Glad to be unhappy

If some reputable organization declared Minneapolis the smuggest city in the United States, I would find it plausible. The happiest, not bloody likely. Yet according to the Institute for the Quality of Life 2024 Happy City Index, Minneapolis is it. Surely you — you Institute — jest.

I think Rodgers and Hart’s “Glad To Be Unhappy” is more like it: “Look at yourself – if you had a sense of humor/You would laugh to beat the band.”

You don’t have to be a social scientist to guess that the Institute’s methodology might be a tad off. Rather than asking residents how happy they are, which is what you might expect a happiness ranking to do, the Institute purports to measure GDP, productivity, air pollution, natural resources management, educational quality, good governance, and so on to create a composite “happiness” score. Even so, Minneapolis should still compute as a joke.

The Minnesota Reformer observes that a somewhat more direct approach produces a different result: “[Y]ou can also simply ask people questions about how satisfied they are with various aspects of their lives. Gallup’s been doing that for forever, and while they don’t have city data readily available they do routinely rank the states on these measures. Minnesota doesn’t even crack the top 20.” Reality bites.

The Star Tribune usually seizes on such findings to reassure its readers that all is well — that their smugness does not mask a fully justified inferiority complex. Even the Star Tribune’s straight news story on Minneapolis’s ranking sounds a slightly muffled note of incredulity. Star Tribune columnist James Lileks turned the ranking into a classic column that betrays some doubt:

If you’re wondering how they figured out Minneapolis is so gosh darned merry, there there are empirical criteria at work. The Daily Express US said the study, done by the Institute for the Quality of Life, a research group in London, is based on “citizens, governance, economy, environment, and mobility.” The Institute also rates other cities around the world, and if you’re wondering who takes top happy honors on the planet: Aarhus, Denmark.

I looked it up on Google Street View, and was instantly unhappy that I did not live in Aarhus. The downtown looks thriving, neat, clean — no graffiti — and full of old buildings that carry a common culture from the past to tomorrow.

You see people at sidewalk cafes eating — oh, I don’t know — pippenwiffles and candied herring, perhaps, and reading the daily paper, the Kroenendaggerposten, published since 1273, or walking around thinking about art, or ways to reconcile the historical struggles between capital and labor.

Maybe. It just seems like a typical northern European city where you bask in wan light and repress unhelpful emotions, and that has a certain appeal. There are days in which I’d like to have a coffee — or, as they call it in their curious language, kaffe — and contemplate life in a bar whose name had an O with a diagonal slash through it.

I’m happy to have an excuse to dredge up Frank Sinatra’s version of “Glad To Be Unhappy.”

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