The City That Never Sleeps could be making its residents cranky and depressed. Its concrete jungles, crowded streets, commuter trains and buses, and traffic could hold the key to why New York is America’s unhappiest city, despite its job opportunities, higher salaries, and housing, according to a study released by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research. The study sought to find out why people still choose to live in the unhappiest cities of the country, and if urban unhappiness can be offset by the benefits these cities provide residents.
“In this view, subjective well-being is better viewed as one of many arguments of the utility function, rather than the utility function itself, and individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness,” read the abstract of the study. Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University used data pulled from the General Social Survey, the National Survey of Families and Households, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track citizens who move to areas where there are high levels of unhappiness. Life satisfaction — often a big indicator of overall happiness — was measured for each city’s residents, based on the data collected.
Self-reported unhappiness is high in declining cities, and this continues to be true even when income, race, and other personal characteristics are taken into account. Unhappiness in these cities is independent of economic ties, as historical data indicates these cities also ranked as “unhappy” in better economic times as well. It seems if the price is right, we are willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction, as residents of unhappier metropolitan areas do receive higher wages, possibly a compensation for their misery.
Top 10 unhappiest metropolitan areas with a population greater than 1 million (as of 2010):
1. New York, N.Y.
2. Pittsburgh, Pa.
3. Louisville, Ky.
4. Milwaukee, Wis.
5. Detroit, Mich.
6. Indianapolis, Ind.
7. St. Louis, Mo.
8. Las Vegas, Nev.
9. Buffalo, N.Y.
10. Philadelphia, Pa.
Top 10 happiest metropolitan areas with a population greater than 1 million (as of 2010):
1. Richmond-Petersburg, Va.
2. Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, Va.
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
5. Atlanta, GA 6. Houston, Texas
7. Jacksonville, Fla.
8. Nashville, Tenn.
9. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, Fla.
10. Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, N.J.
While it seems misery has taken a bite out of the Big Apple, the state of Louisiana is all smiles. The five U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest reported happiness in the Pelican State include: Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Houma, Shreveport-Bossier City, and Alexandria.
The study authors suggest the findings reveal a willingness among residents to “endure less happiness” in exchange, for example, for higher incomes or lower housing costs, Business Insider reported. If people only choose to maximize their happiness, then individuals would move to happier places until rising rents and congestion soon eliminated the pleasure and joy of that locale. This would soon evolve into a vicious cycle and eliminate the factors that contribute to well-being and life satisfaction.
America’s pursuit of happiness has now become a regional, rather than a national feat. More residents are cashing higher paychecks in exchange for their joy. Money really can’t buy happiness, after all, even if it grants us opportunities to purchase many luxury items.