Island Happiness

Oh, such a title sounds so saccharine; and yet, data suggests that living in a small town makes it easier to be happy. Considering the size of Whidbey Island, there are lots of opportunities to smile at least a bit more.

One study in the US and another in Canada found similar correlations: the farther people are from a city, the happier they tend to be. There are luxuries associated with small towns that can’t be bought in the city.


Space. Call it elbowroom, and freedom of movement, and a chance to express yourself without stepping on someone else’s toes – or them stepping on yours. Small towns have lower population densities, naturally. They’re called small because of their population, not because of their size. Even if they’re tiny, the density is small compared to a tower of condos or a block of apartments. Spread out the people and watch the creativity pop. Without the need for regimentation and with less regulation, art starts, yards become gardens as much as they are lawns. Say hello to the chickens and ducks (and signs along the road for Fresh Eggs), as well as tiny herds of goats, llamas, and alpacas. Head to the outskirts, basically the rural version of a suburb of a small town, and meet horses and cattle, maybe even a bison or beefalo. Space allows room noises, aromas, and eyesores to shrink with distance.


Attitudes. Especially on an island, people decide to take the jump to live there. In the city there’s a continuum of choices from the ultimate urban view from dozens of stories up, to tidy neighborhoods, to suburbia. There’s a blending, which has its value. Deciding to move to an island is a commitment. It’s hard to live halfway between the shores, bouncing on the waves between two worlds. People make that kind of commitment when they have a clear idea of how, why, and where they want to live. That may be the only thing they have in common with their neighbors, but when people respect that common motivation, that common attitude, it is easier to develop a community that accepts each other.

Community. Small towns remove anonymity. Everyone knows your name, and your history, and your interests, and your plans. Sound intrusive? It’s actually the natural societal state of the human species. We evolved to live in clans and tribes where people support each other. From a companion blog;

They don’t help everyone, no person and no community can, but they don’t wait for the mayor or the preacher to gather and point them towards helping someone. In the best cases (usually in the worst circumstances) help can arrive before someone gets home from an accident or the hospital.” – excerpt from Small Towns Rejoice

A community with less anonymity also means more reasons to be nice. What goes around comes around, and it comes back around a lot quicker in a tighter circle. In the city, those communities and networks readily diffuse, rudeness is easier because strangers may remain strangers for life, and what goes around may take more than a lifetime to come back around.

Becoming a member of such a community can take a bit more time than simply moving into an apartment in the city, but that’s because enough people care enough to get to know new folks. That transition is also one of the motivations behind this blog, to help new residents learn a few of the unspoken rules and the unadvertised opportunities.

Dive into the studies mentioned above and see that cities have great incentives, too. Otherwise, they wouldn’t attract millions of residents. Cities are great for generating jobs, raising wages, and hosting large cultural events. That is a necessity for many. It’s also possible to be happy in those apartments, condos, and suburbs; it’s just that it is at least somewhat easier to be happy in a small town filled with people who care, and who are committed to community.

The good news for Whidbey Island is that it is possible to live in a small town and have the benefits of the big city within a short drive, or ferry and bus ride away. Pick the best of each, and put them together in a way that fits your life. Just don’t step on your neighbor’s toes physically, emotionally, or metaphorically. There’s enough room for both of you.

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