How do we know if a community is happy and thriving? Most often we look to economic data – median household income, percent home ownership, employment and poverty rates – to gauge a community’s health and happiness.  

But many social and behavioral scientists (including economists) and community activists question the degree to which we rely upon economic data to measure social well-being.  The beautiful “stuff” of everyday life (like art, social relationships, personal interactions, opportunities for learning, interactions with nature) is not easily captured by basic economic indicators.  This “stuff” is nonetheless an important reflection a community’s happiness and well-being.

 We see that problem played out here in Tucson, where economic indicators (e.g., low income and high unemployment and poverty rates) frequently define our community. Not that those aren’t important. Obviously a livable income, job opportunities, and economic stability are critical for individual and community growth. But we miss a lot about everyday life in Tucson when our understanding of community well-being  is reduced to economic indicators and excludes other things that enrich our lives.

We also miss a lot when we internalize economic measures as the benchmarks for personal success.  Research clearly demonstrates the limitations of income as predictor of personal happiness.  Studies show that “too much” income can actually diminish happiness— if we allow it to interfere with the things that truly make us happy.

Over the next week or so we will highlight research which explores the relationship between income and happiness, and relate this to Tucson.  We also discuss alternatives that other communities are exploring to determine social well-being. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  

Please tell us about your experience – what choices have you made personally to balance income and happiness? 

Did living in Tucson allow you to make that choice? What about living in Tucson makes you happy?