Achieving Happiness in New York State

ALBANY, NY (02/01/2010)(readMedia)-- You may have already heard about new research published in the journal Science on December 17, 2009, which ranked life-satisfaction for residents of the 50 American states plus the District of Columbia. Among the happiest states, as they have been dubbed, were Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, and Tennessee. New York ranked, well, a bit lower. The residents with the lowest levels of life-satisfaction included those in New Jersey, Connecticut, and finally New York. Dr. Andrew Cole, a licensed psychologist near Utica, NY and member of the New York State Psychological Association, reviewed the study and provides tips for improving happiness in New York State.

The researchers, Andrew Oswald, Ph.D., from the University of Warwick in the U.K. and Stephen Wu, Ph.D., from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, compared self-reports of life-satisfaction with objective quality-of-life factors such as temperature, sunshine, taxes, crowding, and cost-of-living. They found that these environmental factors matched-up with the reported satisfaction of those surveyed. This suggests that the happiness of New Yorkers may be negatively affected by congestion in and around New York City, longer commute times, challenging weather patterns throughout the state, expensive home prices, and comparatively high state and local taxes.

While New Yorkers appreciate the vibrancy of life in and around New York City, the convenience and friendliness found in our smaller cities and towns, and the natural beauty of our rural regions, we still clearly face challenges. In fact, the American Psychological Association's 2009 Stress in America survey pointed to increasing levels of stress across the nation, not just in our state. Almost half of all adults surveyed reported experiencing growing stress in the past year. For many, this led to problems sleeping, unhealthy eating, irritability, or fatigue. More than one-third of those surveyed felt depressed or sad in the past month, and fourteen percent reported that they were too stressed to make lifestyle changes.

Given these challenges, how can we feel greater happiness in New York State? Dr. Cole offers some suggestions for decreasing stress and for improving your life:

  • Take a breather and reassess. Make a list of the circumstances in your life that bother you the most. Identify the ones you have the power to change and the ones that are outside of your control. Make a plan for changing what you can (e.g., reducing an overwhelming work-load, getting more exercise, spending extra time with loved-ones, or scheduling more pleasurable activities) and practice accepting the circumstances you cannot change (e.g., unexpected traffic jams or several days of bad weather). Sometimes we cause ourselves greater unhappiness by dwelling on things outside of our control.
  • Evaluate your expectations. Ask yourself if what you expect from yourself and your life is realistic and achievable. If you are not sure, consider making smaller, shorter-term goals that you can feel good about when they are accomplished. Anticipate some disappointments and do not be too hard on yourself. Thinking harshly about yourself will only slow you down.
  • Counter the impact of your environment. If you live in an urban area and feel oppressed by the crowds, schedule time each week to relax in a park with a good book or plan an occasional weekend outside of the city. If you live in the snow-belt and get cabin-fever in the winter, anticipate this as the season sets-in. Bear the cold and schedule an evening at a coffee shop, at a friend's place, or wake up early to take a walk before work. It is surprising how the right activities can reinvigorate us. Often, the most difficult part is breaking our normal routines.
  • Work toward a positive worldview. Having a positive outlook on life does not mean you need to ignore the negatives or take-on Pollyanna attitudes. It means that you emphasize the good things when you can while remaining hopeful about overcoming challenges. Consider making a list each night of things for which you are grateful. Research has indicated that people with positive perspectives tend to be happier and healthier.
  • Access your social supports. Do not be afraid to receive help from those who care about you, whether they are family, friends, coworkers, or healthcare professionals. People who use their support networks also tend to be happier and less troubled by stress.
  • Balance your lifestyle. There is increasing scientific support for the strength of the mind-body connection. Many factors affect our thoughts and emotions including how we exercise, eat, and sleep. Likewise, the way we think, feel, and interact with others can impact our physical health and health-related behaviors. Maintain a regimen of exercise, healthy diet, productive activities, relaxation, social activities, and cultivation of positive thoughts and feelings.
  • Contact a professional. If you feel chronically overwhelmed, anxious, or hopeless, or if you would like professional support in achieving your goals, call a licensed mental health provider, such as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help with problems both large and small. They can offer scientifically-supported methods for improving your life.

Although the long lines and traffic jams in urban areas, the high cost-of-living, and the predictable winter forecasts of "cloudy and cold with a chance of lake-effect snow" in some parts of the state may impact our quality-of-life, New York is a magnificent place to live, and there are many ways we can each strive to achieve greater happiness. For additional articles and tips on how to improve your life, visit or

Dr. Cole has lived in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Buffalo, as well as Pennsylvania, Maine, and Montana. All things considered, he is happy to call New York his home.

The New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in New York and is the state's largest association of psychologists. NYSPA's membership includes 3,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions and affiliations with county psychological associations, NYSPA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare. The Foundation of NYSPA's primary purpose is to increase public knowledge and understanding of psychology, the psychology profession and the science upon which mental health depends.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, to arrange an interview with a psychologist in your coverage area, or to receive regular editorial and public information articles from the New York State Psychological Association, contact Diane Fisher at 800-732-3933 ext 106, or