I love the anonymity of London but let's face it: it's no surprise the North scores higher on happiness

It could be that the problem is the people, rather than the overpriced properties

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Southerners drew gasps of horror through their organic quinoa this week as it was announced that the happiest places in the UK are almost all found in – whisper it – the North. According to a study by the estate agents Hamptons International, and contrary to everything you may have heard from twentysomethings in wife-beaters and high-tops, the path to personal fulfilment doesn’t lead directly to an east London warehouse rave.

Instead, it diverts you towards the luscious greenery and relatively low house prices of Cumbria, Darlington, the Outer Hebrides and Stockton-on-Tees. By contrast, six London boroughs actually turned up on the list of the 10 worst places to live in the UK, scoring terribly on a “satisfaction index” which claims to reflect residents’ quality of life.

Before you up sticks and move north, however, you might want to consider whether it’s really the overpriced properties in your area that are the problem; it might just be the people. In other words: it’s not the £750,000 studio flat, it’s you. That pathological fear of someone speaking to you on the Tube or popping round out of the blue for a cup of tea is what’s driving us apart. I think it’s time we saw other places.

Admit it, southerners: you’d rather gouge out your own eyes with an asparagus slicer than have to offer the plumber a coffee. I’ve seen you, avoiding eye contact with your colleagues in the lift every morning, pretending that the person sitting on a bench in the middle of Oxford Circus consuming an entire Camembert straight from the packet and crying doesn’t exist. You should have known you were contributing to a communicative dystopia with that sort of behaviour.

The thing is, I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been that dairy-munching crier in the middle of central London (we all deal with break-ups in different ways), and I appreciated the anonymity the city afforded me in that dark hour. I wouldn’t have traded it for a well-meaning Geordie cosying up to me and telling me whoever had upset me wasn’t worth all the soft-cheese binges in all the world.

I moved to London because the determined apathy of the inhabitants felt liberating. Here, I can go out wearing the most outrageous of outfits and nobody bats an eyelid; even the most deviant of tastes are casually catered to by highly uninterested investors. Turn up dressed in an octopus onesie to a Notting Hill hardcore fetish society meeting and expect the bored receptionist barely to register your existence. In many ways, that is true freedom.

Yet there’s an expiry date on how long this perfect anonymity can make you happy. I know why the caged bird sings, and he sings loudest on northern plains where everybody knows your business. In Darlington, where your neighbours are guaranteed to discover your body before it reaches “ravaged by cats” stage after you drop dead of a heart attack, they’re doing it right. London may have discretion, but the North has soul.

What to do with this categorical proof that northerners offer true happiness where their southern counterparts fail so miserably? Personally I was always planning to return to the homeland, but I’m not advocating a mass southern exodus. After all, you Londoners made your bed, while I just hopped in there for a quickie; now I expect you to lie in it, while I swan off back to the region of my birth. At least I know you won’t miss me.

 

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