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Dec. 30 2009 - 12:50 pm | 21 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Louisianians Happiest, New Yorkers Most Miserable, National Study Finds

Skyline - New York City, New York at night

Image by Trodel via Flickr

A study of state residents’ happiness by professor Stephen Wu, assistant professor of economics at Hamilton College, finds New Yorkers the least happy of all — unfortunately, it didn’t break out the difference between upstate and downstate, so we don’t know if people in Park Slope or Staten Island are actually ecstatic while those in Rochester or Newburgh or Albany are mad as hell.

Wu’s study found that people in poor states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which, despite chronic poverty, were a lot cheerier than in New York, which came out at the bottom of their list. His research ties into a new book by former Harvard president Derek Bok’s “The Politics of Happiness”; both were interviewed today at great length (43 minutes), on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show.

As someone living 25 miles north of Manhattan in a county with insane property taxes, (mine are mitigated because I own an apartment), I get it. My county lacks many of the things that make me really happy, some deeply personal, others less so, from no decent florists, few cafes or other cool, hip “third spaces”, not enough sidewalks, lousy public transportation to the predictable — it’s boring! I stay for an affordable quality of life and quick, easy access to Manhattan. I enjoy a great view of the Hudson River and would be hard pressed to give it up.

Any New Yorker paying crazy-high taxes to the clowns in Albany, who recently shot down gay marriage, also gets it.

Like my partner, I moved here primarily for work; my family and long-time friends are far away. I certainly do enjoy the amenities and culture of Manhattan, but I won’t describe my experience here as one of relentless joy. It’s too hard, too expensive and you need to hire and pay lawyers for some of the simplest transactions. With long and expensive commutes and tolls of $5-9 each way to cross almost every bridge or tunnel, even going to hang out with a friend face to face who lives some distance away from you can feel like a costly hassle.

I do like the weather, which some New Yorkers find appalling — try Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto winters! I find New York plenty sunny and the cold is nothing as long as the sun is shining; in Toronto, the “lake effect” ensures months of cloudy, gray days, no matter how sunny the day begins. Much as I hate New Yorkers’ elbows-out pushiness, I do enjoy the variety of work and cultural opportunities.

Bok says that it’s social relationships that make people happiest — friends, family, trust, enjoying your neighbors. Wu agrees, that connection is the bigger factor than just knowing lots of people.

Callers to the show, and Bok, suggested that the chronically ambitious — what Bok called “excessive expectations”  — are de facto grumpy. New York City, certainly, attracts those who have extremely high expectations of themselves and others, making it easy to be disappointed about every five minutes if that’s your style.

Time to lower the bar?


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    Former reporter and feature writer for the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award (humor) about -- what else -- my divorce. I've been writing frequently for The New York Times since 1990 on almost any subject you can think of -- yup, I'm a generalist. Author of "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books 2004). Canadian born, raised and formally educated, I've lived in New York since 1989.

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