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August 10, 2006
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I’m moving out of New York City

It used to be that people moved to where their job was. But where you live has a lot of impact on how happy you are. So it makes sense that today people pick a city first and then find a job, and cities maven Wendy Waters thinks this trend will increase. I will be part of this trend on Monday, when I move.

I have spent the last six months studying statistics about cities and matching them with statistics about happiness. This is serious scientific research that is changing how universties teach and how city planners think.

Here are the two guiding principles of my research:

1. People are very bad at predicting what will make them happy.
We overestimate how bad the bad will be, for example. We think we will be really sad if we lose a leg, but in fact, people who lose a limb are not any sadder, as a population, than people who have not lost a limb. I learned this from an interview with Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard, and I quote him so often he is practically my guest blogger.

2. The studies about happiness will most likely apply to me (and you).
This I also learned from Gilbert. He says that even though most people think they are exceptional, most people are normal. Of course. That’s what normal is. But most football players think they are above average (they are not) and most people think they are below average jugglers (they are not). We are all basically average. (You can read more about this in his book, which I also constantly hype.)

Here are the two things that I thought were most important when we talk about the intersection of geography and happiness:

1. People are happy if they earn what their friends earn.
Relative income, rather than any certain level of income, affects well-being, according to Daniel Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for applying the principles of psychology to economics.

I remember a piece I read in the New York Times (which would be a link you’d have to pay for so I’m not even going to bother looking for it.) It was a story about how real estate agents know way too much about their clients. One agent talked about when a husband and wife were looking for summer rentals in the Hamptons. They walked into a five million dollar home and the wife said, “We wouldn’t have to live like this if you’d get a decent job.”

It’s not about how much you have, it’s about how much your friends have. So you should live in a place where you will have as much money as the people you meet. My husband and I are constantly examining our jobs and our childcare setup, so I know we need a city with a low cost of living in order to guarantee that we never fall below the median during our trials and errors.

2. You will like what other people like.
I want good schools because I have two young kids. I checked out lots of school rankings. The more I pored over these different rankings, the more I distrusted them. Every list had different results, and the whole process seemed to be pretty subjective.

Gilbert is doing a study right now that shows that if you want to know if you should date a given person on Match.com, ask the last person he dated. If the last date liked him then you will like him. So I decided that choosing a school district is like dating, and the most important thing in picking a school is that other families love the school district.

Finally, as a tie-breaker, I looked at how economic development experts rated cities. I love the economic development people because their job is to think about how to leverage the community to make life vibrant.

I focused on the rock star of economic development, Richard Florida. He ranks cities according to how creative they are. You can search by topics like how technology-oriented the city is(technology=innovative business), or how gay it is (gay=diversity=open minds for new ideas). Each city gets a score that reflects the level of creative thinking among its population.

So, where did I choose? Madison, Wisc.

Madison is inexpensive, the people who live there love the schools, and the city comes up on best places lists all the time.

For all the research I’ve done, though, I have no idea where to live within the city. So it’d be great if there’s a Madison native out there who could post some suggestions.


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61 Comments »

(aka bauhaus_sea) wow Miss Penelope, congratulations on this decision! Sorry I don’t know anything about Madison but I am very excited for you! (and I agree on the “choose place to live then job”)

Congratulations on your upcoming move! I too moved out of NY fairly recently, and somehow I haven’t stopped moving. Which leads me to my question…. how exactly do you choose a place to live and then choose a job? We just moved because the husband got recruited out of business school. I can’t imagine how scary it would have been to move someplace and then hope to find a job. Or is it because we are somewhat early into our careers?

Sounds great!

Have you bought your plane tickets yet?

Isn’t it pretty idiotic to predict where YOU would be happy based on STATISTICS of happines?

If you are a happy person and know how to make yourself happy, you’d be happy anywhere (Siberia, anyone?)

This article inspired a couple of thoughts in me, as they usually do:
I think making more than your friends and neighbors can be just as tough as making less. It can leave you feeling lonely if your neighbors sense that you are not in their economic class.

Another thing I would think about is the lifestyle of your neighbors. Our neighborhood has a very high percentage of families where only one parent works. This makes a very nice environment for my wife, who also stays at home. If you are a stay-at-home parent in a predominately two-income family neighborhood, you will feel lonely.

I’ll miss you… for that real-time late-September meeting we had planned in NYC, from where I return to my other home, Tel Aviv. My reasons for choosing that country/city? Hmm… these would cover spiritual, historical, and identity issues, among others. I second the commenter who offers Siberia as an example where, as anywhere (all things considered), if one blooms where planted one is happy. I add what you know, of course: Change is hard, even when for good and happy reasons. I applaud your decision and send lots of love and support!

I guess you are really doing it! I miss the daily blog…but a couple of quick comments…

Very few people are truly “average.” Nearly everyone has to fall above or below. It’s almost meaningless to talk about the average because all that indicates is an aggregate value. You can say that, on average, people do “y”, but in fact, most people do x, y, and z. To make choices based on average values is no good if you are a “y” or “z.”

