How Philly really does support the pursuit of happiness

Ah, Philadelphia. We’re fat, we’re ugly, we’re hostile and we’re …. happy?

Yep, a new Harris Interactive Poll lists Philly as the third happiest city in America.

As you may recall, previous city rankings by various publicity-seeking outlets have listed us as the nation’s fattest, ugliest, most unfriendly people.

Obviously, it makes no sense to take any of these lists seriously.

But the Harris poll got me thinking about what could explain why one in three Philadelphians told Harris that they are “very happy.” Not just happy, very happy.

First off, let’s dispense with the fallacy that being happy means you are endlessly serene and calm.

I would absolutely tell any pollster I am a very happy person, but anyone who knows me would say I can come across as intense, profane and cynical. Kinda like, oh, I don’t know, this city.

Happiness doesn’t equal being always blissed out, always having things go your way. It comes from caring enough about something that it gives your struggles meaning.

That’s why I love my adopted city so much. It ain’t cuddly. Nothing worthwhile comes easily here. But it’s full of people with stomach for the fight. When success comes, it tastes all the sweeter because of the struggle before.

Today, the day of the semitragic opening of the Philly schools, is a hard moment to feel totally sanguine about our town.

But it’s still easy to construct a platform for happiness out of Philly’s raw materials.

Perhaps not all of the city’s neighborhoods may look quaint to drive-by commenters. But most are full of folks who’ll shovel your walk, tend to your sick kid and keep an eye on your place while you’re away.

Its cultural scene is both sophisticated and funky. It’s not just Parkway museums and the Kimmel; it’s also the Fringe and a glorious stew of ground-level creativity.

Philly is perfectly located, a day trip from the ocean, the mountains, and the Apple. Its traffic really isn’t that bad (ever been to Atlanta?) and its mass transit system has fine bones, if bad skin.

It has vistas of breathtaking beauty, as my daily commute down Kelly Drive testifies.

Most of all it has people who, however rough their edges, offer grit, candor, humor and caring in abundance. It is real, this city. It feels pain, and sometimes dishes it out. It has little patience for hollow men and plastic figures.

It is home to a difficult happiness. The most worthwhile kind.

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