Tuesday 29 October 2019

Why life on Scotland's islands makes us happy

Scottish islands are consistently among the happiest places to live in the UK, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

Its annual wellbeing study asks people to rank their happiness, anxiety, life satisfaction, and feeling that things in life are worthwhile.

Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles have all recorded high ratings since 2012. Three locals have told us about the lure of island life.

Leah Irvine: Shetland is always home

Leah on Clift Hill in Shetland
I grew up on the outskirts of Lerwick. I studied in Edinburgh, but I live and work in Shetland now. When you experience life in a city, even a beautiful one like Edinburgh, you realise how the pace of island life is slower.

If you have a a long day in the office or things aren't going right, you can walk along a beach and the sense of calm is overwhelming. There's no way you can be outside in Shetland and be stressed. It takes it away and sends it out to sea.

When I look at my childhood I had no idea how lucky I was because it was normal for me. Now I'm at a stage where I have friends who have families and they're in the car for an hour to pick up their daughter from ballet. I went to netball and dance class, but it was a five-minute drive and the majority of my time was spent outside and exploring.

There is a community feel but you definitely get out of island life what you put into it.

If you're going to sit at home and say you're bored, you are not going to have that sense of wellbeing or the quality of life you want. But if you're willing to get involved then you'll have a massive sense of wellbeing.

I've done lots of travel, but the thing about Shetland is it's always home.

Earlier this year I took six weeks off and travelled around the Caribbean. It was amazing. But as gorgeous as it was, the only thing it had over Shetland was the weather.

Jack Norquoy: You grow at island pace

Jack Norquoy grew up in Orkney
I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in Orkney. It's a very supportive community - it's very vibrant and unique, with a real charitable spirit. That all helps with a sense of wellbeing.

It's a place of outstanding natural beauty, and there are other factors such as smaller classroom sizes, so children are able to develop very strong relationships far more easily.

Orkney is changing and maybe for some it is changing too quickly. There is the expansion of the renewable sector and tourism continues to boom, and it would be wrong to say Orcadians are not reaping some good from those developments.

I think having a sense of ownership helps with wellbeing. Any Orcadian would say they feel at home anywhere in Orkney. The whole place is home to them.

I think, had I grown up somewhere different, I would feel differently. Compared to a city, there's not the same pressure and you can be younger for longer and fulfil your childhood for that bit longer without some of the pressures coming to you so quickly. You grow at island pace.

From a very young age you establish the importance of your surrounding environment. I think it comes down to that sense of community and a sense of working together and appreciating and protecting what you have far more.

I also have an eagerness to see more of the world, and take the vales of my upbringing with me and share them elsewhere. I get a longing for home when I haven't been there for a while. Orkney always make me smile when I think about it.

Catriona Dunn: The bonds you build are strong

Catriona Dunn's garden looks out towards Wester Ross
I lived in Aberdeen for five years and I liked it, but I always wanted to be back here on Lewis.

The family support network here is great. It was a brilliant place for our son to grow up and I can help out with my nieces.

I help to run a parent and toddler group at our church. It's for everyone and we realised we are serving a need. We discovered we are a lifeline for some parents and can help them build a network of support for their own wellbeing.

Those bonds that you build are strong.

The backdrop to our life also helps. From my kitchen window I look across the sea and see its moods. On a clear day you can see the hills of Wester Ross. There's only a small amount of light pollution and you can avoid it.

There's nowhere like it on a starlit night. Sometimes I don't realise it until I visit my son in Glasgow and it's nice to realise how much we appreciate the natural environment.

(Source: BBC)

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