Finding happiness is totally subjective. I’ve read about people who’ve lost limbs being happier. When something terrible happens, you have to deal with it. You can choose to feel sorry for yourself or you can find a way to go on. For some people, the shock of tragedy can push them to really make a choice to find happiness…but I think everyone would agree it would be better if you could do that without losing a limb. If it turns out that people who have lost limbs are, on average, happier…well, that’s great for them, but I’ll take my chances on depression and mediocrity and keep my leg!

We think about this a lot at my house too. You are going to have to do the same level of research internal to Madison to pick a neighbourhood that meets your criteria.

Good luck.

Hi everyone. Thank you for the comments. I am looking for a neighborhood now, so I am particularly struck by Alison’s comment about doing the same level of research to pick a neighborhood. Which, of course, will not be happening since I have a truckfull of stuff and nowhere to put it.

I am also struck by the number of people who are disagreeing with the research. Let me just say that I did not DO the research, I am just following it. But a huge part of the happiness research is that everyone argues that it doesn’t apply to them (or, similarly, that happiness is not a science but rather subjective). So I’m happy to hear that the lively arguments against the happiness research continue on my blog.

One more thing to add which is essential to choosing the city you live…

People of color also have to think about the ethnic diversity of cities as
well. Though many of those in the majority may not think about this factor
since the majority (Caucasians) are represented in all US cities; me as an
African-American woman who’s 34 with a young child (7), must consider this
factor. It’s all about quality of life as you mentioned, and most of us
want to live and socialize with others that look like us with a similar
socioeconomic status.

Ayann, you’re right. I want to respond to your comment, but I don’t want this issue hidden in a string of other comments, so I’m responding here.

Good for you, Penelope. Wish you the best.

Interesting how priorities in a home place change as life evolves and children enter your life. Proximity to grandparents is big for me. My in-laws are down at the end of the dirt road. Neighbors of value beyond measure. But you couldn’t have sold me on that “perk” ten plus years ago.

You should check out the Willy Street neighborhood. It’s kind of bohemian and cosmopolitan at the same time. I’ve always thought it would be fun to live there.

It may be a nice transition for you to live downtown, since you’ll be going from “big city” to “big town.” The thing to watch out for, though, is shitty college student housing.

I’ve never actually read your blog until it was referenced today on the Isthmus website, so I really don’t know anything about you. But if there’s any way I can help, just shoot me an email.

sometimes the culture in madison can get a little wrapped up in itself. so pick a place away from willy street hoopla and near the east side. the streets south of johnson st. and east washington are nice neighborhoods.

atwood ave is also a good place. these are relatively low crime and really kind neighborhoods with great to not-so-great houses.

and, you need to fall in love with snow. (snow and poor employment options were the reason my wife and i left for my original home of georgia.)

Oh, I like that the Madison people are weighing in. Thank you. There’s no Welcome Wagon like a string of local comments to make you feel at home.

I live about 45 minutes from Madison and have to say, except for the cold Wisconisn winters I couldn’t pick a better place to live. I may be partial though, I have a very large extended family and all but a few live in the same city as me. I can understand why you picked Madison though. It’s a great place to be. Plenty of creative forces at work in the area, great schools (from what I hear from friends), small town atmosphere around the area and tons of places to explore. Plus, youre not too far from Milwaukee or Chicago if you need some bigger city fun. Hope things go well with the move and welcome to Wisconsin!

We choose to be who we are ( Happy or not happy)or give up our greatest gift our ability to choose and let others do it for us….Frankl…..but a nice location helps..

Gordon

hi! i stumbled across your blog through my job at the taproot foundation (thanks for the mention). as a wisconsin native who, after five years in NYC, left last year for the good life in san francisco, i related to your entry. i love madison and have spent a ton of time there. the willy street neighborhood is great (urban hippie vibe)…that would be my first choice. if you live there, you can get great laotian take-out from la lan xang and ride your bike to the memorial union terrace for a spotted cow draft at sunset. enjoy it…i might see you back there someday! brynn

i know people these days relate everything to income, but i’m not interested in knowing people by their income, which has nothing to do with what kind of consciousness they have. THAT is far more indicative of who i’m hangin’ with.

good luck with your move, i’m planning to leave myself, which is how i came upon your blog.

You’ve probably already found a spot, but as a Madison East-sider, I love it here. Atwood is a fun neighborhood. I would look at places near Olbrich Gardens if that’s in your range of what you’re looking for. Welcome to Madison-we’re glad to have you!

