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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: What's the Unhappiest City in The USA & Why?

Thought for the Day: Long before the trend in positive psychology, I have always been fascinated in what leads to positive outcomes for people who have suffered from difficult life circumstances. My Master's thesis looked at what helped children cope with war, father absence and loss of a parent during war. At the time, psychology was entirely focused what causes psychopathology. Mine was one of the few studies which tried to figure out what leads to mental health. In recent years others have followed suit and today's psychology trivia question looks at a recent study's findings on how where we live impacts on our happiness. Here's the question:
   The most unhappy city in the United States is:

        a) Detroit MI
        b) Las Vegas NV
        c) Richmond VA
        d) New York NY 
        e) Pittsburg PA

What do you think, which of the cites above is the unhappiest in the United States?

The answer is d). New York City was found to be the place that people reported being least satisfied with their lives. 

Since I live just an hour away fromNYC and love being able to visit whenever I can, I was a bit surprised by the findings. 

The study co-authored by Joshua Gottlieb of the University of British Columbia's 
Vancouver School of Economics, found that people sometimes trade happiness for higher 
paying jobs. 

In  "Unhappy Cities" preliminary findings were released last week by the U.S. National 
Bureau of Economic Research. The study reports the results from a large survey which 
asked participants about how satisfied they are with their with lives. Satisfaction with 
life is seen as an indication of happiness. They conclude that, "Individuals may willingly 
endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs."

They also found that people will endure less than happy life situations in exchange for lower housing costs. In NYC, people do not find lower housing costs. They do have higher salaries, but the cost of living is also higher. It may be that people take jobs there thinking that the salary will be adequate only to find that they give up floor space in housing and buying power in an expensive environment. These factors may lead to their unhappiness. 

The takeaway from this study is not to avoid moving to a city like NYC for fear of being unhappy, but to adjust your expectations. Do your research and understand what compromises you will need to make in size and comfort of housing , for instance. New York City is also a place where there are many free and low cost concerts, restaurants and educational opportunities, that are hard to find in other parts of the country. If you move there or to one of the other cities on the "unhappy" list, look for the unique opportunities that will bring you joy. We make our happiness, not our geography. 

I hope they will do additional studies to interview those who are dissatisfied who have found ways to be happy even when some parts of their life are less than what they expected.

In case you are curious the top 10 happiest cities with over one million people are:
"Top 10 happiest metropolitan areas with a population greater than 1 million (as of 2010):
1. Richmond-Petersburg, VA
2. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, VA
3. Washington, DC
4. Raleigh-Durham, NC
5. Atlanta, GA
6. Houston, TX
7. Jacksonville, FL
8. Nashville, TN
9. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, FL
10. Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, NJ"
You can read more about the study on UBC News

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