Obscure Study Ranks DC 3rd “happiest metropolitan areas with a population greater than 1 million” I’ll take it!

Photo by PoPville flickr user Cheikh.Ra

Thanks to @detectedbeats for passing on this article from Smarter Travel:

“Factors like cost of living and weather (warmer winters had a link to higher happiness levels) could explain why Richmond–Petersburg, VA, was ranked as the happiest city.”

Third happiest? Washington, DC


The least happiest? New York, NY

You can see the complete rankings here and read the full study here.

41 Comment

  • Richmond representing. I like it.

  • Love that picture!

  • I’m from Petersburg, VA and it is NOT a happy place. This study is whack…

    • Petersburg may not be great, but this study is referring to the Richmond metropolitan area.

      • Then it should really just say Richmond metropolitan area because if you weren’t from the area and saw this study, you might be inclined to stop in Petersburg from the fact that it explicitly stated “Petersburg” in the rankings. Don’t stop, keep driving…

  • Group of Harvard economists just did a study on the exact same question and came up with pretty different list of happiest cities:


    (Although both agree that NY is the worst!)

    • it’s not too different

    • The five happiest cities in the country are in Louisiana. Repeat that out loud.

      • What is your metric for happiness? Having grown up in Louisiana, I can say that the discontents leave and those who remain are on the whole stoically accepting of their daily lives and so probably much more happy. This doesn’t really surprise me. Happiness is not synonymous with material success, career achievement, or any of the other motivations feeding the simmering anger in places like DC or New York where everything is contentious, every interaction has to be a battle, every moment an opportunity to sneer and snark.

        • Yeah, but social norms and government policies that hurt people who are poor, or gay, or of the wrong race, don’t make anyone happy.

          • Happiness is at the personal rather than social policy level. It is possible for someone to be happy living in the most brutal of circumstances. If one could mathematize happiness, it’s the ration of expectation to reality. So yeah, there is some oppressive social policy (one reason I could never move home again), but if that is one’s expectation, or stoical acceptance of the way of things, then happiness can still be a realized phenomenon.

          • They probably make some rich, straight white people happy.

      • People in Louisiana are, generally speaking, less educated and less likely to explore the world. It’s a lot easier to be happy when you live in a little bubble of ignorance.

        • When you’re expectations & baseline are so low, it’s easy to become very happy at the slightest glimmer of hope.

  • Unlike most of these, this study (U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research) is actually valid since it’s actually a scientific poll people asking people their self-reported happiness rather than just using criteria like “most spas per capita!” like most of those awful magazine and blog click-bait polls.

    And yeah, Richmond is a pretty good, laid-back place. It’s not surprising that places like DC, Richmond, and Charlottesville do well.

    • RVA is super awesome. It’s a rust belt town that somehow managed to reinvent itself and is on the upswing (my guess is due to having 3 excellent regional universities in the core downtown area). Really nice walkable downtown, great architecture, affordable housing, not too much traffic, cheap place to start a business or be a “creative” type, etc. It’s like the Portland of the East Coast, IMHO.

  • Formerly Broken Jaw

    The biggest suprise for me is that the Richmond Meto area is greater than a million. I’m not surprised at Evansville/Henderson–nice place to visit family but I’m glad I don’t live there any more even though you can get a sweet house with a pool for$150k.

  • A bunch of economists looking at variables they don’t really understand. Subjective well being isn’t related to much of anything of great importance in any large magnitude. The effects are small, with the exception of an analysis where half the sample was eliminated and another analysis that was anomalous relative to the others that included similar variables.

    • I agree that “subjective well being” doesn’t tell us much. For all we know, it could just be the measure of a local citizenry’s ability to delude themselves or buy into whatever claptrap of goods is being sold to them by local elites. For instance, people will be happy when their shitty school system gets an extra million dollars this year. People respond positively to positive momentum (more jobs! home prices! more money for education!), but they still have a shitty school system.

  • Even with plenty of people being in overpaid, secure government jobs here, I’m still sceptical about this study. Yes, we are living fat off the hog, so to speak, thanks to the taxpayers, and we’re all loving it (see stories about post-recession DC getting into expensive novelties like tapas and designer cupcakes while the rest of U.S. settles for a new norm of doing with less and living in multi-generational housing). However, we have some of the worst traffic; people are definitely less friendly compared to other parts of the country where I have lived; NoVA is a sterile, depressing place; and our food culture is lacking. Oh, and did I mention the lousy public transportation that is about to get worse with the Silver Line? More people keep moving here, and infrastructure (roads, metro) struggle to keep up with it all.