Hey- my brother-in-law sent me a link to your interesting post. My husband and I moved to Madison 9 years ago from Austin, TX. It took awhile, but we love it! We lucked into our neighborhood…. it is called the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood. Moving from NYC- I think it may be more your speed than hippie Willy Street. I do love the Atwood neighborhood, but am not sure about the schools. Our school district is the Franklin-Randall (K-2 at Franklin and 3-5 at Randall), Hamilton, and West HS. It is supposed to be one of the best in the city. We have three small children, one of whom is in the public school system, and so far we are very pleased. We know lots of people who want to move here from the East side so their kids have better schools. Obviously, a real estate agent can’t tell you anything like that.

The people in this neighborhood are great– they are all kind of yuppies, but less pretentious than the people who live in the McMansions or larger house out in the developments. In fact…they are just like us. They feel that their 60-100 year old house is an expression of their personality and they are starting to have their own families but still have a great time being themselves. I think it is probably in your price range and the market is yours for the picking right now b/c so much has been sitting around not selling. Take a look at www.fsbomadison.com at the Central Madison neighborhood.

Good luck to you!! Hope you love the change. Oh, one other thing…. similar sounding couple moved from NYC and opened very successful store in this nabe called Twigs-check it out online, too, at twigs.com.

I am so glad I found this wonderful blog. I too live in NYC and am on my way in the near future. I certainly did not do extensive research like you but I would be curious about the rest of the cities you came up with. We are looking at a couple spots in North Carolina.

I’d love to hear a bit more about the results of this move — how has it affected your quality of life? Perhaps it deserves a new post?

off topic but when are the dopy, dopy newspapers ever going to get it that people — who give damn and can make a difference are not going to take the time to sign up or register let alone pay for the right to reference, applaud or otherwise spread their story — what do they think Penelope is going to DO with THEIR story about real estate agents? geeessshh will they ever get it? maybe I’m wrong??

Yes please update us on the move. Thought you might enjoy this article on wealth and happiness from one of our UK Sunday newspapers (no registration required to read it!)
http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2163700.ece

Dear Penelope, good luck on your decisions and hope everything works out great for you. We also moved out of NYC to East Brusnwick, NJ about 2 years ago for the kids as well. I totally agree with you regarding finding a neighborhood that is closer to your own in term of socio-economic situation. I guess living in NYC does not make you think about it because 1) it’s a big melting pots so a millionaire can totally live next to a section-A family; and 2) most NYorkers don’t even talk to their neighbors…

I don’t agree with Emmy because we live in a block full of capes and I have a great time talking to my white neighbors. However, my wife’s cousin lives 10 minutes away in a McMansion and we hardly hang out. It’s sad but true that I feel much more comfy talking to my white neighbor who is a teacher than my McMansion cousin who is a doctor.

So yes, income definitely makes a difference in a neighborhood.

I’m sorry, but I agree with a previous comment. If you are a relatively happy person and know how to make a negative situation even slightly positive, I don’t believe that your location of residence will make that great of an affect on your life.

After college I moved to Charleston, SC ONLY because my best friend lived there. We moved into an apartment South Of Broad (SOBs) - I went to the beach every day off I had and even though at the poverty level, was very content with everything in my life. Judi always used to say that we would look back on those days and think that they were the Good Old Days. And they were.

Currently, my job is awful - I’m comfortably numb; our neighborhood is going downhill; my husband is also very stressed and unhappy in his job. We have talked about moving. I have done some research at and , but I will definitely be checking the others you recommended.

I’d love to believe in the “bloom where you’re planted” theory, but oh so not convinced.

I’m wondering how the move has worked out for you. I hear that Madison is a great place, though regardless of my inner happiness, I couldn’t do the weather there. The hot summers and freezing winters. Not a big fan of extremes.

I was very interested in your comments that people ‘underestimate’ the weather when choosing a place to live. It appears that comment was a result of your research, but for everyone I know that relocated then regretted, the weather was the thing that they UNDERestimated as an influence.

You just truly can’t judge your reaction to weather, until you’ve lived in it for a few years. They say it’s around 3 or 4 years when the relocation honeymoon wears off, and either you fall in long-term love with your new town, or you start courting other locations.

* * * * * *

D,

Very intelligent comment and maybe I should consult you before I move again.

You’re right about the weather. Austin came out very close to the top of my list, and I took it off becuase I wanted four seasons. I think about this when I hear snow crunch under foot in Madison. In LA (I lived there for ten years) I missed the snow. And in NYC there was snow but you can’t hear it underfoot except in the deep recesses of Central Park, becuase the city is so loud. When I hear the snow in Madison I think about growing up in Illionis (where I did) and I think that maybe I just wanted the weather I knew as a kid. It surprises me becuase I’d never say I had one of those filled-with-joy childhoods. But weather really is very important.

As for that three or four year mark. I don’t know about that. We’ve only been five months in Madison :)

Penelope

Hi,

I like reading this blog (secret pleasure) and this post struck a very apt nerve, as I am packing my stuff and moving to NYC March 1, 2007. I am a newly-minted college graduate and I grew up in Los Angeles. If I’m going to stay in LA I don’t think I would want to pay rent just because my family lives in a comfortable house and staying there would be free. Yet, its important to get out of the house, developmentally. Hummmm that leaves me with the only option of leaving LA, which I’m perfectly happy doing…to be honest, I’m really sick of LA. BUT I have no job in NYC and I was an English/Religion major and have little vocational skills.

