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What brings people to cities with unhappy residents?

Happiness happens where it's warm. According to a new study by Harvard Professor of economics, Ed Glaeser, Southern cities like Charlottsville, Virginia, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Naples, Florida, are among the happiest in the country.

"Though Rochester, Minnesota, also ranks way up there on our list," Glaeser says.

Then there are the glass half-empty metropoli. Glaeser notes that some cities in the Rust Belt, like South Bend, Indiana, and Erie and Scranton, Pennsylvania, have had high levels of self-reported unhappiness as far back as the 1940's. In their boom years at least, he says workers there were paid high wages, but no longer. Today he notes, for some workers in the Rust Belt the payoff comes in the form of cheap housing. But city residents aren't driven entirely by happiness, says Glaeser.

"They’re willing to take other compensations for being a little less happy," he says.

New York also registers as an unhappy city. Glaeser says some workers there trade high salaries for happiness.

Kelly Goldsmith, a professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, says when it comes to making decisions, we're just no good at making happiness a priority.

"You say to yourself, all right, I’ve got this job offer from Goldman Sachs. I know I’m going to be working like 16 hours day. I know I’m never going to see my kids and I know when I visited there and when I talked to the people that worked there – they said they were miserable. But what do we tell ourselves? We say, that’s not going to happen to me," she says. 

But Goldsmith notes, we’re not idiots – we’re optimists, even if there's no real hope to cling to.

"We’re naïve in that we think that we’re strong enough to overcome situational detriments to our happiness," she says.

Cassie Mogilner, a professor of marketing at Wharton, says residents of different cities might report happiness differently.

“I'm actually from California, where the norm is to talk about the wonderful things of one’s life and to rose color everything including their own well-being and happiness,” she says.

And she notes, the conclusion that people are being financially compensated by lower housing costs, or by being paid to live in in unhappy places, could be an over reach. It's possible, says Mogilner, that there's another way to think about factors like choosing a higher paying job, or a lower mortage, which could provide the ability to raise a family.

"These are things people are choosing in order to be happy, not instead of being happy."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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