Lifestyle defines New Zealanders' sense of national identity and most of us want to stay here - even if we could earn more overseas.
In-depth interviews with 91 people in five communities, marking the Herald's relaunch in a compact format, found that all except seven people were glad to live in this country.
A parallel DigiPoll survey of 750 New Zealanders found 66 per cent would choose to live here if they had a choice of anywhere in the world.
Only 11 per cent in the DigiPoll survey would choose to live in Australia, even though OECD figures show the buying power of average fulltime wages in June was 31 per cent higher in Australia - a difference that Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg puts at $38.05 against $29.09 an hour in NZ dollar terms.
Virtually as many people, 10.8 per cent, would choose to live in Europe, and 10.2 per cent preferred a range of other countries.
The Herald's in-depth interviews, reported in a week-long series starting today, reveal that Kiwis of all ages define the typical characteristics of New Zealanders in positive lifestyle terms such as "sporty", "outdoors", "adventurous" and "friendly".
"Wearing Jandals, watching rugby, just being fun," said June Hamilton, 61, activities co-ordinator in a Rotorua rest home.
Korean mother-of-three Sujung (Sue) Kim, 41, said she and her husband took their family to the Waikato town of Cambridge seven years ago "for a rest".
"New Zealand is quite a good country for resting," she said.
Most people still see the country as uncrowded, "clean and green", and safe.
"New Zealand is a little safe haven, there's no dictators or poisonous things," said Rotorua mother Dana Bolton, 35.
Dr Rosenberg said a recent Columbia University World Happiness Report rated New Zealanders' perceptions of their quality of life eighth-highest, one place ahead of Australia. "So there is something about living in New Zealand that attracts people despite the economic circumstances."
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said Europe's level-pegging with Australia in the DigiPoll survey suggested people saw the poll as a "Lotto" question disregarding eco-nomic factors: "If you won Lotto, where would you live?"
He said it was surprising that only 1.6 per cent would choose to live in Asia, even though 6.6 per cent of survey respondents were of Asian ethnicities.
People under 40 were much less likely (58 per cent) to prefer living in New Zealand than those aged 40-64 (71 per cent) or 65 and over (79 per cent).
But this was largely because 14 per cent of under-40s preferred to live in Europe, compared with 8 and 7 per cent in the older groups.
By Lincoln Tan Email Lincoln, Simon Collins Email Simon