So wish me luck, I leave in 20 days with a bag of clothes, my trusty laptop, and a double scoop of persistence and courage.

All the best to everyone who geographically relocates, change is really one of the most advanced and luxurious amenities us humans are privileged to experience.

Adjustment periods, in my opinion, are always the most difficult period to overcome. Hang in there.

peace and love,

mike
hershm@kenyon.edu

My opinion on relocating anywhere in the great US.
You must do your research on everything. Especially job salaries, requirements for the job, Medical coverage for family, what would the premium be per month, school district info etc. My husband & I relocated from Long Island, NY in July of 2005 to Cary, NC and I am at a loss for words. The only thing that is less expensive here than NY is the actual cost of buying a home & the property taxes. While you think you would be saving money & getting ahead, is not the case after discovering the cost of Family Medical coverage over $6,500 a year, this does NOT include dental. Then they also charge you for Vehicle Tax which is another $600 per year. Some employers only pay you once a month. We live in a lovely neighborhood, but so was Long Island. SO, my advice, be very careful & be sure to get ALL information on your new destination.

Hi Penelope,

I live in Milwaukee, WI, and think you are making a big mistake. I lived in Madison for three years and it’s not very diverse. You would be better off sending your children to private schools, Madison public schools aren’t anything special and are deteriorating as the City grows and more lower socioeconomic families move in.

It’s a very liberal City as well, and WI is a very high tax state. We have more educated people leaving our state than moving in. In the long run, it’s not a good state for your children, as even with a good education, there aren’t sufficient job opportunities.

Thanks, Dan

I grew up about 20 minutes outside of Madison in a little town called Cambridge. I couldn’t wait to move out, and went first to Chicago and then Seattle, where I live now.

The longer I’m away from WI, though, the more I miss it. Mostly my family, but also the more laid-back (and yes, much less expensive) way of life.

Madison always felt a little podunk to me unless you’re right down in the heart of things - State Street, Capitol Square, etc. The East and West side are the definition of urban sprawl, overtaking farmland and turning it into cookie-cutter suburbs. Milwaukee seems to be more on the right track, focusing on the revamp of the downtown - the 8th ward in particular. Madison’s problem is that its urban core is mostly filled with single-family residential, so there’s great difficulty in building the kind of density that leads to the kind of vibrant downtown you see in NYC, Chicago, Vancouver, and, to a lesser extend, Seattle. The long and short of it is that Madison is a college town, and it probably won’t grow out of that image for a long time due to the brain drain that a previous commenter mentioned.

I wish you luck in Madison. I have family that lives there and they love it. It’s a good place to raise a family and enjoy life (if you can get use to the brutal winters - but hey, global warming will fix that problem if you stick it out long enough). And if you find you don’t like the city as much as you thought you would, check out Cambridge - small town life with the city a short drive away.

If you want to link to a New York Times article and bypass the registration/subscription screen, just use the Reddit New York Times Link Generator at http://nytimes.blogspace.com/genlink

Penelope hi,
The name is Daniel Kahneman and not David.
Have a great day.

* * * * * *
Thank you, Yoav. I made the change.

-P

You might want to check your methodology because if diversity was one of your main criteria Madison, Wisconsin shouldn’t have even made it into the top ten. Not only is the town overwhelmingly white and middle class (85% White according to the 2000 US Census) it also lacks anything close to diversity of thought, perspective or life experience. What I’m trying to say here is that “diversity” in Madison is all kinds of different white, educated, left leaning people who accept everyone as long as they think the same way they do.

If the “diversity” you’re looking for is one or two people of color on your block — just enough to pat yourself on the back for living in a “diverse” city but not so many as to make things uncomfortable for you — than Madison is your town. If you define “diversity” as all kinds of different people who see the world through the same lens you do, then, again, Madison is for you.

If, however, you’re looking for actual diversity you might want to consider an actual city.

* * * * * * *

Hi, Dave. I have written a lot about this topic on the blog. Here’s a post about diversity in Madison:

http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/08/18/race-matters-too-but-saying-that-is-hard/

Here’s a post about the idea that diversity should be first about economic diversity, not racial diversity (in which case Madison is more diverse than San Francisco, Boston or NYC):

http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/11/12/how-to-decide-where-to-live/

Finally, my husband is Latino. So any block we live on has some racial diversity :)

–Penelope

 

Penelope - OMG, thanks for the response you made my day! On another thread, I mentioned that you ought to move to North Carolina (Raliegh). I still think you guys should, but Charlotte is a better fit. Besides, there you can buy a 2000 sq. ft. home in a master planned community for like $200K (with a property tax rate of like 0.05% (thats right, one half of one percent property tax rate) and you still pretty much have four seasons.

