Cities & Happiness

City versus Nature

Cities represent success and openness. Living in a famous city such as New York City or Las Vegas is similar to a status symbol. There are lots of movies, books or real live stories reporting how a people from a small town moves into the big city to become successful or to find happiness. In reality, however, this is very often a disillusion. Cities are expensive, anonymous and very loud. Okulicz-Kozaryn makes no secret of not linking big cities but preferring instead nature. His studies display that people who live in bigger cities actually are unhappier than people who live in smaller cities. Moreover, people who live the allegedly most famous and desirable cities, like New York City or London are even unhappier.

Lots of theories: How can a certain place determine happiness or unhappiness?

Industrialization forced people into cities. After that the urbanization followed, that meant cities were build up. If one considers this phenomenon historically one has to realize it is a very young development. During the 1950s only 30% of the people lived in cities. In 2050 there are going to be round 80%. Okulicz-Kozaryn considers city-live as unnatural and detrimental. There are neurological findings claiming that living in a city effects constant stress onto the human brain. Okulicz-Kozaryn presents theories to explain the causes for unhappiness of the people who live in cities.
The multiple discrepancy theory says that happiness is the result of social comparison. That is: I compare my city or my place of living with the city or place of living of somebody else. By this the living standard is compared and estimated. Thus it is (socially) allowed for a student to live in a very small flat with just one room, but it is socially not appropriate for a good-earning man. People who do not live in accordance with their social status have reason to fear being excluded from there social group. The constant comparisons of social stereotypes make people unhappier. The liveability theory, postulates that happiness results from the objective living conditions (food, drink, shelter) as well as the fulfilment of our needs. In addition to this the theory claims that an improved medical care and a more efficient economic increase the happiness level. Okulicz-Kozaryn considers this theory as significant. Is it really possible that cities possess a certain liveability? Moreover, how does the theory explain that people are unhappier in cities than in more rural towns? Okulicz-Kozaryn states most cities does not possess exactly this liveability. Usually cities are crowded, the air is polluted and it is loud. There is no real nature -parks do not represent an appropriate compensation. Living in the city is expensive which is why many people have to live in sort of inadequate apartments. But why is it that people do not stay in more rural towns since it seems that they are there happier than in the city?

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  • Prof. Dr. Andrew Oswald Professor of Economics, University of Warwick
  • Prof. Dr. Ronnie Schöb Professor for International Public Economics, Free University Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Ruut Veenhoven Emeritus Professor Social Conditions of Human Happiness, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Prof. Dr. Carmelo Vazquez President of the International Positive Psychology association
  • Prof. Dr. Marc Hassenzahl Folkwang University Essen
  • Dr. Martijn Burger Academic Director Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation
  • Dr. Adam Okulicz Kozaryn Researcher Rutgers University
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