Somerville: America's Happiest City

Somerville Becomes First City to Track Happiness

Everyday when we wake up the first thing that we notice is how we feel. Regardless of whether it's a Tuesday and we are headed to work or whether we are vacationing in the Caribbean, we get a feeling to start off our day; some feel happy, some feel sad and others are anxious about something. We feel things everyday and it is our feelings that determine our levels of satisfaction in life. But all too often we focus on the things around us as a measure of happiness, instead of the way that we feel. Somerville, MA recently became the first city to take note of this. Instead of asking residents to talk about their surroundings, the city surveyed residents about how happy they are.

Letting Feelings Shape Policies

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone is largely credited with transforming the city from a place that was better to avoid into a place where people wanted to live. It is also consistently ranked among the best managed cities in the country. In shaping the city, Curtatone decided to ask residents how they felt about life, how they felt about Somerville and how they felt about specific policies enacted by the city. 

The survey yielded some interesting results, some surprising and others unsurprising. They mayor's office found that trees and bike lanes contributed to residents happiness as did income up to $75,000. But surprisingly, the city learned that zero sort recycling was also a huge plus for residents. Before the survey part of the city had zero sort recycling while the rest had to sort recyclables. After the happiness survey, Somerville moved the entire city to a zero sort model.

Somerville is definitely onto something. What good is a building, road or policy in a city if it doesn't actually make us happy? Hopefully many more cities will follow in Somerville's footsteps.