Hi Penelope…

So, now that it’s been however many months, what can you say about Madison to those of us who are considering it? Your opinion would mean a lot to a person like me who sounds A LOT like you did when you chose Madison as your next home.

My wife and I are looking for a move out of Austin, where EVERYONE makes more money than we do (and we make plenty), where there are only two seasons (late spring and summer), where inner city real estate demand has driven prices so far into the sky that the suburban sprawl has become our only option. I spent 8 years in Waukesha (45 minutes east of you) in my youth and remember the region being gorgeous and not overly crowded.

This was years ago, however.

So how do you feel about your move now? She and I started in NYC and Minneapolis respectively, met in Austin, moved to Seattle, back to Austin, and need to move back north to save our god-given souls from this horrible place. Would Madison be a keeper for a displaced IT guy and a UT grad student?

Thanks for your opinion!

Penelope,

What a great group of postings! I read through everything and want to add my pennies.

I recently moved out of Wisconsin. After more than 30 years in and around Milwaukee, I could not take it anymore. The taxes; first or second (highest) in almost all lists, Politics, the most socialist state in the Midwest - if not the country, and the people, crime, racism, jobs… Weather in Wisconsin no longer has four seasons it’s more like pre-winter, winter, post winter, and 8 weeks of humidity, nicked-named summer.

Politics there have been called the Peoples’ Republic of Madison. Do not expect your driver license to be used as legal soon since Wisconsin now has a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on, let’s call it nationality. Anyone can have a driver’s license which is true diversity.

The state government is a great example of do as I say, don’t do what I do. The (now former) State Attorney General was picked-up for drunk driving – after a traffic accident, in a state owned car, using it illegally to “commute” from work to home (over 80 miles each way) and allowed to wave the mandatory road side sobriety test, and delayed any testing for three hours before finally failing! How liberal. Most drunk drivers have five or more convictions before getting any jail time.

The 45 cent per gallon gasoline tax is still considered to low by the Governor, after he raided the transportation fund to pad the books for his reelection campaign.

I can start on schools, but it would not be fair to Madison as I only know the issues for Milwaukee’s metro issues.

In the end, the poor schools, the job market, and the winters drove me out. Like Penelope, I used research, lots of research, to figure out where I should move my family. Sperling’s Best Places to Live, which was a great way to see what, really matters to you. It would be unfair not to mention where I am now, so we reside in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex. There were other areas my family considered; the northwest area was high on the list like Seattle, Las Vegas has a job base in my career area. Nashville has it charms, and the Georgia / South Carolina area has extended family.

Heat was a major issue, as I have medical needs that disagree with cold or rainy weather.

The school systems we have our son enrolled in has produced excellent results in pre-teenager.

Heck, I like steak more then seafood, but to each their own.

I understand two things better now eight month after getting to my new home town. One is to give it time. Find your groove, learn your way around, and being open. The second thing is to remember you don’t just pack away your old life when you move; you carry it on your back, all the way.

But that’s just an opinion.

This is a great source of information. I too have considered relocating. I now live in Chicago and would like to go to Madison or Indianapolis. I would like to thank all those who commented. You can’t find this type of information on the city website or on a real estate page.

Penelope, you make some great points about happiness, I don’t care how many times I discuss this subject with people they don’t seem to get it. I guess it is hard trying to convince people who love where they are, why you are leaving…but true happiness is not even caring what they think. Just do it and at minimum, you can save yourself the stress of hearing what a big mistake you are making.

* * * * *

Brandy,
You bring up one of the hardest parts of this topic: Cognitive dissonance. We have a way of making whatever we have fine for us. It’s very difficult to talk to most people about these issues because they don’t want to have to consider that moving might be a good thing for them. Moving is very hard. It’s easier make what you have be okay for you.

Penelope

The comments about the poor Madison schools are amusing, considering the good schools are often cited by publications picking the city as a good place to live.

The national ACT average score is 21.1. The average in Wisconsin is 22.2. The average in the Madison school district is 24.2, with a 04-05 graduation rate of 94%. As far as public schools go, Madison’s are excellent.

I enjoyed your article, because my family has considered moving. We are an African-American, dual professional family living in a small coastal town in SC. We both have great professions (although I am looking to change careers because I want to spend more time with my children 6 mths and 2 yrs) and short,painless commutes. However, we do want to move, to be around more professional blacks and for more cultural, entertainment options. I’m from north Jersey and nothing in south carolina is like the NJ/NY area. My husband would like to move to Atlanta. I’d like to move back north, but with any move i would take such a huge decrease in my salary, it doesn’t seem worth it (I only mention my salary because it is 4 times greater than my husband’s). That’s our main dilemma - MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. If it weren’t for the salary cut, we’d move in a NY minute.

Interesting articles. But let me give you a caveat as a person who have lived in Madison for 3 years.

