Happiness is defined as ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment’. Unhappily, I thought of this as I weaved my way back from my birth town, not so sunny Hastings, just prior to Christmas, where the general populous seemed distinctly hacked off, even given their proximity to the sea.

Certain areas of the town have always been, how should I put it? ‘rough’ and despite numerous false dawns, investment in infrastructure, buildings and people has never really materialised, even whilst Amber Rudd was the local MP, as poverty intensifies and drug dependency becomes the norm, not the exception. The shops are deserted, as folk have no money to spend on niceties, and the only growth industry at present seems to be shoplifting.

It was no surprise however, a few days later, to read the ONS 2023 ‘happiness’ index which ranked Hastings as the second most miserable area in the UK, followed by its near neighbour, Eastbourne, in third. With a UK average ‘life satisfaction’ score of 7.45, down from 7.54 last year, Hastings scored poorly.

Adur, near Lancing in West Sussex, eclipsed its Sussex neighbours to take the mantle with a dreadful 6.16 score and certain towns, who you would think would be the epitome of sadness, such as Luton and Grimsby, did not trouble the top ten whatsoever.

On the other side of the coin, the top ten happiest were made up of places I have never visited which could be a contributing factor as to why I am such a miserable sod, with the Shetland Islands scoring 8.22 with Na h- eileanan Siar scoring 8.12.

So how come the two happiest places in the UK are distant islands off the north of bonny Scotland? It seems solitude, isolation and the biting cold are preferable to being around ghastly people as they live a life that is as old fashioned and community based as is possible, where everyone knows one another, and their business, and this no doubt breeds trust and community spirit.

There is a more sinister twist to the happiness index however and that is suicides: The UK recorded 6319 such deaths in 2021 with men twice more likely than women to succumb, and those in my age group, 45 to 54, being the most likely to reach their end in this way.

It genuinely saddens me however as to how successive politicians have left areas like Hastings (and Eastbourne) to fester, for year after year and decade after decade. There is never any culpability and despite rhetoric to the contrary, the only thing that is going to put a smile back on the faces of folks in these areas are multi-billion-pound investments in jobs, business, training, and infrastructure. The only thriving business, which remains the same since I signed on there many years ago, is the dole office. Devoid of hope and living in run down slums, surrounded by a crack epidemic leaves limited options as to any future hope and many, such as me, take extreme action, pack a bag, and move out overnight as it is the only course of action to better oneself.

A meaningful task force in all the top ten unhappiest areas is what is required, to shake them up and give a dash of hope. The index measures the economy, education, health and government amongst other attributes and these towns, of which I speak from experience, have failed consistently time and again to get any skin in the game.

As for me, rest easy, as I will not end up as a statistic but, if things don’t improve and soon, I may be tempted to pack up my sheepskin and get a one-way ticket to the Shetlands to taste some real happiness, as the modern world continues to stress and test us all and there’s only so much of that any of us can take now, isn’t there…?

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher