What’s my ideal city?

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Bangkok. While there are some positives like the food and low cost of living, I’m not a fan of the pollution (be it noise, light or air), lack of access to green space, extreme heat, traffic jams, lack of concern for environment, high corruption rates, … Okay, you get the idea. The list goes on.

This brings me to a fun question: What’s my ideal city?

The OECD Better Life Index runs a pretty neat customizable index tool that lets you rate cities based on the relative importance (decided by the user) of each of these topics: Housing, Income, Jobs, Community, Education, Environment, Civic Engagement, Health, Life Satisfaction, Safety and Work-Life Balance. Check mine out here. According to this, the top 5 countries for me are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Australia and Switzerland. No surprises here.

However, I find it rather backwards that you have to rate the importance of topics like life satisfaction and health, since these are the goals you strive for, not the basic characteristics of the city. Anyway, it still makes sense that if one of your main goals is to have a high life satisfaction, you look for cities where the citizens report high life satisfaction. They still seem counter-intuitive to me though. Here’re the things I look for in an ideal city:

  • It’s walkable: Extensive public transportation system, bike lanes, large footpaths, low traffic jam
  • It’s not so chaotic: I suffocate in overly crowded cities. If I have my way, my cities will have an open and orderly feel.
  • It’s green: The city should be dotted by large (and well-maintained) green spaces, with plenty of room for R&R
  • It’s civic-minded: The citizens should be actively engaged in the state of affairs of their own city and the betterment of the community and beyond it.
  • It’s safe. Self explanatory.
  • It’s got a good welfare system: Healthcare for everyone, sufficient vacation days, flexible working hours, safety nets for the low income community. Yes, I’m willing to pay a 50% tax for this.
  • It’s not so hot like Bangkok 🙂

Too much to ask for? I don’t think so. Although it’s a far cry from where I currently reside, I believe such places exist in the world. I hope to eventually make my way to one of them.

Winston Churchill once said this: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” In a similar way, I believe that we shape our cities; thereafter they shape us. Although my true destination is to find the happy place for my soul, being in a city that’s more aligned with what I consider to be ingredients of a good life will make the journey smoother.

What’s your ideal city?


0294 – The Sound of Impatience

People honk like crazy around here. That drives me crazy. It’s the sound of impatience that drives up my frustration. Why do people need to honk? It’s supposedly the norm here, but is that necessary? Looks like I totally skipped over the honeymoon phase in this culture shock. Anxiety is in full effect.

But to say that’s the cause of my unhappiness is to mask a fundamental underlying problem: me. It’s really been quite a battle. Even as I work with The Happiness Initiative, even as I did an independent study on happiness and sustainability, even as I learn positive psychology, even as I try and try to be mindful of what makes me happy, happiness has eluded me. I would give myself a 2 out of a 10. And that’s terrible. I would like to take this moment to shout out to those who are battling depression right now. I cannot even imagine how hard it is. You are so strong. Keep fighting. Hang in there.

I’m probably not the only person who feels like he shouldn’t be sad because he’s so fortunate to be where he is today and have what he has right now. Yet, sorrow doesn’t vanish overnight.

As I plunge deeper into despair, instead of worrying about my health, I worry about my decreased productivity. Like a true workaholic.

Instead of taking the time off, I work some more. I still lack the courage to do what is best for me.

At some point in your life, you’ll get the feeling that you’re cornered with nowhere to go. You wish a door would just appear that would just take you on a path far away from this unpleasant place.

At 21 and entering my final year of college, I’m in the prime of my quarter-life crisis. Where do I go from here?

I think about my varied interests and how I see no direction. I always say that I now trust life enough that it will take me to the right places, but sometimes, I lose that trust. I’m vulnerable.

I wonder if I’m making an impact, and I tell myself that I am not. Sometimes, I look at the rockstar social entrepreneurs, the inspirational speakers, the thought leaders of our society, and those close to me who get recognition, and I wish I am one of those. Sometimes, I want to be popular. Sometimes, I wish I would just conform with the system and rise to the top in there. I betray myself.

I’m never here. Get me back here. Now. At this moment. At this place. In me. Around me. Beyond the human understanding of time and space.

I’m lost. I’m clueless. I don’t know what to do. I just want to be happy. I never listen to myself. Then I get frustrated at my purported regression.

But all this needs to end. And I will end it. I am in control. I am in charge. I know what I can do. I know what’s right for our world. I know I live not for myself, but for humanity and the planet. Even though the balance of life is and will always be difficult to find, I will continue to try. I will tell myself that I can be different. I will tell myself that I need to slow down. I will tell myself that all is not lost; it never will.

The door towards peace has to be built. And it will be built. I will make sure of that. I will get out of here. And you will too.

One day, the sound of impatience will become reminder of how we are not alone in this world. The sight of suffering will become a reminder of what a privilege our lives have been. And the touch of tenderness will remind us of love and compassion. May love and compassion fill the void of our world.

0274 – University Towns Score High in Well-Being

Gallup just released this a week ago. University Towns Score High in Well-Being:

Good to see good ol’ Ann Arbor high up on that list. In addition, Ann Arbor tops the list for life evaluation:

Residents of Ann Arbor rate their current lives and their lives in five years the best on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, giving the city the highest Life Evaluation Index score in the nation. Honolulu again led the nation with the best Emotional Health Index score, while Fort Collins, Colo., displaced a fellow Colorado city, Boulder, with the highest Physical Health Index score in the nation. Prescott, Ariz., had the highest Work Environment Index score, and residents living in Barnstable Town, Mass., had the highest Healthy Behaviors Index score. Appleton, Wis., which did not have a sufficient number of respondents to be reported in previous years, led the nation in residents with the best access to basic necessities.

If you’re intrigued, Gallup also has a neat tool that you can use to compare well-being across different regions.

Now, this is an interesting stat. Ann Arborites in general have indeed been giving off happy vibes. Incidentally, it’s also the greatest city for singles! So we must be doing something right here. Although I hope I won’t have to be in Ann Arbor for this reason. Please, God, send me someone soon.

Anyway, I wish I can delve deeper into this stuff, but unfortunately Gallup doesn’t release complete results of its surveys. From initial look, it seems like we do have the conditions of a great city – somewhat sheltered economy, vibrant job market, healthy options (e.g. local or organic food, public transportation, biking, etc).  That’s where I’m going to plug the Happiness Initiative again. It is aimed to gather comprehensive information of how you feel about your life and the typical conditions that affect happiness. I’m really excited to see what we can find out! Help this boy out and take the survey!