“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” observed the writer Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century, and a London writer in the 20th. In fact, research suggests such a man may be merely living in the wrong postcode.
A BBC commissioned study of 56,000 Londoners claims that a person’s life satisfaction depends, at least in part, on whether their personality suits the place where they live.
The results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers found geographical differences and clustering in levels of life satisfaction and certain personality traits.
For example, people clustered around central and urban areas were the most open – and, to a lesser degree, the most extroverted – with levels decreasing when moving to outer regions. Areas of greater average openness also showed a mixture of neighbourhood characteristics, including higher population density and higher housing prices, higher ethnic and religious diversity, and higher crime rate. The findings are said to support previous research showing that openness is associated with broad interests and tolerance for alternative lifestyles and ideas, and that these dispositions are often thought to characterize residents of densely populated urban areas.
The least agreeable areas were found in western central London, an area that has the highest crime rate, busiest pedestrian traffic, and some of the highest housing prices in the capital. The researchers believe this could be interpreted to support the popular notion that residents of big cities tend to be less considerate towards other people.
As with previous studies, the researchers found that people who were most emotionally stable and/or extroverted tended to have the greatest life satisfaction – and this was not affected by the area in which they lived.
Importantly, the researchers also showed that the strength of associations between personality traits and life satisfaction were dependent on neighbourhood characteristics. For example, people tended to show greater life satisfaction if they were more open to new experiences.
In areas that reported lower levels of life satisfaction, the most agreeable and conscientious tended to fare best – to be the most satisfied – suggesting that these personality traits are more important determinants of life satisfaction for individuals living in less favourable environmental circumstances.
Overall, the analysis of personality-neighbourhood interactions showed that openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were differently associated with life satisfaction of individuals depending on their residential location and specific characteristics of those locations.
In essence, if you are open to new ideas, then you will be a happier person — time to get over to the London listings calendar and top up your happiness quotient.