Is Happiness a Place?

Posted by - May 23, 2011 | Category: Library


My brother lives in Paradise. Some of my friends live there too. Paradise these days boasts about 14,000 inhabitants. Plus a McDonald’s, a Dollar Store and even a swanky men’s clothing store. It’s found just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

Newfoundland is known for its upbeat sounding place names. There’s Happy Adventure, Tickle Cove, and the “Heart” hat-trick– Heart’s Delight, Heart’s Content, and Heart’s Desire. There’s even a Happy Valley (in Goose Bay of course).  But are they happy? Can happiness be defined by a place?

Does living in a happy sounding place make you any happier?

A Gallup Poll earlier this year found that Nigeria is the happiest place on earth. And here I thought Disney World held that title.  Maybe it’s because there are so many Nigerian princes willing to share their riches via email. But Nigeria’s happiness crown has more to do with the optimism of its people than with the names of its towns.

Happy NigeriaPhoto by Eduardo Bueno

Does geography play any part in happiness?

In his hilarious book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, NPR correspondent Eric Weiner explores that very question.  He travels to 10 of the supposedly happiest countries on the planet to sort out just what makes them so darn content.  His conclusion?  Well that all depends on your definition of happy.

One man’s thrill is another man’s torture.

My brother lives in a smaller town with fewer taxes. That makes him happy. It also has fewer pubs. That makes his girlfriend happy. I know that growing up in St. John’s we used to make fun of people from Paradise. That made me and my friends happy. But kids are usually pretty happy to begin with. I don’t recall meeting too many depressed 10-year olds. It’s when we get older that the bigger questions get in the way.

Happiness is double-edged sword.

And sometimes, you use that sword to commit hari-kari.  A separate study earlier this year found the happiest states in America actually have the highest suicide rates.  The reason?  Seeing all those happy people around you makes you want to shoot yourself. Seriously. If you’re miserable however, and surrounded by miserable people, then you don’t feel so bad.  Misery does indeed love company.

Check out the video for the full story.

Study Shows Happy States Have High Suicide Rates

Have you been to a place with a happy sounding place name?  Did the residents seem suspiciously happy to you?  My own personal happiness right now depends on your comments.

That wobbly chair and length of rope in the corner of the room just winked at me.  No pressure. Smile

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57 comments - add one
  1. “growing up in St. John’s we used to make fun of people from Paradise” he he. I like that line. I never knew that the happiest states in America had the highest suicide rates. I wonder what the rate is for San Diego. I know I want to kill myself sometimes when the sun doesn’t come out 365 days a year! 😉

  2. Hmmm… seems to me that “happiness” has nothing at all to do with anything external (and certainly not any specific geographic locale – though I did enjoy Weiner’s book immensely). Rather, it’s a state of mind. AND, I might add – it’s ever a deliberate CHOICE.

    Indeed. Now that I’ve done my small bit here to save you from that winking rope (whew!), I can now go blissfully off to my own private “happy place” (which… though not essential, will be greatly enhanced by the addition of a frozen peanut butter cup).

    1. So if locale has no influence, would you be happy in a prison? (Look at me poking the bear)

      While we ponder that one, I think I will test out your frozen peanut buttery piece of happiness.

  3. Happiness is a state of mind and I wouldn’t think it has much to do with the name of the place where you live. But it is fun to think about all those place names!

  4. My personal theory is that places called ‘Pleasantville’ are reliably unpleasant. The name is a correction for the destination’s shortcomings, like naming your stupid dog ‘Einstein’ — it’s ironic. The town planners are having a giggle.

    1. Funny there’s actually an area of St. John’s called Pleasantville. And it’s quite pleasant if you can get past the low-income housing and the cemetary.

  5. Wow! Another clever piece, Raymond.

    So, is happiness a place? I say no. Rather I agree with some of the other comments that it is instead a state of mind. A person can still be happy amongst the most miserable people. But it does help to have happy people around you, too. Its contagious.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Sherry!

      I agree with your happy people perspective. I read somewhere that you are the average of your six closest friends. And if you surround yourself with negative nellies, well, some of that is certain to rub off.

      I still think that some places are happier than others though.

  6. i don’t know- there are definitely places that the second my flights lands, I am so happy and excited just to be there. other places, it’s definitely about the people I’m with and activities i’m doing.

    1. There’s a suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut named “Mianus” — I would think that would be pretty depressing…

      — “Where are you from?”
      — “I come from Mianus…”

  7. This made me laugh out-loud. I’m currently living on Charming Court, and my neighboring streets are Optimistic Way, Magical Drive, and Spectacular Drive. Love it!!

