Happiness, American style.
April 14, 2015 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Study reveals Unhappiest (and Happiest) Cities in the U.S. “Our research indicates that people care about more than happiness alone, so other factors may encourage them to stay in a city despite their unhappiness,” says Gottlieb. “This means that researchers and policy-makers should not consider an increase in reported happiness as an overriding objective.”

Gottlieb and his co-authors investigated which regions of the U.S. tend to report lower life satisfaction, and found that residents of declining cities appear less happy than those who live in other parts of the U.S. Long-term residents of these cities appear equally as unhappy as newer residents, suggesting that the city’s unhappiness persists over time. Historical data indicate that cities currently in decline were also unhappy in their more prosperous past.
posted by storybored (51 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, Pennsylvania seems like a gloomy state, eh?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:50 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have spent a lot of time in the Norfolk/ Newport News area, and I can't for the life of me think of anything that people there have to be especially happy about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:53 PM on April 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:02 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Paper sans paywall.

Data comes from the CDC. From the paper:
Since 2005, CDC has asked all respondents “In general, how satisfied are you with your life?” Respondents were given four possible categories: very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, and very dissatisfied. In each year between 2005 and 2009, around 300,000 subjects answered this question, along with all of the demographic variables listed below. We recognize that satisfaction may strictly differ from happiness, but we will use the terms interchangeably.

posted by phooky at 9:03 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.

The eastern part of Washington State looks mighty angry, and those folks ain't voting for Obummer, that's fer sure.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Note to self: more crawfish, beignets, muffalettas, jambalaya, Hurricanes, jazz, and zydeco. (And humidity, I guess.)
posted by argonauta at 9:25 PM on April 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Happy: Georgia and Louisiana?

Not: Indiana and Kentucky?
posted by jjj606 at 9:30 PM on April 14, 2015


I live in a Democratic enclave in a purple state. According to the study we're the happiest metropolitan area in the country. But given the definition used, it might just mean 'smug'. And, uhm, yeah, it's that. (I do like living here though.)
posted by nangar at 9:34 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.

I like how the Austin area appears to be a little enclave of unhappy discontent in the generally-pretty-pleased swathe of Texas. Same for the Atlanta area in Georgia, actually. Big cities are generally more dissatisfied than little ones, apparently.
posted by sciatrix at 9:39 PM on April 14, 2015


This confirms my suspicions: I should visit Colorado.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:46 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's late, so I'm not going to go do the due diligence and googling here, but I remember reading about a study that stated that conservatives have greater self-reported happiness, but liberals exhibit signs of happiness more often (smiling, etc.). So if this is based on self-reported data, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it does correlate to a red-blue map.
posted by Hactar at 9:50 PM on April 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


While I usually recoil at the thought of distrusting science with mere anecdote, here goes: this seems like meaningless bullshit to me.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:54 PM on April 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I like how the Austin area appears to be a little enclave of unhappy discontent in the generally-pretty-pleased swathe of Texas.

Now is the spring of our discontent made summer by the Legislature leaving for the biennium and stopping fucking up the state even further, Lord willing and the Governor not calling a special.
posted by immlass at 9:54 PM on April 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Most of the 'left coast' seems to be bummed out... in California, the only counties in 'barely positive green' are Orange County, I think Merced in the Central Valley (an island of contentment?) and Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo Counties on the south/central coast. I probably have a personal effect on the score in SLO. :) :) :)

But that one happy part of Washington, Franklin and Benton Counties, adjacent to the very negative Yakima County... very odd.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:59 PM on April 14, 2015


Interesting how the deep south - which usually bottoms out all those quality-of-life stats - seems so happy.

Intermountain west FTW!
posted by gottabefunky at 10:04 PM on April 14, 2015


I expect this is mostly just measuring social constraints on admitting dissatisfaction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 PM on April 14, 2015 [58 favorites]


Now is the spring of our discontent made summer by the Legislature leaving for the biennium and stopping fucking up the state even further, Lord willing and the Governor not calling a special.

You got my hopes up! Alas, the fuckers are gonna be at it through June.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:14 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I refuse to believe Cape Cod is that happy.
posted by maryr at 10:48 PM on April 14, 2015


Wow, my home town Johnstown PA is #6 on the list!

Of unhappy regions.

Which is astounding because it's a really small town. I knew it was unhappy, but I didn't realize it was nationally ranked. It beat out tough competition to make it that far.

