NY, NJ & CT Last in Happiness, Why?

The New York Times reported that a recent research study rated the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) dead last of the 50 states when it came to the self-reported happiness of state residents.  The survey points out there is a high correlation between self-reported happiness and objective measures of happiness such as congestion, time spent commuting, housing prices, air quality, etc.  No doubt there is some truth to this.  I have another theory, however.

The tri-state area is the achieve-aholic capital of America.  Remember Frank Sinatra’s ode to New York: “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” New York attracts the ambitious and often, ambition is about status.  People with a burning desire for status come to New York to prove themselves as media stars, bankers and traders on Wall Street, performers on Broadway, etc., etc., etc.  The problem is that chasing status is a never ending game.  There’s always someone above you and the achieve-aholic can’t get enough.  Personal wealth is the primary measure of status on Wall Street.  Many Wall Streeters have a number — referred to as the “F— You number” — they want to reach so they can tell their firms “I’m outta here.”  Research has shown that the FU number is always going up because they need more houses, more art in their collection, more money for philanthropy to build their legacy.  Of course they don’t really need these things but a sense of continuous status anxiety makes them feel the never ending need to boost their status relative to others.  Once again it comes back to status and having more than the next guy.

Psychology research has shown that extrinsic motivators — doing something to impress someone else such as status-chasing — fail to provide happiness.  Only intrinsic motivators such as meaningful work that contributes to society and meaningful relationships (i.e. connection) produce happiness. With so many people in the tri-state area working such long hours and commuting to and from work, it’s no wonder that they’re not so happy. The wise perspective is one of balance. The good life includes meaningful work and meaningful relationships. At times there will be imbalance among the two needs. If imbalance becomes chronic, however, it’s a recipe for disaster. This applies to individuals and organizations.

Michael Lee Stallard speaks, teaches and writes about leadership, employee engagement, productivity and innovation at leading organizations including Google, GE, NASA, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia. Most recently, Michael and his colleague Jason Pankau filmed a 90-minute program for Linkage’s Thought Leaders Series that will be released in January of 2010. Michael wrote the guest editorial for Talent Management magazine’s January 2010 edition and last month his article on how the force of connection boosts productivity and innovation was featured as the lead article in the UK’s Developing HR Strategy Journal. Click on these links to learn more about Michael and Jason in the media and their speaking engagements.

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