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Our pursuit of happiness presupposes that we always put this first and would choose instead to accept a less stellar career, a smaller pay packet or less prestigious address.

The reality is that actually we often decide to trade our happiness for other gains.

The working paper “Unhappy Cities” released last week by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research undertook a large survey asking people about their satisfaction with life, which was taken as a measure of happiness.

One of the co-authors Joshua Gottlieb reported that while happiness is considered an important component of our lives, other factors contribute to make people choose to override that aspect. This makes sense as we are all exposed to often a number of different variables that influence the decisions we make.

In the States a number of unhappy cities are continuing to draw new residents suggesting that short term gain overrides the need for longer-term happiness.
Certainly in Australia, there has been considerable debate around the FIFO lifestyle and its associated pressures and challenges it poses Yet the attraction of a mega salary is often enough to attract people to work in locations that are far from pleasant with searing hot temperatures, remote locations, difficult or even potentially dangerous work and separation from loved ones for extended periods of time.

The report suggests that researchers and policy makers should not consider an increase in reported happiness as an overriding objective.

Maybe not, but it fails to address the possibility that those who choose to move to a less than desirable place to live or work in look at it as a temporary or short term situation to facilitate the transition to a better place later.

It fails to address the notion too, that even when we in a place you don’t particularly like or enjoy being in, we as humans have the capacity to find alternative ways to find a pressure relief valve and some form of happiness. In other word we make the best of where we are now, with the outlook that things can change for the better.

So if you are wondering which are the “happy” and “unhappy” cities in the U.S. here are the top three in each category (for populations greater than one million as of 2010)

Top 3 Happiest Cities:
1. Richmond-Petersburg, VA
2. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, VA
3. Washington, DC

Top Unhappiest Cities:
1. New York, NY
2. Pittsburgh, PA
3. Louisville, KY

If you like me were surprised to see New York at the top of the unhappy list. I guess what one sees as a visitor belies what the actual experience of living may be for at least some of the population.

Ref:  Edward L. Glaeser, Joshua D. Gottlieb, Oren Ziv. Unhappy Cities. NBER Working Paper, 2014 DOI: 10.3386/w20291

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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