  8. I bet they secretly eat the unhappy children in that place…
    no, seriously – this post reminded me of the movie Hot Fuzz. I don’t think any place can possibly be all good all the time. Maybe it can, but I wouldn’t want to live there. How boring. I think a place can have everything a person wants on paper, but if he isn’t happy with himself and what’s going on in his life it can never make him content.

  9. Hee hee…while I do not condone the eating of children, I cannot condemn it either. 🙂

    I agree that you will probably never find a place that is going to be perfect all the time, and when crap does start to flow, it all depends on your reaction to it. I try to opt for the “water off a duck’s back” approach whenever possible, although I do admit to being the nervous/negative sort more often than I would like…

  10. Happiness is so subjective though. For some people it’s travel, for others it’s family and it seems like for a few it’s conning people into emailing their banking details.

  11. Happiness is what you make of it. You could be the happiest person in the world. Have a great job that you love, married to the woman/man of your dreams, every single factor you rate happiness with.

    But then your neighbor might hate where he lives, hate his job, hate everything else.

    My perspective is that your location is what you make of it and your happiness is defined by you and you alone.

    1. That is so true. I’ve met some folks who have had plenty of money and live in the most amazing homes, but who just complain about the taxes, their neighbours, and the fact that they don’t have more. Then I’ve met folks who live in abject poverty who have a smile on their face every waking moment. It ALL depends on your perspective. There’s a great rant from the comedian Lewis CK that I wrote about earlier. Check it out if you get a moment…

  12. great post.
    i know a girl called happy. she cant stop smiling.
    also, we went through a small town in northern california a while back called ‘weed’. i wonder if that name has any bearing on the way people behave?

  13. Happiness is fleeting. It’s called life. We can live in a state of happiness for months and the circumstances we find ourselves in definitely help. However, if contentment is based on outward circumstances then happiness can’t last forever.

    1. Happiness is so very fleeting indeed. If it’s based entirely on external surroundings, then you are right, it cannot last.

      But I remember reading a quote from somewhere once thjat said:

      “Money can’t buy you happiness, but I’d look so much better crying in a Mercedes.”


  14. Love this. When I travel through countries like Bolivia, Peru, India, Thailand, etc. I notice that the people generally seem to be happier. It’s no surprise that Nigeria ranks at the top. I think that happiness sometimes can be ignorance to the outside world.

    When I lived in San Francisco, people use to come from hundred of miles around to that beautiful city to jump from a very beautiful piece of architecture…the Golden Gate (watch the documentary The Bridge). Was this a last ditch effort to have happiness before ending it all?

    1. That’s like people that jump in front of the Tube in London. You never hear of people jumping in front of rickshaw.

      I think a simpler life perhaps makes it easier to be happy.

  15. I had no idea that the happiest places also have the highest suicide rates. Who knew there was a downside to being happy? Well I guess the depressed people. Being from Western Canada, we think that people from Eastern Canada are very happy – or just drunk – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference 🙂

    1. I live in Western Canada, but I’m from Eastern Canada, and if I use my brothers as a benchmark — easterners are happy to be drunk. 🙂

  16. I’ve driven down a “Love Road”, but I don’t think people seemed any more in love than anywhere else. Happiness isn’t so much a place as a state of mind. Actually the idea of tying it to a place is sort of depressing because when you travel, you sort of lose the sense of having a specific place to belong…

  17. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I’ve always had a bias against places with happy names. Just nasty, I guess. We’ve got a lot of happy sounding places here in California — Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill … I also don’t like streets named after flowers. Guess what? I live on a street with a flower name. Oh well. Fun post, Raymond.

  18. I would also say that happiness is a state of mind. BUT I also think that external conditions have a big influence on your happiness but that’s different from person to person.

    I can’t come up with a happy town name but have you guys ever heard of the longest one? 🙂

    It’s in the northern island of NZ:


  19. I’m not sure if it’s the happiest place on earth, but moving to Costa Rica has changed my attitude. The surrounding are so beautiful I feel inspired everyday. Right now it is raining and I am watching the baby monkeys chase each other through the treetops. You can’t get a moment like this in New Jersey.

  20. I really think there’s a happy place. its inside your heart and mind. no amount of problems can get you away from your happy place if you will focus on it.

  21. Happiness is always something we should strive for at the same time your right when it comes to it being the cost of another. Western wealth often comes at the cost of manipulation of other nations.

    At the same time realising many of the key factors of unhappiness are out of our control should make us spend less time worrying about it and enjoy the things that can make us happy.


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