Calling Harrogate the happiest place to live in the UK is ridiculous

How did it come higher than Leeds for ‘recreation’?


Feeling a bit glum? That’s probably because you don’t live in Harrogate, Yorkshire, recently named the happiest place to live in the UK. Also at the top of the list were Shrewsbury, Ipswich, York and Chester. Don’t worry about moving there just yet though: as with all of these lists about the most desirable places to live, they’re completely irrelevant for anyone under 25.

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Is Ipswich any fun?

Harrogate earned its title by scoring highly in the categories “Area Upkeep”, “Safety” and “Pride”. In other words, if the place looks alright and you don’t spend your waking hours worrying you could get burgled, there’s no real need to complain. That Harrogate finished first on previous lists probably does something to improve local pride, but none of these categories make up for the fact the town is an attractive face without any character. Harrogate might have what you want from a town when you’re old and about to retire, but what about the rest of us? Surely we wouldn’t be happy there.

Mind-boggingly, Harrogate comes 13th in the country for “recreation”. You have to wonder what they mean by using that word, especially given Leeds – recently voted the UK’s best night out – comes 71st. Even discounting nights out, it’s not like there’s sod all to do in Leeds. Apparently though it’s got nothing close to the recreational delights of Torquay, which comes top despite being one of many traditional seaside resorts in retrograde.

Criticising Harrogate, Torquay or any of the other “happy” towns is pointless though. Instead, the notion of happiness needs to be scrutinised. The idea of ranking places by happiness has been around for a while.  In 1971, Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom landlocked by India, Bangladesh and Tibet, decided to reject measuring its economic success by GDP and instead by happiness. Although a beautifully rare idea, the problem with it is that, despite recording around 89 per cent of its population are “narrowly happy” or more, Bhutan has an atrocious human rights record, especially towards ethnic minorities in the region and tourists.

Thankfully, Harrogate isn’t a Himalayan kingdom with a penchant for deportation, but like Bhutan it’s a warning to anyone who goes chasing happiness. Places which claim to be happy are almost always quite boring: after all, nobody goes to Bhutan on a lads holiday (you can’t really go there on holiday) and you’ll never hear anyone say “Do you fancy buying two grams and going to Harrogate?”

York, Chester and Ipswich might all claim to have a bit more fun but anyone after a genuinely good time needs to head to the cities. Sure, you won’t always be happy all the time but it’s much better than a lifetime of complacent satisfaction living somewhere where happiness doesn’t come from the moments of your life but from your postcode.