Looking for the HGTV show that prioritizes fit and well-being, not budget and square footage

Reflecting on yesterday’s post on the dissonance of watching Marie Kondo in a McMansion, I wondered: where are the television shows that prioritize finding a home based on the social and psychological needs of the owners and their long-term health rather than emphasizing running up against the budget and maximizing the size of the home?

The easy answer is that these are not the homes or stories that Americans want to see. People want to get as much as they can within their budget. The overall price of the home and the size makes for interesting viewing across different locales.

Yet, I imagine there is some sort of viewership market for those who would rather emphasize how a home would fit their lifestyle. This occasionally comes through on HGTV but tends to be subsumed under concerns about budget and the size. Where are the people buying smaller homes and or cheaper homes because they appreciate the aesthetics of a particular home or because a smaller home is easier to clean and maintain or that cheaper and smaller home is near friends and family which are more important than their private home? Or, perhaps there could be a show about how relatively normal people purchase homes and then tweak them to fit their particular needs or interests.

If more homeowners are truly interested in long-term well-being, evidenced by interest in decluttering or options like the Not So Big House, it may be a while before they see this reflected on TV. Too many current shows are limited by budget and square feet to truly consider the well-being of the owners.

What if Facebook could consistently improve users’ moods?

There has been a lot of hubbub about the ethics of a mood experiment Facebook ran several years ago. But, what if Facebook could consistently alter what it presents users to improve their mood and well-being? Positive psychology guru Marty Seligman hints at this in Flourish:

It is not only measuring well-being that Facebook and its cousins can do, but increasing well-being as well. “We have a new application: goals.com,” Mark continued. “In this app, people record their goals and their progress toward their goals.”

I commented on Facebook’s possibilities for instilling well-being: “As it stands now, Facebook may actually be building four of the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (sharing all those photos of good events), positive relationships (The heart of what ‘friends’ are all about), and now accomplishment. All to the good. The fifth element of well-being, however, needs work, and in the narcissistic environment of Facebook, this work is urgent, and that is belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self – the element of meaning. Facebook could indeed help to build meaning in the lives of the five hundred million users. Think about it, Mark.” (page 98)

This might still be a question of ethics and letting users know what is happening.  And I’m sure some critics would argue that it is too artificial, the relationships sustained online are of a different kind than that of face-to-face relationships (though we know most users interact with people online that they already know offline), and this puts too power in the hands of Facebook. Yet, what if Facebook could help improve well-being? What if a lot of good be done by altering the online experience?

Lincoln, Nebraska #1 city in well-being

A new survey from Gallup and Healthways puts Lincoln, Nebraska as the number one city in the U.S. for well-being:

Lincoln, Neb., had the highest Well-Being Index score (72.8) in the U.S. across the 189 metropolitan areas that Gallup and Healthways surveyed in 2012. Also in the top 10 are Boulder, Colo.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; and Burlington-South Burlington, Vt…

At 60.8, Charleston, W.Va., had the lowest Well-Being Index score, displacing Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio, which held this position the two previous years. Huntington-Ashland’s score of 61.2 is up from 58.1 in 2010, which is the lowest score on record for any metro area across five years of data collection. Mobile, Ala.; Utica-Rome, N.Y.; Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.; and Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.; join Charleston and Huntington-Ashland as frequent occupants of the bottom 10 list each year…

Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Md.-W.Va., residents reported the highest wellbeing among the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, defined as those with 1 million residents or more, followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. These two metros have been in the top five among large metro areas in each of the past five years…

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.

Interesting as there are more cities from the Great Plains and Midwest than I expected.

A few thoughts about the methodology:

1. After all is added up across these six measures, there isn’t much variation between the top and the bottom. Lincoln had the highest score at 72.8 and Charleston had the lowest at 60.8. So on a scale of 0 to 100, the range was just 12. This suggests there is not much variation in these measures and that this index may not tell us a whole lot. Are Americans simply generally optimistic about these topics or are they realistically not that different across cities?

2. What exactly does Gallup and Healthways do with this information that it requires daily polling? This is not a small sample:

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 353,563 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Perhaps there is some marketing edge to this surveying or it is related to some big research project.

Bonus well-being info: for occupations, doctors and then K-12 teachers lead the way and manufacturing-production workers and then transportation workers are at the bottom.