Go Johnstown! You can do it!
posted by ngc4486 at 10:51 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


My hometown is apparently the happiest? I still don't want to move back there.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:08 PM on April 14, 2015


The federal pen is in that seething orange swath in Eastern Washington. But then so is the town of Walla Walla, and the Hanford nuclear res.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:29 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pittsburgh at #2 doesn't surprise me. I live here now and people in da Burgh, while mostly meaning well, are on the whole pretty rude, unfriendly and very suspicious if you don't wear black and gold the Friday before a Steelers game.

As someone born in Buffalo, and still considering myself a Buffalonian at heart, their appearance on the list is really just carryover from the four Super Bowls the Bills lost consecutively and the disasterous "no goal" call that lost the Sabres Lord Stanley's Cup in 1999. On the whole, Buffalonians are super friendly people (although I guess I understand friendliness isn't necessarily connected to happiness, it feels right to me that it should be).
posted by glaucon at 3:38 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Related: availability of good weed by state.
posted by spitbull at 4:47 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I see Indiana proudly maintains its standing as a bright-red state.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:37 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


nangar: "I live in a Democratic enclave in a purple state. According to the study we're the happiest metropolitan area in the country. But given the definition used, it might just mean 'smug'. And, uhm, yeah, it's that. (I do like living here though.)"

I was coming here to say pretty much the same thing. For several swaths of the local population, being the best in the best area at the best time is a badge of honor. They could be knee deep in angry snakes with eviction notices, and still raving about how wonderful they (and their surroundings) are.

Also, if you take a survey on the corner before the ABC arrives, you'd get high "happiness" numbers, too.
posted by julen at 5:59 AM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.

Or less self-deluded.
posted by aught at 6:03 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's late, so I'm not going to go do the due diligence and googling here, but I remember reading about a study that stated that conservatives have greater self-reported happiness, but liberals exhibit signs of happiness more often (smiling, etc.). So if this is based on self-reported data, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it does correlate to a red-blue map.

You might be thinking about this.
posted by aught at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Greater MN is perfectly neutral, which tells me the researchers did not adjust for the midwestern Lutheran brand of passive negativity. "We're doing just fine up here" /= "We're doing just fine up here".
posted by Think_Long at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's some surprising stuff on this list. I thought Louisiana (and Shreveport in particular) was ranked really low on happiness in a previous similar study.

Aside from cops and winter, I'm not sure what St. Louis has to complain about -- and we had a really easy winter this time around compared to the Northeast.
posted by Foosnark at 6:17 AM on April 15, 2015


I expect this is mostly just measuring social constraints on admitting dissatisfaction.

and/or a map of cognitive dissonance by region
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 6:33 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


That big blue square in the middle of the Rocky Mountains sure looks like a thumbs up for recreational marijuana use.
posted by alms at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Interesting to see how much of rural Georgia is exceedingly happy. Having lived in a few towns across the area I can indeed confirm that ignorance is, unfortunately, bliss. 😕
posted by pearlybob at 6:47 AM on April 15, 2015


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.

I suspect it's a subtler difference. A lot of the right wing people I know seem to take genuine pleasure and joy in being furiously, frothingly angry. Since they feel this way approximately 99% of the time, they'd describe themselves as happy. Everyone else describes them as "furious assholes."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:59 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pittsburgh at #2 doesn't surprise me. I live here now and people in da Burgh, while mostly meaning well, are on the whole pretty rude, unfriendly and very suspicious if you don't wear black and gold the Friday before a Steelers game.

Weird, I've never gotten that. Maybe because I'm a woman, so I'm not expected to care about sports. Granted, Pittsburgh drivers are super-rude. (Save the tailgating for game day, guys!) I was actually surprised to see Pittsburgh ranked that high on the unhappiness list; the Economist keeps naming us the most livable city in the U.S. year after year. Is it the cloudiness?

I suspect it's a subtler difference. A lot of the right wing people I know seem to take genuine pleasure and joy in being furiously, frothingly angry. Since they feel this way approximately 99% of the time, they'd describe themselves as happy. Everyone else describes them as "furious assholes."

That goes for a lot of the left-wing people I know too, though.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 7:09 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a weird measurement: it's not really happiness. It's satisfaction with one's life. So as someone noted above, it could measure the cultural acceptability of admitting dissatisfaction. It also could measure resignation: if you don't think you're entitled to anything better or aren't aware that things could be better, than you might say you were satisfied.

Personally, I'd be curious to see how it overlaps with religion. Are religious people more likely to report satisfaction? Does it vary by denomination? If Protestants are happier, why are Nebraskans so bummed out?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:22 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


What ArbitraryAndCapricious said. Ask me if I'm happy, and I'll tell you about my emotional state. Ask me if I'm satisfied, and depending on the day, I might give you a rant about economic inequality or civil rights or something.
posted by heisenberg at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


The eastern part of Washington State looks mighty angry, and those folks ain't voting for Obummer, that's fer sure.

