Friday, 4 September 2009

Happiest Cities

Forbes.com recently came up with a list of cities it considers to be the happiest cities in the world. At the top of that list is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a city I've visited on a few occasions and one which I can vouch for and confirm most positively to be a very happy place. Its the only major city that I've ever been in, where it is totally acceptable to walk the streets in swimming trunks and thongs in the districts of Copacabana where I stayed, Botafogo, Ipanema and Leblon among others. This is a city of exceedingly warm and friendly people, where every shopkeeper, every store attendant, every cab driver, indeed everyone is fabulously charming and seem to be smiling at you wherever you turn, including the very obviously socially disadvantaged street kids whom you just cannot avoid running into. My unofficial guide on my last visit was a handsome, very dark skinned very friendly Brazilian of about my age called Mateo. He is a Capoeirista and I met him performing and demonstrating Capoeira on Copacabana beach. He spoke little English and my Portuguese is virtually non-existent, but who needs verbal communication when our bodies could communicate so much better? It was a very happy experience my last visit to Rio de Janeiro, and when leaving I promised myself I would return soon afterwards, although its been a quite a few years now and I've never managed it. I hope that by chance Mateo stumbles upon this blog just so he may know that he's still on someone's mind. Rio de Janeiro is a totally amazing place. This city finished top in the Forbes list of 50 cities.

Two Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne make it into the top five. Sydney is rated second, while Melbourne is fifth. The Australians must be doing something right it seems. In third and fourth are Barcelona, Spain and Amsterdam, Netherlands respectively. Barcelona presumably for its coupling of European sophistication, Mediterranean sun and proud Catalan heritage. Amsterdam because in this city you and I can smoke joints whenever and wherever we wish to, lol. Only one US city makes it into the Top 10 and there are no African or Asian cities in the list at all. At 6th position is Madrid, Spain, 7th is San Francisco, USA, 8th is Rome, Italy, 9th is Paris, France and 10th is Buenos Aires, Argentina. See world's happiest cities in pictures.

What this seems to be suggesting is that those who live in cities in Africa, Asia, much of Northern and all of Eastern Europe and everywhere in North America aside from San Francisco, are less happy than those in the cities listed. Well, maybe there is some truth in this because living in London, I do not see many smiling faces. In Africa however, people tend to be happier and friendlier than this list might suggest and it may be that policy advisor Simon Anholt and market researcher GfK Custom Research North America who conducted this research by compiling online interviews with 10,000 respondents in 20 countries, (the names of which countries do not seem to have been disclosed), have placed undue reliance on preconceptions about the lifestyles of people in the Mediterranean and South America. The respondents too appear to have been swayed by their own idea of where they thought of as being the place where they would be most happy. Australia is the real surprise in these results, since history tells us that until relatively recently historically speaking, this was a penile colony to which hardened criminals from Europe were exiled.

The parameters used to measure this happiness are rather ambiguous and Anholt himself confirms that "happiness is difficult to quantify". He acknowledges though that his data is "less an indicator of where local populations are happiest than a reflection of respondents' thinking about where they could imagine themselves happy".

"Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit." (Hosea Ballou 1771-1852)

5 comments:

Jude Dibia said...

Ah, Rio!!! I remember my visit there some years ago... it was absolutely wonderful. However, the heat hits you so unexpectedly as you step off the plane (I guess this is why everyone walks around practically naked). I remember going up the mountains and riding in one of those suspended elevator cart-thingy... and visiting the Jesus statue... wonderful, wonderful memories...

Anengiyefa said...

Hi Jude, Rio is hot but I didn't think it was as hot as Lagos, which is more equatorial than Rio is. Yes, I too went up on the cable car to the Pao de Sucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), and made a point to take photos on the Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer statue) which I travelled to on the funicular railroad. I even visited the famous Macarana Stadium and went across the Guanabara bay to Niteroi. I really like Rio, but its hard after being in the nice parts of town, to enter into one of the slums (favelas as they're called). The disparity between the affluent and the poor is huge. I've even heard that in Brazil, this gap between rich and poor is the widest in the world.

Its also quite noticeable how skin colour can be a determinant of a person's social status, since all the residents of the affluent parts of town are of European descent and the favelas are populated by people of different shades of brown.

But is a happy and lively city and the last time I was there it was in the month February, just a week before Carnaval. They closed down the Avenida Copacabana every evening, and the various samba schools would come out to practice. Even at 2am, people are out on the street partying and some are even playing beach volleyball on the flood lit beach. It was a bit too much for me, but I would sit on the balcony of the apartment overlooking the beach and just marvel at how wonderful the place was. Rio is my first choice for a city break and I'm thinking about returning as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...

Great blog.

c'est moi said...

I sooo easily "identified" with a lot of what you said here Anengiyefa...i visited Brazil not too long ago & spent a considerable time there touring Rio,Sao Paolo,Salvador,Recife and Rodonia...ABSOLUTELY LOVELY COUNTRY,FANTASTIC CLIMATE,AMAZING FOOD & LOVELY PEOPLE..if only i could speak perfect portuguese,believe me i would have relocated since :)

Anengiyefa said...

Hi C'est moi, in Rio I met a couple. The man is a Nigerian who had gone to Rio on a business trip, but fell in love and stayed. He eventually got married to a luscious Brazilian damsel. I'm not sure now if he fell in love with Rio before he met her, or if she is the reason why he stayed. They both visited the apartment where I was staying and to say that I was envious is understating it..