Tuesday, June 6

How Does Jacksonville Compare to Finland, Home of the Happiest People on Earth?

Jacksonville is trying a new Blue Zone experiment that is supposed to make people healthier and happier. I hope it works better than that treating crime like a disease thing we tried. Blue Zones are based on places on earth where people live longer, and we assume living to 100 makes you happy, so we're going to push it on ourselves. Fine with me, but the happiest people on earth are supposedly the folks from Finland (whether or not they live to be 100), so I'm wondering if we can also learn something about happiness from them so that our 100 years aren't just a miserable extra 20 years of life. I'll take a look at the tenants that make Finnish people happier and see if they fit with Jacksonville's new mission to make us live longer.

1. We don't compare ourselves to our neighbors.
OK, so maybe Jacksonville isn't as bad as Los Angeles on this one, but what can be more American than comparing yourself to your neighbors? And not just the numbnuts next door who don't edge their lawn or store their garbage in the right place. I'm talking about your neighbors in Ponte Vedra or San Marco. I think comparing yourself to your neighbor is built into American capitalism, and it helps provide us with the drive to succeed. Even in a quasi-socialist retirement community like The Villages, neighbors with almost no rights to change their homes' exteriors race to replace perfectly good driveways with custom driveways that express something terribly interesting about themselves, like which college they root for (but in reality just expresses that they have more money than the neighbor with the boring old concrete driveway). But people in Jacksonville aren't all living off pensions, so you'd assume we have to be more mindful of our spending. The problem is that when you need a new car, you really need a new SUV or pickup truck, even if you don't haul much or go off-roading. Why? Maybe people want to impress themselves with the sheer size of their own vehicle, but I'm thinking it's to impress the neighbors, especially if we can't afford to live in their neighborhoods. 

It's totally possible that people in Finland buy expensive items to enjoy, but I think the question is whether that expensive item is for your own enjoyment or in order to show those around you how much money you spent in order to enjoy that thing. The outward materialism I saw when visiting Southern California was what you'd expect in a place where outward appearance makes or breaks careers, and I wouldn't say Jacksonville is any more about showing off to the neighbors than the other places I've lived (Milwaukee, KC).

2. We don't overlook the benefits of nature.
So here's one where Jacksonville does pretty well. Our parks are not rated all that high compared to other cities, but we do have a lot of them. The weather is nice fall through spring, and plenty of people enjoy being outside during those months. People like to fish and hang out at the beach. Homeless people love biking all over town, and people with homes love biking down at the Beaches. That said, there are days when I do several hours of yard work in the summer heat and don't see a single neighbor venture out. I'd say that overall, Jacksonville has ample outdoor places to be that could be improved with more to do once you get there, and that's likely a goal of the Blue Zones initiative.

3. We don't break the community circle of trust.
So, this is Florida. I don't think there's much of a community circle of trust. In fact, I'm not even too sure what this means, other than maybe the idea that if you let your kids walk to the park alone, you don't have to worry about some guy in a white van taking them for a ride. That's probably the idea: in Finland, citizens don't worry about getting shot by gang members, getting abducted by child molesters, getting molested by clergymen, getting scammed by contractors, getting stabbed by panhandlers, weird doorbell rings after midnight, getting shot by your neighbor for making a y-turn in his driveway, or having your dog attacked by your neighbor's pitbull. For most of us in America (and especially in Florida), the circle of trust probably stays in your own home and does not extend to the community. Maybe it extends to church. But the JEA and Douglas Anderson scandals demonstrate how that circle of trust does not extend to government or schools. And if you rent an apartment in Jacksonville with roommates, that circle of trust might not extend out of your own bedroom. I guess I'd have to say that Jacksonville has not earned my trust because way too many of my fellow citizens take advantage of the trust of others in order to benefit themselves. 

Jacksonvillians may live to be 100 because we learn to live healthier lives, and we may do that, in part, because of our relationship with the outdoors, but in order for us to be happy enough to WANT to live to be 100, we should work on being satisfied with what we have and trusting our neighbors. Maybe if we all build really high fences around our compounds, we won't see what our neighbors own and we won't have to worry about people breaking in, but I doubt that's how they do it in Finland.

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