It's the Hugo Awards kerfuffle.
posted by eriko at 7:45 AM on April 15, 2015


Fundamentally, what this is telling me is Indiana really sucks, right?
posted by eriko at 7:47 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Back in the 2005-2007 range there were a bunch of folks that moved from Charlottesville to NYC for a year, and then moved back. I used to say that New York was where you went when Cville got too stressful.
posted by thecaddy at 8:06 AM on April 15, 2015


aught, that's it exactly. Thank you!
posted by Hactar at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This confirms my suspicions: I should visit Colorado.

No. It's.... full. Yeah, that's it. Full. Maybe go to Pittbsurgh or Akron, or something, OK ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:26 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


it could measure the cultural acceptability of admitting dissatisfaction. It also could measure resignation: if you don't think you're entitled to anything better or aren't aware that things could be better, than you might say you were satisfied.

I think it must, because you can see exactly where the Mason-Dixon line used to cut across the East Coast -- but I doubt that people in the former Eastern "slave states" are genuinely so much happier than the people in the former Eastern "free states." It seems plausible to me, though, that SE culture is less encouraging (than NE culture is) of people expressing anger/dissatisfaction/disappointment.
posted by rue72 at 9:02 AM on April 15, 2015


That goes for a lot of the left-wing people I know too, though.

The left-wingers I know are certainly super-angry, and I believe they probably derive some internal benefit from it the way the right-wingers do, but they would never describe themselves to someone else as satisfied. They'd be like "satisfied? Are you insane? With the minimum wage the way it is?"

Though TBH I was surprised that Chicago is only in the middle of the misery range. I guess with this much Italian beef at our disposal it's impossible to be too unhappy.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Blue" states: 'Our world is going to hell in a handbasket.'
"Red" states: 'Our world is going to hell in a handbasket, but it's OK, because God!'

Ta-da! Studies show red states are happier, film at 11.

(Not disparaging the study itself, just the ease with which it can be misinterpreted by the facile.)
posted by jammer at 11:15 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, we're certainly exploring the differences between the apparent facts and the possible narratives one can build around the apparent facts.
posted by weston at 11:55 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm in the NYC area and pretty unsatisfied. It's easy to explain: you'll never be the best of anything here. You spend everyday seeing people with more money, better careers, better educations, better families, and by better I mean it goes all the way up into the stratosphere on a global scale. And with our American "you can do anything if you try, and if you fail you're a pile of crap" mentality, it's easy to start beating the crap out of yourself for not being good enough. It's also stressful. Crowded. Polluted. Very materialistic, and pretty damn aggressive.

The benefit of this area, though, is the endless supply of work if you have a modicum of education, ability, and motivation. Plus there's plenty to do.
posted by gehenna_lion at 1:52 PM on April 15, 2015


I'd be very interested to see how this corresponds to a red-blue map. Just glancing at it kind of suggests that Democrats might be kinda cranky people.

Or not completely oblivious.
posted by notreally at 2:52 PM on April 15, 2015


It's astonishing how psychologists will go to such great lengths to ensure their work is careful and scientific in certain ways (e.g., standardizing "measurement" instruments, etc.), and then at the end of it all completely transform the nature of what they've found, in this case from "cities displayed as a function of answers to the question 'how happy are you'" to "the happiest cities".
posted by patrickdbyers at 3:34 PM on April 15, 2015


These were economists.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:38 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stumbling on Happiness is in large part about how bad we are at estimating our own happiness, especially for our past or future. ie, parents of a young child generally characterize themselves as unhappy, but a few years later will look back and estimate that period as much happier, because brain chemicals or something.

These surveys are still useful, though. NYC as the unhappiest large city certainly feels right to me, in the moment, as I sit at work following my one hour, yet-short-for-this-city commute, swimming upstream against a river of other pedestrians after a subway trip. I can never square that with things like this Gothamist piece from yesterday, representative of the "We live in the greatest city in the world!" attitude I always run into here.
posted by frogstar42 at 8:27 AM on April 16, 2015


As a two-decades plus denizen of Louisiana, there's a lot I could say about this. It's certainly true that as ArbitraryandCapricious points out above there's kind of a cultural proscription here against bitching too much, but there's also this:

I have a lake I can swim in when the weather's warm. Cost: nothing
I can find great food with zero effort. Cost: very cheap
There's almost always somebody having a party somewhere. Cost: Free

Drive-thru Daiquiris helps, too.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:18 AM on April 16, 2015


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