What Makes A Happy City?

What makes the people in Stockholm the most satisfied in the world? Open spaces, not too much traffic, and a fast Internet connection. Why can’t all cities be so lovely?

We know that beautiful, well-designed cities make for happy citizens. But there are other factors that go into making a happy urban population. Ericsson’s Consumer Lab recently put out a report (PDF) looking at what makes a city a desirable (or undesirable) place to live.


The report, which surveyed residents of 13 cities around the world, came up with a number of findings. Among them:

  • People are most satisfied with their lives in Stockholm, Mumbai, Johannesburg, New York, Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles. They are least satisfied in Hong Kong and Seoul (despite a lot of connectivity in those cities). Almost half of those surveyed said they’re satisfied overall, while 25% aren’t.
  • 50% of city denizens use smartphones to connect to the Internet every day–an activity that helps them deal with unpredictable aspects of city life (like traffic).
  • Women are generally happier than men, and students and white-collar workers are unsurprisingly happier than the unemployed.

  • Young people are happier than older people in Cairo and Seoul. In Mumbai, Stockholm, and Tokyo, older people are happier.
  • People feel most trapped in the proverbial concrete jungles of Mumbai, Cairo, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Citizens are less claustrophobic in Stockholm, Moscow, Tokyo, and New York.
  • Traffic and parking causes more stress than almost anything in most major cities. According to Ericsson, access to data (i.e. real-time transit schedules, information about bike lanes, and traffic data) is the only thing that can alleviate this stress–besides better city planning, of course. It’s this reliance on data that leads to smartphones being used more often during rush hour than any other time.
  • Smartphones also alleviate rush hour stress by allowing people to catch up on news, organize leisure activities, listen to music, and send email.

Take all of this with a grain of salt; a telecommunication company like Ericsson is bound to come up with data showing how smartphones make us incredibly happy. Still, it’s not hard to believe. Smartphones are distractions, and anything that can make a painful commute more tolerable will lead to more content citizens.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.