In yesterday's Herald the irritatingly smug Prof Bob Cummins popped up again to remind us that people who live in the Inner West of Sydney are the unhappiest in Australia. Apparently people who live in a small town in Victoria (popn 4000) are the happiest in Australia, because everyone knows everyone and they all keep an eye on each other's kids and they pop in and out of each other's houses all the time (these details from a radio interview).
Prof Cummins, I am here to tell you that I am happy in the Inner West, and that I've lived in small towns like that and they made me utterly miserable. Even when my kids were little I was more interested in intellectual stimulation than in knowing that other people were keeping an eye on my kids. Presumably people who live in towns like this choose to live there and thus are happy, but I can never understand why your index associates the lack of an intimate relationship with one's physical neighbours with unhappiness. (Haven't you heard of the internet and how people can form satisfying relationships there?) People in the city don't mind travelling to see friends; conversely we don't feel obliged to get along with people who are physically in proximity to us. When you were interviewed on the radio yesterday I noticed that your voice took on a tinge of horror when you reported that many people in big cities (especially in apartments) didn't even know who their neighbours were. Well, I've lived in an apartment complex, and I was friendly with two other women in the complex (one I met in the car park, another at a strata meeting). They had other friends, and we formed a loose social network. They weren't my immediate neigbbours, but why should that matter? Actually, although I'm on good terms with most of my physical neighbours, and we have a Christmas party every year, I'd rather move my social life away from the street a bit. I don't want people popping an and out of my house all the time. It would make me very stressed and unhappy.
Maybe the reason that people in the Inner West are continuing to show up as unhappy is that your index is flawed.