A few weeks ago, Forbes came out with their list of America’s most miserable cities.  This is an annual list, and so provides us with regular updates on the amount of misery in various metropolitan areas.  Forbes looked at the largest 200 cities, using a variety of measures.  Specifically, the researchers looked at unemployment, tax rates, commute times, violent crime, weather, corruption (measured by convictions of public officials), Superfund sites, and how the city’s sports teams fared over the previous two years.  According to these measures, the most miserable place in America is Cleveland, Ohio.  Five of the 20 most miserable cities were in Ohio, giving the Buckeye State an advantage over the rest of the country in woe.  I have connections to three of those cities: When I was in graduate school I did internships in both Canton and Cleveland, and my oldest son was born in Akron, which is just a few miles from Kent, where we were living at the time.

The word misery is derived from the Latin miseria, which means “wretchedness.”  Do the factors that the Forbes researchers assessed have much to do with wretchedness?  Unemployment certainly seems related, and violent crime often makes its victims wretched.  Are poor weather, long commutes, and losing sports teams more than annoyances, though?   Wouldn’t homelessness, bankruptcy, poor health, and divorce all produce more wretchedness than these factors?

If we look beyond our borders, it’s not hard to find places where conditions seem to provide much more fertile ground for misery than anything in Cleveland.  I’m thinking here of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the political oppression in places like Myanmar and Tibet, the hunger in North Korea and parts of Africa, and the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I’m not convinced that even such severe hardships produce more than momentary misery, though.  According to numerous research studies, our level of happiness tends to dip after negative events, but rebounds fairly soon thereafter.  Most of that research wasn’t conducted in situations of severe adversity.  Still, we humans tend to be fairly resilient even in very trying circumstances.  That bodes well for the residents of Chile and Iraq, and even more so for those of Cleveland, Canton, and Akron.

The Misery Capital of America