Are you living in the right city?
Where you live shapes who you are – every city and town has its own culture and local context where different things matter (1). So it makes sense that where you live could also impact on your happiness. If you've noticed you're feeling restless, anxious or stuck in a rut, a survey carried out by researchers at Gallup could hold the answers. Their survey of the happiest and unhappiest cities in America (2) showed that those living in 'happier' cities and states in the US might also be healthier (3). We already know that good mental health impacts our overall well-being; it can also help to boost immunity and shield your heart from stress. It seems that one of the factors which most impacts health and happiness is chronic loneliness, which can lead to stress and high blood pressure.
So how do you know whether or not the city you're living in is your soulmate or just a bad match? We decided to take a look at a few ways to suss out if you're living in the right city.
Think about what matters
If your family live in the North of England and you move to London, realise that you won't be able to see them as often as you'd like – work, social life and other commitments will get in the way, whether you want them to or not. Relationships with family and friends are what life is all about, so think about what matters to you. This often depends on your stage in life too. If you're in your early 20's, chances are you want to spread your wings and enjoy being social, so a big city like London or Manchester could be a great choice. If you're in your 30's, have recently settled down or are planning to start a family, living close to your own family is probably near the top of your list of priorities, and your life might not be all about going out every Saturday night anymore. Different people want different things from where they live, so whether you're a homebody, party animal or somewhere in-between, take the time to think about your priorities and assess whether the city you're considering will fit into your lifestyle.
Think about money
Whether you work from home, temp in an office or have a high-flying career as a doctor or lawyer, money is (unfortunately) important. If you live somewhere where you're earning less than the average, you'll constantly be feeling like you don't have enough money. According to Daniel Kahneman's study, it's the relative amount of money that matters (4). Relative income has an impact on your well-being, so if you feel that everyone else has more money than you, it's hard to feel satisfied and happy. Take living in the UK's capital city, London, for example. The average wage here is £35,238 (5), whilst elsewhere in the UK the national average is £27,017. So even if you're earning a fairly respectable £27k salary in London, you still may feel unhappy, driving you to spend more time at work, or forcing you to live on a tight budget. Kahneman's study also revealed that those making more money spend more time making it, which means less time for leisure activities. Those who spent more time focusing on work and making money were more stressed and tense, but showed no significant increase in happiness.
What do you love?
Into culture and the arts? Perhaps a city such as Paris or Rome is right for you. Creative types may find Edinburgh, Glasgow or London a hive of activity, whilst for nightlife, Manchester and Liverpool are listed as two of the most popular spots in the UK. Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and how you spend your free time and it should become obvious whether or not your current city is right for you. If you enjoy spending your time in quiet places, meeting friends, working out at the gym and going to the cinema, the hustle and bustle of a huge city might not work in your favour. If you're always on the go, checking out the latest exhibitions and gigs, living in or close to a major metropolis is probably going to be a great choice. Remember that what works for your friends won't necessarily work for you. Smaller towns and cities can be friendlier but more isolating, with less opportunities for work and socialising. Larger cities may offer more in terms of socialising and events but it may be harder to meet people and the pace of life is usually much faster.
Consider your commute
As anyone who lives in London knows, a long commute on the Tube is the stuff of nightmares. But this could apply to any major city across the globe – moving out of the city to the suburbs in search of a bigger house or flat could mean you spend the majority of your time travelling. Likewise, chasing down a higher salary in central London means you'll spend at least a couple of hours a day travelling to and from work – not to mention the extortionate travel costs you'll rack up. If you're offered your dream job, perhaps the commute is worth it. But there's little point in spending all your time and money commuting in and out of a city to work unless you really have to. If you're single (or even if you're married) and in your 20s or 30s, getting a place in the city that's close to work, even if it's a bit smaller than you would like, can really benefit your health and happiness. Not to mention you could walk to work everyday, getting those endorphins flowing!
More choice isn't always a good thing
So you've moved to a new city and are dazzled by the array of takeaways, restaurants, bars and even museums within walking distance of your apartment. But is this actually a good thing? The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (6), a book by author Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist, doesn't think so. Schwartz believes that the more choice we're faced with, the more nervous we feel about settling on a decision, and the more likely we are to regret our ultimate decision. Sometimes, less really is more. If you're the type of person who really struggles to make decisions, living in the heart of a big city may be overwhelming for you, so take some time to think about this before making that move!
The cost of living
It's fairly easy to compare cost of living between major cities online – sites such as Expatistan let you directly compare costs between two cities of your choice, such as Newcastle and London. Ok, so you probably already know that living in the North of England is going to be cheaper than renting an apartment in central London, but it's surprising just how much you can find out about the cost of everyday essentials. For example food is 19% more expensive in London than in Newcastle, with housing (no surprise there) around 56% more expensive in the capital. Transportation is also almost 50% more expensive in London, with the average cost for a monthly public transport pass coming in at around £49 in Newcastle and £123 in London. You can use these calculators to compare cities across the globe too, and the Expertrain team found that London came out as one of the most expensive places to live, even compared to cities such as Paris and New York - although housing in NYC is around 4% more expensive than in London (8). Even so, we're huge fans of London, not just for its culture and nightlife, but also for its amazing running routes and choice when it comes to options for keeping fit – fitness boot camps, climbing walls, running clubs; you'll find them all here.
If you have to stop and ask yourself if you're living in the right city, maybe there are niggling doubts at the back of your mind telling you that this is the wrong place for you to be. Don't make a rash decision though, think about what we've said and apply the above to your own life, before you decide if your city really is the right match for a happy, healthy you!
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