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Major findings

Country road

As well as the hyperlocal stories that have emerged from this project, there's one major conclusion from the data as a whole.

The biggest factor associated with overall quality of life is education.

Our analyses suggest that when we compare a whole range of categories and factors with the quality of life scores, the strongest relationship is with education, followed by health. Wealth came in third.

That said, you only have to look at the heat maps to see that geography does play a role in quality of life, and that many of our regional and remote communities — particularly those that do not benefit from the opportunities generated by the mining sector — falter when it comes to quality of life.

In particular, job opportunities, wealth, health and internet access are the biggest concerns.

A quick look at the map is also enough to suggest that there's something in the myth of country kindness — our regional areas tended to score highly for community and volunteering.

The other important and uncomfortable trend suggested by the data is the extent of the challenges affecting remote and very remote Indigenous communities with respect to quality of life. Particularly when it comes to wealth, health and education, the gulf between the conditions in these communities and those of the rest of Australia is startling.

Personal learnings

On a more personal level, for many of the students involved, the Happiness Project was also a lesson in empathy and privilege.

There's often a moment in teaching data-driven journalism when the lines of a spreadsheet begin to turn into something more meaningful and students can see the story behind the data.

In this case, that narrative was often the challenges of living in remote and regional Australia — something that's hard to imagine if you've always lived in metropolitan areas. Many of our students were astounded at the idea of towns where the majority of people had no internet access, or that employment and healthcare could be limited by geography, remoteness and even the weather.

We hope that as you interact with the map and read the students' stories, you're able to do the same thing: to imagine what life is like in parts of Australia that are unfamiliar to you.