If you asked most people in your city or town how satisfied they were with their life, how do you think they would respond? How would you respond?
I was reading an article today from the Washington Post that was forwarded to me by one of our Intentionomics community members.
The article outlined what has been purported as a list of the happiest and unhappiest cities in the USA. It was based on a research paper by Edward Glaeser and Oren Ziv at Harvard and Joshua Gottlieb at the University of British Columbia. These researchers based their findings on a long standing and reputable telephone survey known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, conducted annually by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers focused in on just one question used in the survey. The question was “How satisfied are you with your life?” The respondents could select from four answers: Very satisfied; Satisfied; Unsatisfied; Very Unsatisfied.
While there are a number of issues with the methodology of the research and therefore with the reported results, what this report raises for me is how much impact does where we live have on our life satisfaction?
The ‘treadmill’ of pursuing more
On a recent post I discussed the propensity for many of us to compare ourselves, our possessions and our life in general with what others are doing and have. What happens is we might pursue ‘more’ in our lives, because ‘others’ have more. In the pursuit of more, we might earn more money… but then we adjust our lifestyle choices and buy more things or more expensive things, and our overall satisfaction in life doesn’t really improve that much, or if it does, it quickly reverts back to a level of life satisfaction that we were on before we got the pay rise.
This is often referred to as the Hedonic Treadmill, where a most popular definition of ‘hedonic’ refers to the ‘pleasant feelings’ we get from what we do or what we have.
Getting back to the study, I think it just makes sense that most of us would want to live in a nice city/suburb/town… a place where the majority of people are ‘happy’. But how would you personally define ‘nice’? Like happiness, it’s all a bit subjective isn’t it?
My point is this… the way we view where we live (and how we determine our life satisfaction) is our business – not someone else’s business.
The realistic position is that basic demographics, financial and personal situations will prevent everyone from living in a peaceful suburb, in a luxury home, with 180 degree water views (and of course I’m just expressing my own bias of a definition of ‘nice’).
However, we can either choose to ruminate over the luck and fortune and lifestyle of others, and make ourselves constantly unhappy with our lot in life, or we can choose to focus on the positives and savour the everyday joys of where we live, the people we have in our lives, and the choices we have, given the realities of our resources and capacity.
This is not to say that we oughtn’t strive for personal meaningful goals. In fact, science validates the positive impact that the pursuit of meaningful goals has on our overall sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction. The big question is whether we are pursuing meaningful goals based on our own values and what’s most important to us, or are we pursuing goals that we are basing on what others expect of us, and on what others deem as worthwhile?
This is not an easy question to answer… but it is certainly a question well worth asking. The answers can be quite liberating when you choose to live a more happy, flourishing and meaningful life, rather than just a happy life based on comparing yourself with and chasing what others have.