As for me, Madison was simply suffocating for my taste:

-No quality restaurants to go to, except dumpy bars and chain “All-American” joints. You want good sushi, Chinese, Thai, French, tapas, forget them all. Instead you are stuck with Chilis, Applebees, Panda Express, and cheap eats that cater to students.
-Depressing long winters from October to April. NY get’s winds from lower Atlantic coasts, but WI gets winter storms from Canadian Artic.
-No Night life. Unless you like to hang out 19yo college freshmen at a bar your winter nights are going to be long and boring. Traffic lights start flashing at 9PM!
-Narrow job opportunities which makes wages non-competitive and job changes almost impossible unless you move out.
-No shopping, except on the internet. Banana Republic was “high-end” there.
-You can’t avoid the annoying college kids. There are almost 100,000 of them and they are not very smart kids.

If you have experienced life any place larger than Madison, you’d hate it because you know how better life can be for nominal fee of course. If you are coming from a small town or a college student, you’d love Madison, because that’s all you know.

But if you are moving from NYC where you have already been exposed to what finer things in life can be, then you are in for a culture shock that’s not worth the savings. I visited my friends in Chicago on a monthly basis until I moved the heck out.

If you do decide to go to Madison, go live in Middleton on the west side. Make sure you spend a week in the dead winter in Madison, to get a real feel of what you are signing up for.

One thing Madison did for me was give me time to think about my quarter life crisis in my early twenties. I had a great job while most people around me couldn’t find any or were being laid off. I saved a ton….rent was $500/month for a studio in amenities-a-plenty apartment. However, I was not happy and had plenty of time to think things through during the long winters.

Happiness comes down to meeting your needs. Check out Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs).
People’s needs are unique and depends on the situation, but I think there are general themes that apply to everyone. I think everyone should a weekend to personalize their needs hierarchy with priorities and makes short, long, and lifelong goals to serve as a general guideline for self-evaluation and decision making. Otherwise we are living a life with a map but no destination. Some people meander and arrive at their destination by luck, others go around in circles. The best way should be to put some thought to our precious lives and set some general goals, honest priorities, and realistic strategies. Wouldn’t is be great if such exercises were taught in high school and then once more in college?

I agree with Ex-Madisonite. You are going to be bored out of your mind. Madison is a horrible town.

If you want big-city intellectual culture and ease of getting around without a car, but without the extreme prices of a major city, you should try places such as Austin, New Haven, Portland, or perhaps even midwestern locales such as Ann Arbor (which is close to Detroit), Pittsburgh, Minneapolis etc.

God, why do people keep saying Austin in the same breath with liberal cities like Seattle, Portland, Providence, Burlington etc.??? These places have done things like do away with excessive vehicle registration taxes, create stellar public transportation systems, foster diversity in inner-city neighborhoods, place ordinances on how tall you can build buildings downtown in order to “not block the view of Mt. Hood”, stuff like that.

I’ve been in Austin off and on for 16 years and I can tell you that it has gone completely to conservative hell! Big business rules the day here, as more and more people end up broke due to the overwhelming amount of wealthy californians bringing San Francisco (which they no longer want to pay for) into Central Texas. Prices of everything continue to rise, gentrification is very much in full swing as upper-income families prepare to pay “whatever it takes” to move into moderate-income neighborhoods with good schools, driving house prices through the clouds and leaving no room for the middle class, who now have to move out due to taxes (gentrification here leads all the way to the top).

So be warned…unless you make a six figure income or two, or don’t have a family and are content to rent a $1000 closet until your ship comes in, don’t listen to anyone about Austin…especially if they’ve only visited a few times.

…and while you think to ask me “why are you still there?”, to this I say “why do you think I’m at this website? I’m trying to find a way out! It’s difficult to save $$ while you’re paying what I’m paying just to survive.” Austin traps a lot of people this way…don’t let it be you!

You people are funny.
I grew up and lived most of my life in Chicago. I ended up in Madison 7 years ago and haven’t looked back. Nightlife outside of college bars is quite good. Not the same as Chicago nightlife, but not bad. Cafe Monmartre is a good example. Miduro, the cigar bar, is a favorite of mine. Cocoliquot is another. Eno Vino on Madison’s West Side, too.

I bought a gorgeous Victorian home in Middleton right down the street from Capital Brewery, I go to baseball games, football games, hockey… also movies at Sundance Cinema, sushi at Muramoto, thai food at Sa-Bai thong (although there are easily a dozen other thai restaurants), south african food at Buraka… well, I need not mention anymore.

I love Portland, but it’s also one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. Madison is far from that. Austin’s cool, too. But dissin’ Madison comes across as babies who didn’t get their fancy latte served to them just like they used to get in NY.

Whatever. There’s a lot to do in Madison, especially if you actually try to like it. I had no expectations and have found myself wanting to stay.

