With job lay-offs, unaffordable housing and a call for better public transport, Labour should be making inroads.

Despite the best efforts of Opposition politicians, single-issue campaigners and me and my colleagues in the media, most Kiwis seem resolutely unconvinced that this country is heading for hell in a handcart. This, despite growing job lay-offs, and vigorous campaigns for living wages, affordable housing, better public transport and the like.

The latest Nielsen Quality of Life survey quizzing more than 5000 residents of our six largest cities, reports that 80 per cent of city dwellers rate their quality of life as good, including 19 per cent who rated it "extremely good". Just 4 per cent said "poor". Even more positively, 24 per cent reckoned their quality of life had improved over the previous year, with another 55 per cent saying things had stayed the same.

Indeed, 71 per cent of city dwellers claim to be permanently "happy", nearly a quarter of these, "very happy". Another 20 per cent can't make up their minds whether they're happy or sad or in between, leaving 8 per cent who openly admit to being gloomy.

Our public servant masters in Wellington are particularly chipper with their lot, 29 per cent of them rating their life quality as "extremely good". Indeed, when it came to one's ability to cover the costs of everyday needs, 22 per cent of Wellingtonians say they "have more than enough money", nearly twice as many as the national average. Whether they're just more frugal than the rest of us, or dine too richly at the public trough, is not revealed.


However, it comes as no surprise that 88 per cent of Wellingtonians are "satisfied" with their lives - 21 per cent of them "very satisfied", compared with the national average of 69 per cent.

This just-released Nielsen Quality of Life survey, conducted between August and October last year on behalf of the six councils, coincides with publication of UMR Research's annual review of the mood of the nation, conducted in early December. UMR confirms that despite certain worries about the economy and politics, the bulk of New Zealanders are, on the whole, happy and contended.

When it comes to family life, 68 per cent are very satisfied and another 26 per cent somewhat satisfied. Despite endless stories about the housing crisis, 60 per cent are very satisfied with their current housing and another 33 per cent, "somewhat satisfied".

More than 90 per cent are either "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with the community in which they live, with the quality of their neighbourhood environment, with safety from violence, and with education. Even when it comes to "your financial situation," 79 per cent are satisfied - though only 23 per cent claim to being, "very satisfied".

No wonder, then, that Labour and the Greens are having such a hard time pulling Prime Minister John Key and National off their perch. The Opposition's only glimmer of hope is a gradually narrowing in the gap between those thinking New Zealand was "heading in the right direction" or going down "the wrong track". Last December, 50 per cent said "right direction," but this is part of a gradual - if erratic - decline from a heady 65 per cent back in 2009. There's been a matching rise in "wrong track" support over the same period, from 23 per cent to 37 per cent.

Mr Key can take heart that 53 per cent are predicting a better 2013, compared with the 28 per cent being pessimistic.

Just where the optimism comes from is hard to fathom, with 67 per cent in the UMR survey admitting the economic indicators are not good/poor, and 47 per cent expecting unemployment to rise.

We're not just a happy bunch. The UMR survey also points to New Zealanders becoming increasingly independent-minded when it comes to our place in the world. We're increasingly looking to our near North, rather than to old allies in Europe or North America. In May 1992, 15 per cent thought New Zealand was part of Asia. That's now jumped to 23 per cent.

The turning away from America as ally and role model is dramatic. In May 1992, 70 per cent thought that socially and economically New Zealand was becoming more like America. That's dropped to 47 per cent. In 2001, 48 per cent had a positive view of the United States. That's dropped to 34 per cent, the same rating as China, which has doubled its score.

Only 19 per cent see the US as a good model to follow, with 72 per cent saying it's a "bad" example - the reverse of the figures for our favourite model, Australia.

For the Opposition parties, the glimmer of hope in the poll is that while National continued to dominate in 2012, its lead was "nowhere near as much as 2011", with average support down 8 per cent on 2011. Over the same period, Labour plateaued and the Greens "had an excellent year", their support up 8 per cent.

For Labour, in particular, the difficult challenge now is to persuade voters they're not as happy and contended as they tell pollsters they are.