Moving poor families to better neighborhoods doesn’t improve jobs, education but does boost happiness

A new study suggests happiness is one of the primary benefits of poor families moving to better neighborhoods:

When thousands of poor families were given federal housing subsidies in the early 1990s to move out of impoverished neighborhoods, social scientists expected the experience of living in more prosperous communities would pay off in better jobs, higher incomes and more education.

That did not happen. But more than 10 years later, the families’ lives had improved in another way: They reported being much happier than a comparison group of poor families who were not offered subsidies to move, a finding that was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

And using the gold standard of social surveys — the General Social Survey, in which researchers have questioned thousands of Americans of all income levels going back to the 1970s — researchers even quantified how much happier the families were. The improvement was equal to the level of life satisfaction of someone whose annual income was $13,000 more a year, said Jens Ludwig, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago and the lead author of the study…

“Mental health and subjective well-being are very important,” said William Julius Wilson, a sociology professor at Harvard whose 1987 book “The Truly Disadvantaged” pioneered theory about concentrated poverty. “If you are not feeling well, it’s going to affect everything — your employment, relations with your family.”

This seems to fit with findings from other studies looking at programs like the Gautreaux Program in Chicago or the Moving to Opportunity program that took place in a few big cities. The children of these movers/participants may have better jobs, incomes, and educations down the road but there is not much of an immediate payoff in these areas.

It is too bad Wilson doesn’t go further with his comments. What exactly does better well-being translate into? Improved or more stable family life? Better social relations? Could improved well-being translate into better jobs and higher education down the road?

Wellbeing among American cities

Gallup surveyed 188 metropolitan areas in the United States in 2010 and then ranked the cities according to their Well-Being Index. Here is the top 5:

1. Boulder, Colorado

2. Lincoln, Nebraska

3. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colorado

4. Provo-Orem, Utah

5. Honolulu, Hawaii

Here is some information on how the index was calculated:

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.

In terms of analysis of these findings, Richard Florida has some thoughts. My guess is that Florida will tie these findings to own ideas about the creative class, a group that tends to live in cities that are college towns, have younger populations, higher level of innovation, and more cultural opportunities.

(A side note: I’m not sure who came up with the headline for Florida’s thoughts but calling these “America’s New Happiest Cities” may not exactly be the same things as measuring “well-being.” The Gallup index goes beyond “life evaluation” and “emotional health” to include other factors like physical health and workplace environment.)

Untangling the effects of income on happiness

Examining the relationship between income and happiness can be tricky. A recent research study, conducted by two Princeton researchers and summarized by LiveScience, is illustrative of some of the issues in this research field:

-The researchers were working with a large dataset that is built around a daily survey of Americans: “they analyzed more than 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a daily survey of 1,000 U.S. residents conducted by the Gallup Organization.”

-Changes in income were measured in terms of percentages rather than absolute numbers. This was done to reflect the fact that a percentage change in income would be better for comparisons across income types. As the researchers note: ““In the context of income, a $100 raise does not have the same significance for a financial services executive as for an individual earning the minimum wage, but a doubling of their respective incomes might have a similar impact on both.”

-Survey respondents answered questions related to two measures of happiness: overall life satisfaction and what their emotions were the day before. According to the LiveScience article: “For life evaluation, participants indicated on a scale from zero to 10, from worst to best possible, how they would rate their lives. For emotional well-being, participants answered yes/no questions about whether they had experienced various positive and negative emotions a lot during the prior day.” Having both of these dimensions is critical as a general question about happiness might be interpreted differently (do the reseachers mean happy right now or overall?) by respondents.

-Some of the findings: having a “Low income seemed to magnify the emotional pain of life’s misfortunes, including divorce, illness and loneliness.” However, there was a tipping point of $75,000 where having more money didn’t help improve one’s well-being:

The researchers suggest that making anything more than $75,000 no longer improves a person’s ability to spend time with friends, avoid pain and disease and enjoy leisure time – all factors involved in emotional well-being.

“It also is likely that when income rises beyond this value, the increased ability to purchase positive experiences is balanced, on average, by some negative effects,” they write. For instance, a past study revealed a link between high income and a reduced ability to savor small pleasures, the researchers noted.

This tipping point of $75,000 is above the median income in the United States. I would be curious to know if individuals feel this tipping point when their income does rise to this level – are they cognizant of this point? Or once they reach $75,000, are they still locked into a mindset that having more money will lead to increasing levels of well-being?

Also, this $75,000 point could be quite fluid. Over time, this point would change based on economic conditions and cultural understandings of what is a “good income.”