Naam hand-yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, knitting or YouTube videos of cutting sand (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) – people do all sorts of weird and wonderful things in a desperate attempt to de-stress. I went to Luxembourg.
The second least stressed city in the world (Stuttgart, Germany, comes in first, while London is at 70), Luxembourg City is an hour’s flight from London, tucked between Germany, France and Belgium. With a population of half a million and an abundance of green spaces, good food and apparently non-stressed people, I flew to Luxembourg to find out what they’re doing right, and how we can copy it. Samantha Magnus for Refinery29 reports.
The work-life balance
With a minimum of five weeks’ paid leave and 13 national holidays (five more than the UK), it’s not hard to imagine why Luxembourg City is one of the world’s least stressed cities.
The Mental Health Foundation reports Britain’s demanding work culture as the most pressing challenge to mental health. But it’s not just time off that makes Luxembourg your pathway to work zen – Luxembourgers also work relatively short days, with an emphasis on lunch and evening activities.
While full-time employees in the US work an average of 47 hours a week, and the UK nearly 44, Luxembourgers work an average of just 40 hours, and actually take their lunch break (no more al desko). To top it off, there are very strict rules on overtime; only 3% of Luxembourgers report working very long hours.
Balancing work with a social life and time off is stressful enough, without throwing kids into the mix. But Viviane Loschetter, a Luxembourgian Member of Parliament for the Green Party, tells me that Luxembourg’s government is committed to increasing its focus on flexible working for parents: “Parental leave has recently been improved [to allow both parents to take parental leave until their child is 6 years old, or 12 in the case of adoption] and made more flexible in order to better respond to the different needs of parents [parents can take one of four options, including full-time leave for 4-6 months, part-time leave for 8-12 months or fragmented leave for a maximum of 20 months]. This increases the quality of life of the family and reduces stress levels.”
High salaries, lower cost of living
Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can buy shoes. And clothes. And bags – which are pretty close. On top of the enviable work-life balance, Luxembourg has the highest national minimum wage in Europe, and an average salary that is much (on average, £15,000) higher than the UK, with Luxembourgers earning an average of £46,630.
And for once, the average doesn’t distort reality – unlike many other European cities that have struggled since 2008, income inequality is less of an issue in Luxembourg, which has much lower levels of poverty than its neighbours. Then there’s the added bonus of a negligible gender pay gap – being paid well, and fairly, for your work is definitely stress-reducing.
Not only do people earn more in Luxembourg, but their money goes further. Property is only slightly cheaper than in London, but the quality is incomparable – one Luxembourger living in London, Lynn Schwartz, said she was “shocked when I came over as a student and started looking for a place and only found mould-infested tips. That doesn’t exist in Luxembourg”.
While food, clothes and personal care are slightly more expensive in Luxembourg than London, the lower price of entertainment, transportation and housing makes it a significantly cheaper place to live.
Equality and tolerance
Imagine walking the streets of any major European capital city alone at night and feeling safe throughout the entire town. Imagine seeing female candidates heading most major parties, and imagine having gender equality as an established part of your country’s constitution. Sound like a feminist utopia? No, it’s just Luxembourg (surprise!).
Living in a diverse, tolerant society is obviously beneficial to wellbeing – and Luxembourg City provides a culturally vibrant and varied community. With over 100 different nationalities and half of the population born outside of Luxembourg, the capital city is truly a melting pot of cultures, identities and – crucially – good food. Luxembourg’s current government has introduced progressive policies to separate the Church and the State, subsidising religious communities proportionally.
Luxembourg also has the world’s third openly gay prime minister, Xavier Bettel, who married his partner shortly after the country legalised same-sex marriage in 2015 with widespread political support. The gay community in Luxembourg City is small but enthusiastic, and there’s an annual Pride. Bettel is keen to underline the overwhelming support and acceptance of the country’s gay community, saying the wider public “do not consider the fact of whether someone is gay or not”.
Commuting to and from work is ridiculously stressful, as is the price that comes with it. Earlier this year, London was named the most expensive city for commuting in the world, with a monthly travel card costing an average of £135.
Next time your face is stuck in someone else’s armpit during the morning commute, dream of Luxembourg: a city that’s only 51 square km, where public transport is cheap and clean, and many prefer to cycle or walk.
With half of the city made up of parks and green spaces, walking around Luxembourg City is an undoubtedly peaceful experience, incomparable to my personal daily struggle through the polluted hell that is Oxford Circus.
Viviane tells me the green spaces have been reserved intentionally, with 1,000 hectares (10km, or one-fifth of the city) reserved for woods, as well as additional communal gardens created to strengthen local communities and areas dedicated to walking, cycling, skating, playing or relaxing. Like us, she’s “convinced that parks and green spaces have a considerable effect on quality of life and stress levels… making it easy to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life”.
Gender equality, green spaces, higher wages – Luxembourg has a lot going for it. It may not have the skyscrapers of New York, the history of London or the white sands of the Maldives, but it’s (apparently) less stressful than all three – and it’s not so hard to see why.
Feeling a bit stressed? Move there, while you still can. For as long as we remain a member of the EU, Luxembourg offers free migration – and there are 5,500 Brits already there waiting for you.