by Greg Kotkowski

After my arrival to Italy for my PhD studies I was very surprised by the overwhelming happiness and kindness of Italians. Even now after more than half a year of being here I haven’t changed my mind. According to me, a stereotypical Italian would spend the whole morning in a coffee-shop’s garden while reading the newspaper and smoking a cigarette. The warm sun would slightly touch his smiling face and a soft wind from the see would wave his black curly hair. That is the picture I see every day on my trip to the university.

I have started to ask myself if these people are truly happier than people from some other countries. For example in Poland, from where I originate, you can hardly see anybody just smiling and slowly taking their time, especially in the morning. However, Polish people are not sad. It is rather a cultural thing that we hide our emotions, while Italians reveal them all. In any case, let the data speak the truth.

From the European Union Open Data Portal I downloaded data concerning the quality of life. The data was released on February 3, 2016 and consists of a set of face-to-face surveys carried out in 78 cities in 32 countries. Among many other questions, the respondents were also asked if they were satisfied to live in [the city name]. Let us quickly analyze this piece of data.

Among the worst scoring cities are Istanbul (Turkey) with 65% of the citizens satisfied to live there, Athens (Greece) with 67%, Palermo with 67% and Naples with 75% (both in Italy). Well, southern Italy seems to be full of unhappy people, however the northern part of Italy where I live gives me a different impression. The best scoring cities included in the survey are Zurich (Switzerland) and Oslo (Norway) – both 99%; Belfast (Northern Ireland), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Aalborg (Denmark) scored 98% of satisfied citizens.

Let us plot all the cities on a map, as shown in Fig. 1. The color code indicates the level of mean satisfaction for the given cities. However, the range of responses is so high that it is hard to distinguish the difference between most of the cities. The mean satisfaction is almost 91% and the median 93%, so more than half of the cities are marked by two similar shades of blue.

Fig. 1. The percentage of respondents who were satisfied to live in the given cities.

Therefore, let us use the scale of colors to have non-uniform breaks, meaning that the color code does not change linearly with the percentage, but instead the steps between different colors depend on the density of percentage values in this range. The short breaks are used for higher percentage of satisfaction, because most of the cities are in that region. The results are presented in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. The percentage of respondents who were satisfied to live in the given city. In comparison to Fig. 1, the gradient of colors is changed into unequally spaced breaks.

From this short analysis it seems that the best places to live at are Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Scandinavian countries. However, the welfare of these countries is not the only factor that makes their citizens happy. Note how poorly Belgium, France or Italy score.

According to this survey, the citizens of Italian cities seem to be not very satisfied to live where they live. This is contrary to my observations. According to the data I should go back to Poland and leave the sad and depressed Italians. Surely this is not going to happen until the end of my PhD.

Dear readers, do you agree with the survey results? Do you observe the given satisfaction level for your countries? Would you rather stay in  the place where you live or move to Oslo or Zurich? Or maybe is it that if we have something that is important to us around, we are satisfied wherever we live?

Featured image taken from