Something for everyone. Just don’t judge Madison based on the Kollege Klub and State Street Brats. It’s far more diversified than that.

CP

Wow, I was considering Austin because of UT, but New York City is the worst. I got to get out of here. The job market is hell- even with an accounting degree, and the housing market is worse. Plus inflation is out of control. I am even considering a move out of the country, after doing some research on germany, switzerland and Ireland.

Thanks for this really interesting post, Penelope. I absolutely agree that where you live has a HUGE impact on how happy you are! I grew up in Washington State in a tiny town, decided I was desperate for an urban environment, and spent a summer in New York during college working on Wall Street. I quickly realized that I was way too used to friendly smiles and the general atmosphere of Washington/Northern California (the latter is where I went to school). The unfriendliness of New York in general (no offense to New Yorkers but you know what I’m talking about!) really, really weighed on me and just depressed my mood every day.

I was THRILLED to get back to Palo Alto after finishing my internship and have now chosen San Francisco for my first post-college job. I’m sure there are many other cities that I could live in and be happy as well, but it really takes being there to figure it out. I worry about my friends that moved to Ohio, Michigan and other places they’ve never even been before for prestigious companies that need to fill regional offices. I quickly learned while in New York that being unhappy with where you are really negatively affects your relationships and your work.

Good for you, my husband and I moved from New England to North Carolina 2 years ago. I remember going through the same process, even going to www.spot.com, which after a series of questions tells you the top 10 places that will make you happy.

We now (me more) want to move back to New England, not to CT this time, more like Maine. I miss my family and the different seasons more than anything. The problem is New England is so expensive, I believe my husband and I can be happy no matter where we are, but I want to be part of a community not a “YANKEE” forever, which is what happens when you move, you are new forever or it seems that way to me.

I did look at Madison, WI an thought it would be a great place, but way too far from the Ocean for me. GOOD LUCK!!

CP, you are funny.

I’ve been to the “red hat” Miduro. Quite nice actually, had a great pianist and superb chocolate martini. But didn’t Madison ban smoking all together recently in bars? I thought I heard all cigar bars went out of business because of that law.

Speaking of Capital Brewery, I do miss one thing: GREAT DATE…the best microbrewery. East Coast breweries can’t compare especially when it comes down to Octoberfest beer. Good with buffalo burger.

SaBai Thong also had very good Tom Yum soup. Ask the owner there about this guy who ordred that on a weekly basis.

Bureka sucked and Muramoto sucked. Sorry, but I’m out in Boston enjoying world-class sushi at Oishii with ex-Nobu chefs. Rated 27 for food on Zagat! If a sushi place does not have fresh Toro (fatty tuna belly) on the menu, then is it not much better than supermarket sushi.

Like I said, Madison is a good first step to experiencing anything of culture (it is a college town) if you’ve never experience anything before, but no way can compete on a world class level.

It sounds like you must have not fully explored Chicago growing up. To actally enjoy big cities you have to open up your wallet. $20 for dinner will get you chain food just like anywhere else. Most people when they are growing up, their parents don’t give them $50 for fusion sushi at Sushi Samba, or $100 to go have Brazilian steaks at Fogo De Chao, or $200 at Charlie Trotters. Expensive, but definitely worth it to experience at least once!

Comparing Chicago with Madison is like comparing Las Vegas with Ho-Chunk Casino or some riverboat casino.

CP tells you what sort of people actually “enjoy” Madison…..

I’ve been living in NYC for 6 years and I’m moving out next month. I’m going back to Montreal.

Believe me, you can live here on less than $30,000 a year, I’ve been doing it all this time. I’m in Washington Heights, I have a decent rent, although it’s only for a small one bedroom. So yes, you can live here without being rich, but can you be happy? I doubt it, and that’s why I’m moving back home.

I still enjoy the energy of the city, the fast pace, the beauty of it, but although it’s true there’s never a dull moment in NYC, what’s the point of living here when you can’t afford to go to the many concerts, restaurants, events and etc?

I’m moving back home, and I can’t wait.

I just moved to Connecticut a few months ago, and plan to move to NYC within the next few months. I lived in Wisconsin my entire life. I’m 19, by the way (just so you know where I’m coming from). Anyway, Wisconsin is lovely. It’s a great place to raise a family. The people are extremely nice and the vegetation is as fresh as it comes. Madison is a nice area. You might want to consider Kenosha, as well. It’s about 2 hours from Chicago and 30 minutes from Milwaukee.
You can check out this website for more information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosha%2C_Wisconsin

And if that doesn’t interest you, maybe these will.
You can compare :)
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2006/snapshots/PL5539225.html
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2006/snapshots/PL5548000.html

Good luck,
Cassaundra

I am a native Texan and Austin resident, and am cracking up at some of these comments. Yes, Austin is changing and growing – find a dynamic city anywhere that isn’t. And yes, gentrification is creeping into some of the old downtown neighborhoods. But the flip side is that there is now a more wide-ranging and diverse choice of neighborhoods and housing styles north, south, east and west of the city as well as downtown, not to mention a tremendous growth of desirable shopping, dining and entertainment options.

