Lileks: Scientific proof that Minnesotans are darn happy

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2012 - 7:28 PM

Minneapolis just piles up the awards in these "best city" surveys: Smartest City, Most Wired City, Best City to Bike to Work to Your Job as a Shaved Almond Inspector, and so on.

A new Gallup study says we're among the nation's top nine happiest towns, too! Meaning we're No. 9.

Statewise, we're doing OK as well: Minnesota is No. 3 among the gosh-darn happiest states in the country, with Hawaii topping the chart.

It says something that the happiest state is the one that's the farthest away from everyone else. No. 2, by the way, is North Dakota, a fact that must horrify people in big important states who regard our neighbor as a rectangular box full of oil-soaked roustabouts living in corrugated-metal barracks, spending their pay on cockfights and rotgut. Which it is! And they're happy about it.

Lest you wonder how they quantified a will-o-the-wisp thing like happiness, the survey was quite scientific. The website describing the criteria explains: "In terms of emotional health specifically, Hawaiians were the most likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot yesterday."

Laughed at what, though? I saw a tourist try to surf, and the board flipped up and hit him on the head. It was hilarious, dude!

What if "yesterday" was bad for just about everyone because, say, there was a tornado that turned your town into sticks. But everyone banded together and found renewed dedication in their faith and community? They're somehow less happy than Minnesota because 32 percent of the people in Eden Prairie remembered a funny line from "Modern Family" and smiled?

Other Gallup standards included:

• "Life Evaluation," also known as "how you doin'?" in New Jersey. This is where you look at how your story's going so far and wonder if you'd keep watching if it were an HBO drama, or whether you'd cancel the channel and wait for the DVD to show up in the Redbox. This requires introspection, of course, which is not a skill you find in a practical culture. Go outstate. Find a small-town cafe. Ask a stranger: "How would you evaluate life?"

"Well, the corn could be better but the flax came in good, and the soybeans aren't like they were in '97 when we had the bean-smut."

"No -- you, personally. Holistically."

(long pause) "That's your Prius out in the lot, isn't it?"

• "Work Environment." The office is clean and warm and has new furniture, and the guy at the cafeteria will draw those little pictures on your espresso with the foam -- that's so cute! He did Yoda for my son. Anyhoo, the environment's great, but the boss likes to make people cry in meetings, and he pushed an intern down an elevator shaft. So it's 50-50.

This may explain why Washington, D.C., was the No. 1 happy town. When I lived there, "happiness" was defined as a lobbyist for the Chlorine Industry getting a paragraph knocked off a regulation going through a subcommittee. They're easy to please.

• "Emotional Health" was also considered. But ordinary funks aren't a sign a place is unhappy.

Here in Minnesota there's a deep, raw, scraping anger that strikes in February, a sense of spiritual displeasure so intense it shows up on weather radar as a red throbbing blob. But it's a good thing. It's the dissatisfactions that bind us together at the end of winter's long yowl. It's the sodden muck of April that makes us appreciate the clean beach of June.

On a bright May day, when the green carpets unroll down every lawn and the trees wave new leaves like the banners of a victorious army, we're delirious. When it snows on Christmas, when the strong autumn sun ignites the world in a blaze of gold and red -- that's when we sing. (To ourselves. In the shower. When the door's closed.)

That's why we're here, and these Minnesota moments give us an ecstatic, lunatic glee they'll never know in places that are monotonously wonderful, or monotonously monotonous.

But this winter's been different. We were robbed. A brown Christmas. Two or three days of marrow-aching cold, tops. Not a single blizzard that smote the city into stillness and awe, but at least a dozen thaws that made the lawns look like open coffins.

Best winter ever! you might say, but no.

We need winter to make us feel like we've earned spring. Happiness is something you earn. It's like saying, Hey, I didn't buy this winning lottery ticket. I found it.

You're conflicted.

For about 0.05 seconds.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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