – but be prepared that it will not be a frugal one.


8 comments on “London – A Fascinating but Unhappy City?

  1. I’ve been there a couple of times and never really paid much attention. I guess people weren’t as open to basic interaction and conversation now that I look back at it.

    Strange and it shows money doesn’t buy/bring happiness.

    • MUFF says:

      My family lives in London. We are firmly middle class and have the means to enjoy the city. London has wonderful parks, generally low rise housing where a large part of the populace have houses and gardens which you could argue is unique for such a large city.

      Yes London is expensive if you want it to be. If you want to enjoy all the trappings of the city – eating out is a delight at a cost. Entertainment is available around every corner. If you do look more closely there is lots of free stuff to do. Most of the major galleries and museums are free.

      To consider the main point on happiness perhaps the inequality in London is it’s biggest issue. The rich are extremely rich and the poor struggle to get by.

      I recently read a lifestyle article on the stages of life and choice of cities. Grow up next to a small city (example was Baltimore) then work in a metropolis such as London. Good jobs are available. Start a family and bring them up perhaps where you grew up, close to family and friends. Grow old somewhere elegant like Paris which has excellent healthcare.

      London has its place when you are young. We prospered here whilst not being caught up in its bright lights. For us mow we have a young family there are 7.5 million people too many. Advertising is around every corner, equality issues, crime and noise pollution are now acute issues for us. So we are saving every last penny before we leave.

      • mrwoodpecker says:

        You are raising a point here – inequality might indeed have its impact.
        Interesting is that some studies show that even the *rich* feel *worse* in more inequal societies than compareable rich guys in a more equal society.

        Age alone does not seem to be the reason for Londoner low happiness – at least when you look at the statistics in the post: All age groups there are worse off compared with their respective UK average.

        But I think your strategy is clever: Use a high-income-high-cost city like London to boost your savings by taking advantage of the high income while avoiding the high costs, and then spend the money elsewhere where it is worth more.

  2. Having lived in London on and off for ten years, I think Londoners are mainly unhappy because they are not close to nature. The focus is on work, money, clothes, and partying. And when you’re in London,there is always someone richer, more career driven, better dressed and more partied out than you are. Smiling at each other is just also not the ‘done’ thing. You’re considered a bit odd if you smile at strangers! It is a great place to visit though and still has a place in my heart.

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      Would be worth a look which role access to Nature plays regarding urban happiness.

      The other issue you raise, comparison among ambitious people, definitely plays a role in any big city with a certain degree of inequality regarding whatever measure people there consider important. For those who didn’t read it yet, I tried to outline this here.


  3. […] Is this a symptom of financially and competition driven neo-liberal areas (like the city of London certainly is)? […]

  4. buschaot says:

    Have you been to Frankfurt? I’m living here for almost three years, and I can say the experiences you had with London sound quite similar with what I am experiencing every day here…

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      No, I know Frankfurt only very little. Have been there, but to short to get a feeling.
      Would not have thought that it is as stressful as London (as it is much smaller e.g.).
      However, even Munich, the city I live in, did get more stressed in the last 15 years. Maybe due to the boom, or to growing population, people working more, different lifestyle? I don’t know…

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