We all hate the growing traffic and miss some things about the good ol’ days, but – speaking as someone who travels alot on the job and has been to almost every mid-sized and major city in the country – this is still one of the best places in America to live. And Penelope, we have four seasons – in fact, it snowed for a good 15 minutes last February!

My first guess is that you don’t even live in Austin, but in some far-out suburb that hasn’t been touched by the growth yet, like Driftwood, Spicewood, or Creedmoor…pulling cheesy lines like “tremendous growth of desirable shopping, dining and entertainment options” out of some issue of Newsweek that names Austin the number 1 city to move a brood for the umpteenth year in a row?

Gentrification is not “creeping” in. It has stormed the east side so quickly that the residents there have no choice but to pack and leave, sometimes foreclosing on their properties that they can no longer afford, sometimes selling for pennies on the dollar to one of those “We buy ugly houses” people…have you seen their signs? If you’re really in Austin, then you’ve seen them on every street corner in every lower middle class neighborhood (http://media.www.dailytexanonline.com/media/storage/paper410/news/2005/08/10/TopStories/East-Austin.Growth.Pushes.Out.Poor-966425.shtml
).

Unless, of course, you couldn’t think of travelling to a lower middle class neighborhood, which would be my second guess.

Because they don’t have those signs on the FAR east side in Bastrop or Elgin, where they have neighborhoods called ‘The Enclave (duh)’ or ‘Shadow Glen (homes over an hour from Austin starting in the $210’s…YAY!)’ or in Round Rock, where an $80K home now sells for $350+ because of the quality of schools, or out west where there has NEVER been any diversity, or way down south (like south of Slaughter Ln) where development is really ramping up because the north side is just too damned expensive.

Those are the next gentrified families you’ll see…the south-siders. The “78704…more than just a zipcode, it’s a way of life” people. You’ll see them pouring into Pflugerville and Cedar Park, just like all the east side families are doing as we speak.

And no, we don’t have seasons. We have summer. With an ice storm. And then summer again.

Culture? This’ll take the cake…we have a new Art Museum (voted by Austin Chronicle readers to be the number 1 art museum in Austin…but how are you not #1 when there really is no #2, or shouldn’t I ask?) called The Blanton. And in the Blanton, they have renaissance sculptures…but get closer…read the sign next to them…they say “cast of Michelangelo’s ‘David’” or “cast of Rodin’s ‘Life Study 4′”…THEY’RE PLASTER CASTS OF ART THAT IS SITTING IN ANOTHER MUSEUM!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!!

But then it hit me…from Whole Foods (the most expensive grocer on earth and they don’t even use local farmers) to UT Film School (where they take UT money, hire Hollywood film crews, and lace them with a few UT unpaid interns) to an art museum that plagiarizes in order to fill space…this is Austin as a whole…from a few feet away it’s gorgeous, but get closer, and you’ll see the seam, and you’ll see just how fake the product is.

Congrats on the move. I will be joining in a few months. NYC sucks ass.

http://nosexinnyc.blogspot.com/

People don’t know what makes them happy.. Very true. This is exactly what earned the Harvard psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz the fame of the one who knows exactly what people want. Malcolm Gladwell speaks about it at TED.
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/20

I’m thinking of moving to the NYC/NJ area. Any advice on where best to live? We are a two income, over 40 couple, no kids. Have seen the world. NYC is cool. Work will be in Bergen county most likely around Wykoff or Ramsey. Love public transportation and love big cities but need to live somewhere not terribly noisy and hopefully not terribly expensive with good access to Int’l Airports.

I’m African-American, grew up in Madison, and loved it. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And so what if the population is mostly white (Scandanvian, German, or Irish descent)? Is this a horrible thing? No. If the whites were nasty, mean and racist - yes, but I’ve found more racism in big cities (New York, Chicago,) than anything in Wisconsin. Diversity is bunk. Unless it’s diversity that comes from the inside out

I wouldn’t mind living amongst racists if I was the richest. The problem occurs when racists are of the majority race AND richer than you.

Anyway, to all north easterners and Midwesterners (Wisconsin, MN, Chicago)…are you ready for another long winter? Hopefully you are rich enough to afford a vacation in the carribeans to take a break.

Interesting blog!! & interesting research!!
Do tell about results!:)

I agree that you can be happy to an extent anywhere, but the environment does have some influence too - to a different degree on different people!

I would also research well to make sure NOT to live in or upwind/downstream a heavily polluted industrialized area (chemical factories, old mercury mines, incinerators, landfills & such come to mind…) or one that is to become such… Also.. factories crawl out, any of the above-mentioned can be built… So eyes are to be open at all times..

There are sites online that deal with this too.. & chart some ‘worst’ sites..

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