In the dog days of winter, it seems we have turned to deciding what makes us happy — as individuals, as communities and even as nations. So we have a plethora of rankings, polls, and surveys just this last week. Perhaps there are things in common, perhaps they are simply kind of fun to read and challenge.
In Seattle, Sustainable Seattle is currently running a survey to see how happy the natives are in these wet times. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur took the survey and discovered she was 73 percent satisfied with life, a bit ahead of the median score of 66 for early survey respondents. You can take the online survey as well.
In Bellingham, where I live, we have become accustomed in recent years to being on a lot of lists of "best places to (fill in the blank) . . . " Just last week, we learned that Whatcom County ranks second of 363 metropolitan areas in the U.S. for vitality of independent retailers, one of the marks of a sustainable community.
Sustainability may be linked to happiness — that is, the more we in live a fulfilling life close to home, the happier we may be. Happiness includes more than economic well-being, although that is always a factor.
On the retailing front, IndieCity Index listed Bellingham only after Ocean City, N.J.; Medford, Oregon, was ranked third. In general, the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast were the regions with the highest rankings. The index is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, with the professional work done by Civic Economics, an economic analysis and strategic planning consultancy with offices in Austin and Chicago. Similar studies have been done by Civic Economics since 2002.
The index is primarily based on retail sales of big-box stores; the lower the sales of these stores, the higher a city's rating. Cities are then analyzed to find commonalities. In general, the larger a metro area the less it depends on big-box stores, with some notable exceptions (Bellingham and Medford, for instance). Higher-ranked metro areas also have higher educational attainments and more cultural offerings. There appears to be a link between areas of more conservative politics and big-box stores, although the survey doesn't explore this aspect.
In the same week, Bellingham learned that it is one of ten "places to make you happy" in the West, in the February issue of Sunset. The magazine scattered its top towns around its readership region, listing only Bellingham in Washington and Portland in Oregon. Since no common criteria were used and the survey was not scientific, it can be chalked off to marketing, although Bellingham tourist promotions will doubtless take notice.
On a global scale was the announcement of a worldwide "prosperity index," expanding beyond monetary measures to include social well-being, health, freedom of speech and religion, and tolerance of ethnic minorities. It is somewhat similar to studies conducted over the last two decades by various organizations attempting to define mental and social health as well as gross national products.
Like the two other surveys, this one carries ideological trappings; sponsors have attachments, no matter how well meaning their philanthropic work. Legatum Institute, described in a Forbes article as a "London-based nonpartisan think tank", conducted this survey. The Legatum Institute has links to giant multinational financial firms and hedge funds. The survey uses standard social-science methodology, however, and is linked to Oxford Analytica, a respected research and consulting firm.
"Prosperity" in the case of this survey could be labeled "happiness" for the breadth of its measurements beyond economic standing. This business of measuring happiness may be traced to the King of Bhutan, who three decades ago called for a "Gross Happiness Measure" to replace the Gross National Product as a measuring stick of national well-being.
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