Walkable Communities are the Happiest
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how where I live makes me happy.
Since writing about this, I noticed that a lot of visitors to my site were interested in the topic (the most popular search term people Google to get to my blog is “how does where you live affect your happiness”).
So, I decided to do a little more investigating and posed the question to readers last week: how does where you live make you happy ?
I got responses like:
- Suburban lack of density & reliance on car = generally less stoked
- Happy: living in West Seattle feels like a small town, you run into friends every time you go out for dinner or groceries
- A nearby pub is essential to my happiness. And friends to fill the pub, of course.
What I found in these responses and further research, is that like I had hypothesized in my original post, people desire walkable, vibrant communities and believe that this makes them happier. In other words, the less people have to get in their cars to socialize, shop, and perform their day to day activities, the better (and happier) they are.
Vancouver was named Canada’s most walkable city last year (photo c/o Vancouverisawesome)
According to a recent study by the University of New Hampshire, People who live in walkable communities are more socially engaged, trusting, and ultimately, happier than those who live in less walkable areas. The researchers scored 700 residents of three communities in New Hampshire on measures of “social capital” such as socializing with friends, civic engagement and trust in their community. They found those in neighborhoods with higher Walk Score ratings reported being happier and healthier and more apt to volunteer, work on community projects or simply entertain friends at home. This would explain why I like my neighbourhood so much (it has a walk score of 97).
My neighbourhood, Commercial Drive, in Vancouver, BC (photo courtesy of dailyxy)
Another happiness writer, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, said that when it comes to happiness, “location makes a big difference. A bad commute can really bring people down. People are resilient and can learn to take something in stride, but a bad commute is sometimes really tough.”
Residential areas located far away from shops, services and schools means that people have to drive to do their daily business. And the more time spent driving means less time to be involved in family, recreation or community activities.
In another study, happiness researchers asked people to name the worst part of their day. People consistently named commuting as one of their least favorite activities. And yet, the average American commute is 50 minutes per day; nine out of 10 are by car.
In fact, when it comes to choosing where we live, Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer say too many of us make an unequal tradeoff: they call it the “commuting paradox.” According to economics, people should be compensated — either economically or emotionally — for the burden of their commute, but Frey and Stutzer found that “people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being.”
The rewards associated with longer commutes — a bigger house, a backyard and a nice, big driveway — don’t fully compensate for the sacrifices we end up making by working so far from home (e.g., less time with family, and health issues like back pain, higher cholesterol, weight gain and anxiety).
According to a Huffington Post article:
One possible reason for our error in judgement is what psychologists call a weighting mistake, or a focusing illusion. By simply choosing to consider a higher salary or a bigger house in the suburbs (those things that contribute to a longer commute), we give them more weight than they deserve. So instead of focusing on what would really make us happier — more leisure, more time with friends/family and more focus on health — we become fixated on the bigger income or bigger backyard and choose the longer commute.
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