Most Canadians are pretty happy with their lives, but the ones who aren’t, are downright miserable

by Angus Reid | January 31, 2016 9:30 pm

One-in-six Canadians are among “The Unhappy,” who tend to be dissatisfied with most aspects of life

February 1, 2016 – Two-in-three Canadians say they’re “pretty happy”with their lives today, and an even greater proportion say they’re “satisfied” with their overall quality of life.

That said, a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute indicates those who are dissatisfied with life tend to feel that way about all aspects of life – from romance to finances and everything in between.

The study finds that when it comes to satisfaction with these various aspects of their lives – Canadians fall into one of four broad categories: The Golden Oldies, the Lonely Hearts, the Harried with Kids, and the Unhappy.

Key Findings:

Who’s happy in Canada?

Given three choices – “very happy,” “pretty happy,” or “not too happy” – to describe their level of happiness, nearly two-in-three Canadians (63%) choose the middle option, while the rest are fairly evenly divided between the extremes, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid

Over the years, various studies[1] have found that older people report greater levels of happiness than younger people. While not every survey on aging and happiness confirms this pattern, it can certainly be seen in this ARI study (age-related findings from this survey will be released in greater detail in the coming weeks).

Canadians aged 55 and older are slightly more likely than other age groups to describe themselves as “very happy” or “pretty happy,” and significantly less likely to say they are “not too happy” (13% do so, compared to 20% of 18-to-34-year-olds and 21% of those ages 35 – 54).

Age is not the only factor that influences happiness, however. This survey also finds significant regional differences in the percentage of respondents saying they are “very happy,” as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid

It’s worth noting that despite these major differences in “very happy” responses across regions, there are no statistically significant differences in the proportion of people saying “not too happy” in each.

Happiness – and the degree to which people say they feel it – also varies with people’s self-reported satisfaction with their lives. As previously mentioned, the Angus Reid Institute used responses to a series of questions about life satisfaction to sort Canadians into four groups based on their shared attitudinal characteristics. This technique is known as segmentation or “cluster” analysis.

The segments will be introduced in greater detail in the following section. Their responses to the happiness question are seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid

Meet the Segments

angus reid[2]

Click to Enlarge

The four segments of the Canadian population when it comes to  life satisfaction are the Golden Oldies (27% of the total population), the Lonely Hearts (28%), the Harried with Kids (28%), and the Unhappy (17%). Their characteristics are summarized in this infographic:

As their name implies, the Golden Oldies are the oldest segment, and also the happiest. People in this group tend to be satisfied with everything and not particularly worried about the future.

The Lonely Hearts also contain a large proportion of older respondents, especially in comparison to segments other than the Golden Oldies. But while this group shares the Golden Oldies’ satisfaction with money and a lack of stress, the Lonely Hearts are less satisfied with their relationships, and especially their love lives.

By contrast, the Harried with Kids are a considerably younger group. They’re satisfied with their love lives and their relationships, but they’re dissatisfied with their stress levels and their financial situations.

For all their differences, however, these three groups are generally happy with life.

The same cannot be said of the Unhappy, a majority of whom are dissatisfied with every measure of life satisfaction canvassed in this survey. This group has almost exactly the same age makeup as the Harried with Kids, but tends to have lower income and lower rates of employment and home-ownership, each of which could contribute to the group’s pervasive feeling that it’s “not too happy” with life.

Overall satisfaction

Just as a solid majority of Canadians say they’re “pretty happy,” four-in-five (80%) say they’re either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their “overall quality of life.”

On this question, the Unhappy are the outliers. While the other three segments see enough positives in their lives to say they’re satisfied overall, the Unhappy are almost as overwhelmingly dissatisfied (57% somewhat; 23% very):

Angus Reid

It should be noted that there is a significant difference between the Golden Oldies and the other segments in terms of the degree of satisfaction they express. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the Golden Oldies say they’re “very satisfied” with their overall quality of life, while fewer than 20 per cent of either the Lonely Hearts or the Harried with Kids say the same:

Angus Reid

The dissatisfaction the Unhappy feel with their overall quality of life may seem to them like a self-fulfilling prophecy. On a separate question about satisfaction with “your outlook on life,” the same pattern of responses emerges across segments, with the Unhappy overwhelmingly dissatisfied and the other three segments feeling the opposite:

Angus Reid

A related question asked respondents whether they agree or disagree with the statement “My life so far has turned out better than I expected.

On this question, there is more variation among the segments, with the Golden Oldies decidedly in agreement (82% agree) and the Unhappy their mirror opposite (82% disagree).

The Lonely Hearts and the Harried with Kids are split on this question, as seen in the graph that follows. Given that these groups have some aspects of their lives that leave them dissatisfied, it could be that their lives so far have met – but not exceeded – expectations.

Angus Reid

Relationship satisfaction

Several of the items canvassed in this survey asked Canadians to assess their satisfaction with their relationships to other people.

In general, Canadians are quite satisfied on this front:

The graph that follows shows responses by segment for each of these four questions.

Angus Reid

As the graph shows, a lack of “love life” satisfaction is the defining characteristic of the Lonely Hearts segment, but this group is also somewhat less likely than the Harried with Kids to express satisfaction with their relationships with family and friends.

Material satisfaction

The remaining items deal with more tangible aspects of life, including one’s health and free time. On these questions, too, Canadians’ overall response tends to be satisfaction:

On this collection of items – especially the ones dealing with stress and finances – the Lonely Hearts are more generally more satisfied than the Harried with Kids:

Angus Reid

Further evidence of the divide between the Lonely Hearts and the Harried with Kids can be seen in their responses to the statement “I am worried I won’t have enough money to support myself in old age.”

Majorities of both groups agree with this statement, but the Harried with Kids do so by a much wider margin. Fully seven-in-ten (70%) of this segment worry they won’t have enough money in old age, while slightly more than half (54%) of the Lonely Hearts feel the same:

Angus Reid

Overall, 59 per cent of Canadians agree with this statement of financial concern, a finding that closely parallels what ARI found when asking a similar question in a study on retirement[3] last year.

In that study, nearly half (48%) of retired Canadians said they were worried about their money lasting their lifetimes, while almost three-in-four (74%) of those who hadn’t yet retired said the same.

Likewise, in this study, it’s the group that contains the most retirees (the Golden Oldies) that expresses the least financial concern, while the younger segments are especially worried.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[4]

Click here for comprehensive data tables[5]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[6]


Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693[7]

  1. various studies:
  2. [Image]:
  3. a study on retirement:
  4. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  5. Click here for comprehensive data tables:
  6. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

Source URL: