Is air pollution making you unhappy? These scientists think so in a new research paper analysing life satisfaction data and nitrogen dioxide levels

Lynsey Barber
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St. Paul's Cathedral is seen among the s
London has the nighest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the capital (Source: Getty)

Air pollution is not just bad for your health, it might well be influencing how happy - or unhappy - you are.

New research suggests that even taking into account other factors such as wealth and education, air pollution could be having as big an influence on the nation's happiness as major life events such as the loss of a loved one or divorce.

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A change in exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the gas produced largely by diesel fumes, of just 10 miligrams per cubic metre each year was found to affect someone's life satisfaction on the same scale as such big life events.

The working paper from researchers at the University of York compared detailed data from wellbeing and air quality studies.

"Our analysis suggests that the disutility experienced by NO2 may be broadly comparable to that of many major life events such as unemployment, separation and widowhood," said researchers Sarah Knight and Peter Howley in their paper, "Can Clean Air Make You Happy?".

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"Moreover given that the effects of NO2 on life satisfaction are population-wide (ie. to some extent everyone is exposed to NO2, whereas only a fraction of the population are unemployed or separated), this suggests that the benefits to society from any reductions in NO2 would be substantive."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has promised to tackle air pollution in the capital where NO2 levels are the highest in the country.

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