In search of geographical joy? Consulting firms that think they have the answers are taking the wrong approach to aggregated “happiest cities” lists. Happiness is a journey, not a place with great barscool Bicycle paths and lower divorce rates. But don’t tell that to consulting firms that annually publish lists of the best places to live. According to a recent study, this place is Overland Park, Kansas. Or Columbia, MD. Or Ron Burgundy San Diego.
These are among the highest entries on the 2022 Happiest Cities in America list from web-based finance company WalletHub. Financial news site 24/7 Wall Street recently put together a list of the 50 happiest American cities. Curiously enough, most of the cities that ranked first in the WalletHub rankings didn’t make it—with the exception of San Diego. Healthcare company Mindbody ranked Detroit as the 10th happiest city in America, with WalletHub ranking last at number 182.
Methodologies for calculating happy cities generally include compilations of community statistics — air quality, nightlife, and schools — that “scientifically” determine where you have the best chance of living a better life.
“It’s complicated,” says Richard Dallal, professor of psychology at George Mason University. “It is important to understand that there is much more variation in happiness within any given city than there is between cities.”
Statistics or not, happiness ratings are somewhat random. Fixing your satisfaction isn’t as easy as moving to any of the five (duh) affluent California cities that grabbed WalletHub’s top 10 spots. Even if you can.
“Richness is important, but its effects are complex,” Dalal says. “As per capita incomes rise, people tend to compare themselves to the wealthy.”
WalletHub annually updates its methodology to reflect lifestyle trends. “California cities tend to rank near the top, while cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Birmingham are among the lowest,” says Jill Gonzalez, the company’s analyst.
Should it bother you if your city landed at number 174 on the Happy Person Chart? Or put an extra jump in your stride to find that you live in third? Mostly not.
“The more we try to find happiness, the more we suffer,” wrote Ross Harris, author of The Happiness Trap. “This psychological trap is well hidden, and we have no evidence that we are stuck in it.”
Maybe even in San Diego.
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