Today on Saturday Live (Radio 4, 9am) Professor Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics, spoke about his research into happiness. According to Professor Dolan, big cities are the least happy places to live despite the fact that there is more to do there than in smaller towns and rural areas. Capital cities apparently make us least happy. Everything is harder to do. Travelling takes longer and is more uncertain. The mind does not like uncertainty and travelling by public transport can be unpredictable with late or cancelled buses or underground trains.
Professor Dolan believes that living in quieter areas makes our travelling time more predictable. I am not so sure about that as living in Dorset we find a car accident or the Sandbanks toll ferry breaking down can throw our travel plans out by hours but I have to agree that in smaller towns it is easier to get about. Here we only have two or three Pelican crossings and traffic flows well except at the height of season, the irritations of which warrant a whole new blog post!
In cities, there are also more stresses particularly in capital cities where you have to do more, at more speed and are subjected to competition. Professor Dolan says that big cities draw attention to the rich among us and London draws attention to the rich/poor divide more than in other rural areas. Life, according to the Professor, goes slower outside of cities and urban areas. I have to agree with this for, after twenty-five years living in an outer London Borough I downshifted to a seaside town in Dorset where life is definitely slower. There is also much around us in the form of a beautiful environment, lovely places to visit and fun activities such as rowing races, festivals, carnivals and air shows viewed from the beach which make free entertainment and fun. I could go on.
Personally, I think Paul Dolan speaks a lot sense. He suggests we should design our environment to make life easier and make it easier to be happier. Here I concur as, after a spell of decluttering, life does become much less complicated and can lead to a state of calm. How many of us believe it is necessary to buy more and more ‘stuff’ to fill our homes – and our tummies – in order to be happy? In fact, less is more in this regard. I have a few friends who have very little in the way of material possessions save for the family photographs and nick nacks, the mementoes from happy holidays or events. When I return to my chaotic study, reams of novel drafts, the writing books, novels, memoirs – all waiting to be read – scattered cuttings from this week’s newspapers and magazines, I think, albeit briefly, that my life would be much simpler if I did not write or read.
This engaging LSE academic – the 46 year-old is known in the gym as The Prof – also talks about repetition providing some ease with life. One key strategy to combat, avoid and cope with depression is to have a routine. Doing the same thing each day provides comfort and knowledge. We can anticipate what is going to happen and plan for it. Happiness, he says, is also about ease and making things easier for ourselves rather than difficult.
One other participant on this morning’s programme commented that choice does not always make for happiness, citing deprived overseas countries where the population lives hand to mouth. Where people have fewer choices, life tends to be happier. Crazy as this may seem, I can see the value of this. In our small town we have two supermarkets stocking all the basics and everything we need. We have our favourite items and sometimes choose something different, so shopping is uncomplicated. However, when I visit a store in a larger town I am overwhelmed with the number of goods, the brands and price ranges and find myself getting quite anxious at the choices I may have to make.
I enjoyed the interview with Paul Dolan so much I listened again on iplayer and felt I must share his wisdom on this blog. I do hope it helps those of you struggling at the moment.
Professor Dolan’s book Happiness by Design is now on my reading list. And I think I may follow him on Twitter.
Enjoy it and Be Happy!