The Inner City Blues

Thu, Oct 6, 2011

Exercises, Happiness

Sometimes I hate living in the city. On the weekend, I drove around for 35 minutes trying to find a parking spot within walking distance of where I wanted to be.  Stop-start traffic, close encounters with other cars and dodging foolhardy pedestrians left me clammy and nervous, and by the time I found somewhere to park I felt like I needed to go home and nap- definitely not the best way to begin a night out!

Do you ever feel like the city is bringing you down? I just found these great tips from Charles Montgomery that make it possible to turn the city you live in into an engine of joy.

1. Use your building elevator as an opportunity to start conversation- “Elevators are notoriously uncomfortable. It is natural to withdraw when people stand in what is normally considered personal space. But we need not be imprisoned by design, and even a casual conversation with strangers has the potential to flood your system with feel-good hormones. Go ahead. Talk about the weather.”

2. Move closer to work- “Studies of transportation and social capital have shown that people who commute long distances have fewer friends. The math is simple: drive less, have more friends.”

3. Plant a tree- “Even exposure to tiny amounts of nature has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve concentration, improve your mood. Even just looking at pictures of nature will help you recover more quickly from illness. This adds a whole new urgency to the notion of going green.”

4. Buy the cheapest house on an expensive street- “Relative status is important. The higher your social standing, the better you feel and the healthier you are. But behavioural economists have found that we don’t just compare our standing to the Joneses next door. We tend to compare ourselves to everyone else in our city. And curiously, we feel a sense of affiliation with our neighbours, so we actually get a status boost when Mr. Jones next door parks a hot car in front of his house.”

5. Try to live within a five-minute walk of frequent public transit- “In Charlotte, North Carolina, people who live near the new light rail line lost an average of five pounds within a year because they started taking the train instead of driving. That few minutes of extra walking a day made the difference. When it comes to fitness, the city designs our behaviour and our bodies, so it’s smart to position yourself in the urban system in a way that keeps you fit.”

6. If you drive, don’t waste your time searching for the closest parking spot- “The further you park from your destinations, the fitter you’ll be and the greater the chances of experiencing your neighbourhood at a walking pace. Velocity is the key to conviviality—the slower you move, the more likely you are to experience those little moments of intimacy—from glances, to smiles, to quick chats—that can improve your relationships with strangers and the city.”

7. Try riding a bike to work- “International surveys show that people who commute by bike universally enjoy their experience more than people who drive. They report feeling more joy and less anger, fear, frustration, and aversion than any other travellers. Sadly, transit users almost always report having the worst experience. So take a chance on this new experience.”

8. Meet your Facebook friends in the flesh- “Your gut tells you this, and research psychologists have confirmed it: in-person relationships are deeper, more complex, and they involve more commitment and connections with friends and family. There is still no substitute for seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and moving with your friends.”

9. Build stillness into your life- “Noise, especially the unpredictable noise of the city, makes us nasty and unhappy, even after we stop noticing it. So if you can’t find a refuge, you might want to insulate your walls and soundproof your windows.”

10. Practice being nice to strangers- “Being kind is not just good for other people. My favourite neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has shown that acts of altruism can flood your system with a happy hormone known as oxytocin that can keep you feeling warm and fuzzy for as long as 20 minutes. So help little old ladies across the street. Merge politely in traffic. Open doors for people. Feel the buzz and pass it on.”

Hmm, I think I will put these into practice and make my city work for me! As frustrating and impossible as it is, I do love city living. What do you think, are you a city dweller or a country kid? Which do you prefer?

Give these exercises a try, and let us know how you go! Did they make you happier?

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