Why less significant cities rank among Europe’s 17 happiest cities

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A wind farm in the sea at Copenhagen: Residents of Copenhagen are among the happiest in Europe

Benedict Lopez is not surprised that cities in Nordic countries that have underscored quality of life concerns have the happiest residents in Europe.

Recently, the European Commission’s released its Eurobarometer, its annual survey on the quality of life in European cities. The survey asked respondents to rank their satisfaction with their respective cities using criteria such as cleanliness, green spaces and safety.

Using the European Commission’s data, Business Insider then selected those cities where the highest percentage of citizens said they were “very satisfied with the life they lead” and ranked them accordingly. In effect, they ranked the cities according to where people were happiest to live.

Missing from the top 17 list were the vibrant metropolises. It is the smaller, less known cities where the happiest Europeans reside.

Europe’s renowned cities like London, Paris, Rome and Berlin may be familiar as tourists’ landmarks and bustling commercial capitals, but they are not noted for the happiness of their residents.

The 17 cities with the happiest people were:

  1. Aalborg (Denmark)
  2. Copenhagen (Denmark)
  3. Reykjavik (Iceland)
  4. Zurich (Switzerland)
  5. Graz (Austria)
  6. Oslo (Norway)
  7. Malmo (Sweden)
  8. Munich (Germany)
  9. Vienna (Austria)
  10. Newcastle-upon-Tyne (England)
  11. Belfast (Northern Ireland)
  12. Rotterdam (Netherlands)
  13. Cardiff (Wales)
  14. Groningen (Netherlands)
  15. Antwerp (Belgium)
  16. Stockholm (Sweden)
  17. Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Various reasons were cited by residents of the respective cities for their happiness, ranging from security, a picturesque ambience, cultural attractions, and a brilliant football team to even shipping and surprisingly great beer!

Having been to the top three Nordic cities quite a few times, I can comprehend the reasons why they are among the happiest people in Europe. In my opinion, it is the clean and healthy environment, the safety, and the absence of hustle and bustle in these conurbations that make life in these places amiable, comfortable, convenient, cosy and pleasant for their inhabitants.

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Perhaps, when underlining their reasons for their contentment, people not only took into account the salient aspects of their city but also considered a broader perspective of their respective countries, including social security and welfare concerns.

During an official visit to Copenhagen, for instance, I once asked a Pakistani taxi driver about his 30-year experience living in Denmark.

“I love this country,'” he responded. “I pay 50 per cent of my income in taxes and I have no complaints. I don’t have to worry about my children’s education from primary school to university as it is free. My whole family’s medical treatment at clinics and hospitals are also taken care of by the state.

“When I reach the age of 65, I get a state pension. In this country, everything moves and there is no corruption and you don’t have to grease anybody’s hands to get anything done.”

On this trip to Copenhagen, I was accompanied by Stockholm Mida’s investment officer, a Dane. When we alighted from the taxi upon reaching our destination and while walking towards our next appointment, I told him in jest, “Peter, he is more Dane than you are.”

My colleague nodded, smiled and concurred with me.

Numerous techniques in urban design and innovative approaches to a city provide the thrust for its liveability, coupled with increasing importance placed on environmental considerations, sustainable development and social security.

Cities that have underscored the importance of these concerns certainly appeal to their inhabitants as such factors enhance their quality of life.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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