  • Having grown up in New England, I found Richmond to be a very strange place. Where else in the world would you find something like Monument Avenue, a pertpetual shrine to the racists and enslavers who lost the Civil War? And if you look at some of those monuments up close, the glorification of the Confederacy and the slave economy that kept it functioning truly boggles the mind. (Yes, Arthur Ashe got a statue but it’s way out on the end of the avenue and his back is to the city.)
    I commented to the desk clerk at my hotel (a young black woman) that I thought Monument Avenue was “interesting.” She rolled her eyes a bit and then said it all: “Yeah, we just let that stuff lie buried over there where it belongs and get on with life.”

    • Agree, this does make Richmond somewhat weird. Yet, the city has a huge population of African-Americans, Asian and Hispanic immigrants, and liberal whites who want no part of that history. Strange bedfellows in the city, to be sure. Especially considering that many of the local elites are still living fat on family fortunes built on the backs of slaves. “Old money” in Richmond comes from an odious place. And don’t get me started on the “it’s a symbol of pride, not a symbol of hate” nonsense when it comes to the Confederate flag.

      • My girlfriend’s family settled in Richmond shortly after they immigrated from India, and were very unhappy there because discrimination against minorities was so rampant. In retrospect they’re happy that their mom got fired from her job because of her race, because it forced them to move to NoVA where they were treated a lot better.

    • Richmond, the entire city, is strange because of a beautiful street containing four monuments dedicated to prominent Civil War leaders?

      Get off your high horse, New England. My advice to you is to not get caught up on a gorgeous avenue with some statues, and enjoy the rest of a wonderful city.

      • I’m sure that you realize that Richmond’s “gorgeous avenue with some statues” may mean very different things to very different people. It’s hard to “enjoy” an environment that venerates slavery — particularly if you’re African-American.

      • New England here, dismounting from his high horse. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed many aspects of my trip to Richmond. I just think that if if my ancestors had been slaves, I would at a minimum be annoyed by those statues glorifying people who would have kept me in chains. Where else in the world would the losing side of a war be allowed such a display?

  • I find this study hard to believe. NY ranks #1 in unhappiness, but DC and NYC are really not that different. Unless the lack of sunlight caused by tall buldings is making everyone depressed. And while I do believe that DC residents who aren’t poor have happier lives, the same would not be true of people who live in othe parts of the metro area (anyone who sits in traffic 3 hours a day and claims to be happy is delusional). So it seems like those segments of the population would bring down our overall score.
    Finally, I told my girlfriend, who’s from Richmond, that her hometown ranked #1 for happiness, and she agreed that the results were absolutely bogus.

    • Even thought DC is expensive, NYC is still way more expensive. It’s an order of magnitude more expensive and it permeates every financial transaction you make. The poor have it worse in NYC, IMHO. There’s also less green space and higher density, both of which leader to greater levels of anxiety and unhappiness. When I moved to DC from NYC, it was a period of elation in the fact that I felt like I had so much more space and COLA was much lower. I did the math and I’d need to make at least 35-40% more in NYC to enjoy the same “quality of life” I have here in DC.

    • Having lived in both DC and NY, my vote would be DC all the way. Sure the food is a lot worse here. But the climate is much better, the lifestyle is significantly less stressful, the city is pretty and green and sunny. In order to enjoy all the benefits of NY, you have to pay through the nose. Here, a lot of the city’s best attributes are free. And my 2 bedroom apartment here is HALF what it cost to live in fewer square feet in a decent but not trendy part of Brooklyn.

  • Makes me realize I have never been to Norfolk/Virginia Beach. What’s it like?
    To the commenter who says DC and NYC are similar, I scratch my head. Whaaaaat?!

    • skj84

      I love Va Beach. Very chill. My family has been vacationing down there since I was a kid, so my opinions are a bit biased, but I’ve always found it very charming and relaxing. We usually rent a house, so I can’t really vouch for hotels. I like the boardwalk and Atlantic Ave. Waterman’s for the orange crushes and cream of crab soup. The Hilton on 33rd is nice too.

      • I’m also biased because I have a cousin that lives there, but I like VA Beach as well. While my heart will always be with the NJ beaches I grew up with, I appreciate how clean and new-looking everything is at VA Beach. It’s also nice because it’s more than just a beach town, so it’s not desolate if you decide to go after Labor Day. That said, last time we were there we barely left Waterman’s and the beach right in front of Waterman’s, so I haven’t explored that much.

    • It’s very chill, but a little redneck. Though, not as bad as Myrtle Beach. HUGE military town – everyone’s paycheck is somehow coming from Uncle Sam, whether directly or as a service provider to military personnel.

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