Wednesday, January 6, 2010

There’s no place like home

A few weeks ago a friend of mine said he’d read a survey that ranked New York 51st in the list of happiest states. That not-so-state-ly 51, as well as my friend’s assertion that Louisiana was number 1 and Miami number 2, fueled my skepticism. But it turns out he’s absolutely correct.

Y’all know me. I’m an inveterate New Yorker. So much so that family legend will tell you that when I was little my parents took me to Central Park and I was afraid to step on the grass. So much so that I wrote my college personal statement—my description of myself, if you will—about New York. If that doesn’t prove my love for this whole glorious city, from the MetLife Building to the British Airways ads outside the Midtown Tunnel, I don’t know what does. I can’t imagine I’d be happier if I moved to Louisiana (though tell me, Zoom, if I’m mistaken). I wasn’t any more (or less) content of a person in Pennsylvania (admittedly ranked a paltry 41st) and was in fact actively less happy the summer I spent in middle-o’-nowhere Vermont (18th!).

One of my friends is always talking about moving to California. She describes it to me like some kinda crazy utopia. I’ve never been there myself to verify, but she says people are nicer, everything’s more laidback, the weather is better, etc., etc. Then again, good ol’ CA is only ranked 46th—nothing to write home about either.

While the study doesn’t present any earth-shattering conclusions—happiness is correlated with objective quality-of-life measures like climate, crime rates, cost of living—it still makes me think about the extent to which we are affected by our surroundings. I’m inclined to believe that it doesn’t much matter where we live; our personalities and ways of looking at things tend to stay the same. “Wherever you go, there you are,” as another friend and I used to tell each other in suburban Pennsylvania, where I unexpectedly didn’t miss New York too much.*

But is this the whole story? Or do our surroundings interact with us more than I give them credit for? Unclear. Despite my previous assertions, for instance, I do feel I’ve become a bit happier since I moved to Brooklyn. Or, to rephrase, I wouldn’t say my entire outlook on life has become rosier. But I definitely feel a weight easing from me as the Q chugs its way across the bridge every night. I realize as I write this that yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day I moved out to my new place (same day as the G train). And yesterday after I got off the Q, I couldn’t help but grin for my entire walk home from the station, as I just about always do. It still feels like such a gift that I get to live exactly where I want to.

What are your thoughts? Should we all up and relocate to New Orleans? Grin and bear it? Did being born in New York destine me to be a cranky old fart? Is ranking for sissies and statisticians?

*Well, except for the time I was browsing my computer’s stock desktop backgrounds late freshman fall, and found that one was a photo of Madison Square Park. I recognized that street sign! Ah, those zebra crossings! That was my city, by God! It took willpower not to just run onto the train home then and there.


  1. whos there not where unless where is a fuggin dump or a minefield

    its nice you like it here! its nice
    brugglin stresses me OUT

    ohandithoughtofsomething about ereaders

    you cant write on them!

    they are tyrants justlike computers

  2. I know there are lots of good things about New York, but what makes it so unquestionably better than everywhere else? You seem to be totally sure a priori that no other place could compare, without having to investigate the matter at all. Is it just that you're used to New York and you don't want to change?

    P.S. Their way of measuring happiness was pretty ridiculous ("objective happiness indicators for each state, such as how much rain and sunshine each state received..."). Also, even they did find a good way to measure happiness, it seems much more likely that the causation would go from people to states than the other way around. (All the sad people moved to NY for its cheering influence!)

  3. I don't know if NY is *unquestionably* better. It's just the right one for me. Maybe it is that I'm afraid of change...

  4. Rankings are for sissies and statisticians, except when things you really care about are lauded at the top of a big ol' heap. Then they kick ass. So says a die-hard Californian. Who is also fairly certain California should never be evaluated as a single state. Speaking of which, you must needs come visit me. I know better than to try and convert you from your New York adoration, but I can certainly do my best to offer you one more somewhat beloved home away from home.

    Of course, as reference, the self-proclaimed East Coasters in my cohort are more often baffled by CA (Northern) than not. Some outright loathe both the friendliness *and* the sunshine. Others (prior inhabitants of NYC, mostly) have been known to decry the inordinate attention paid to cross-walk lights, to say nothing of the perpetual affronts to high fashion. Ah well. Can't win 'em all.

  5. This list is kind of ridiculous.

    But - Florida is number 3!!! There is something magical about it always being sunny.

  6. Well, of course you should all up and move to New Orleans-- give me some more awesome company!

    But no, I don't think you'd be worlds happier in Louisiana. It might be my type of tea, but I'm pretty sure it's not yours (no metro, for one)

  7. The people who wrote this study should read this book, which describes large quantities of evidence that people are terrible at predicting what will make them happy. (In one famous study, if I recall correctly, quadruplegics one year after being paralyzed were found to be happier than lottery winners one year after winning the lottery.) I would submit that there is no such thing as an "objective happiness indicator", and things that we might expect to make us happy (ie: the quality of life indicators used in this sham of a study) certainly cannot be equated with actual measures of happiness.

    I'd be sort of interested to see how different the list would be if they only looked at the subjective happiness rankings. I suspect New York might fare somewhat better once the cost of living, air quality, commute time, etc. were taken out of the picture.

  8. Agreed. Reading about happiness is so interesting--we did a bit in my social psych seminar. I do feel that people are subjectively happy to be in New York, at least as far as my experience goes...