Downtown View:Big Question

Do San Diego residents experience joy? I don’t know the answer and I’m not sure I would believe a SanDiegoan if they told me. I’m talking about the sublime feeling, the rush, the pure happiness we Bostonians feel when the sun comes out and the temperature rises to 65 degrees.

We take a walk. We see all our neighbors—they are out walking also. Everyone is happy; no one is grumpy. The air smells good even if the hyacinths are too low to the ground to catch their scent. We feel we deserve this day, this feeling, this release. Winter is gone (probably). Spring is here.

We know it from the calendar, Opening Day and the Marathon. Those are wonderful too. But it is the nice weather that pushes us over the hurdle.

We’ve now had several of these days. Most of the snow is gone. Even those like me who love the snow and the winter—and I’ve found that I’m not that unusual—feel that same joy on the best spring days.

I’m betting that residents of San Diego don’t have that feeling. If it is the same weather all the time, even if it is nice weather, a person would not appreciate it, except to tell you that they don’t like to shovel snow, so that’s why they moved there.

My evidence is scant about happiness and weather, but I do have some personal clues and some studies by persons equipped to do such things.

One of our daughters went to college in California. When she was about to leave Boston at the end of the almost month-long Christmas holiday in her first year, I told her I was sorry that we’d had not one day of sunshine the whole month she was home.

She looked at me as if I were daft. “That doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I’m sick of sun. That’s all that happens. Sunny day after sunny day. It is so boring.”

Then there is Denmark. In study after study, that country comes in as having the happiest people. They have dark winters with snow. They pay high taxes. They aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, but they’re not poor either. Although Americans would think those factors matter, apparently they don’t.

The Danes report more satisfaction with life, less social isolation and feel more in control of their lives than residents of other countries. Most say they have a sense of meaning or purpose in their lives. Most also say they have free time to pursue interests. They tend to be happy in their jobs, which offer flexibility in working hours that help Danes balance work and family life.

Switzerland and Norway also have happy citizens. The U.S. is not too bad. Satisfaction with life is said to be greater here than in Spain, Russia, Greece and Hungary.

All this is measured by a group called the Happiness Research Institute. Their report on one Danish town concludes that happiness is dependent on several factors, one of which is health. Another important factor is a feeling of community, a connection to friends and family, opportunities to get together with other people from social occasions to study groups to helping out in a soup kitchen. Weather, apparently, has nothing to do with happiness. Alaska, for example, was recently named the happiest state.

I know of no one who has measured Bostonians’ happiness, although one UC Berkeley School of Law professor compared San Franciscans and Bostonians, and found that Bostonians achieve self-satisfaction through “educational attainment, finances, family support and contribution to others.” San Franciscans, on the other hand, “tied satisfaction of their life to work.” The study found that Bostonians place more value on community life than do San Franciscans.

I’m not sure that self-satisfaction is the same as happiness, but it’s close. I haven’t noticed that my San Franciscan friends are only focused on work or have less community spirit than my Boston friends. So maybe the happiness study needs more work.

We should be happy in downtown Boston. Every neighborhood here has a rich community life, with many opportunities for seeing friends, meeting people and collaborating with others. We only have to go out our front door to become part of our community, which starts on the sidewalk.

            Nevertheless, we’ll take that sunny, fresh, beautiful spring day. Joy may be a completely different matter from happiness.

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