Mar 31, 2011 David Tyler Uncategorized
A new study published in the Atlantic Monthly attempts to quantify the amount of happiness people in various communities feel, and Syracuse, it seems, is a little below average on the joy meter.
We’re happier than Uticans, who are near the bottom of the smile scale, but not as happy as those who hail from Rochester or Albany. No upstate cities are particularly cheery.
Of course, it’s March, and although the snow has mostly left, the biting winds and horizontal rains of our early spring are enough to make even the heartiest of Central New Yorkers wince a little bit. And with our collective pride wrapped so closely to the Syracuse Orange’s tournament hopes, this season’s premature exit did little to brighten spirits in these parts.
So … I’ve noticed a collective grumpiness in the last few weeks.
But what’s interesting about the study are the similarities between grumpy places and happy places.
In a lot of cases, the happy towns and Syracuse have quite a bit in common. Several are college towns (Lincoln, Neb., Burlington, Vt., Boulder, Colo.). And before you tell me that weather is the dominant factor, a look at the happy map would show that there are a lot of cold-weather cities that tip the smile scales, and a bunch of warm-weather locales where frowns appear to be the norm.
Madison, Wis. is a happy place, according to this study. I was briefly there a few years ago and it reminded me of Syracuse. And by a demographic and climate standpoint, there are a lot of similarities.
Madison is bigger than Syracuse (208,000 people as opposed to 145,000), but like Syracuse, the focal point of the town is the university. It has a cleaner, nicer lake than Onondaga Lake, but the weather is similar (Madison is a little colder, Syracuse is quite a bit snowier). Like Syracuse and many college towns, there are a number of arts and cultural attractions that are unavailable in other small cities. And similar to the place we call home, Madison seems to spill out of itself into a suburban sprawl that I found very familiar.
There are subtle differences. A higher percentage of Syracusans live as families, and more Madisonites live alone (solitary happiness?). Syracuse is a significantly more diverse place than Madison, which has a minority population of only 16 percent, compared with around 45 percent in Syracuse according to our most recent census.
But that doesn’t explain why they’re happier.
According to this study, it comes down to a few important things, which can be summed up in one word: money.
The median household income in Syracuse is $30,075. In Madison, it is $49,595.
Money can’t buy you happiness, but the lack of it can create a whole lot of pain. When a community’s economy is hurting, it shows on the faces of its residents. High unemployment, low wages and over-taxation don’t warm your heart.
I love the seasons and the snow and the camaraderie this community offers. Our long winters make our glorious late springs and summers all that much more enjoyable. We have friendly neighborhoods, many great schools, beautiful lakes and parks, and a diverse culture. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.
Nonetheless, there are economic barriers in Upstate New York that don’t exist in other parts of the nation. Until those barriers are removed and our state and local leaders adopt forward-thinking economic policies, more and more people will take their pursuit of happiness elsewhere. And that won’t make anyone smile.
David Tyler is the publisher of Eagle Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.