Contentedness is a basic requirement once fundamental needs like space, time, flexibility, comfort, and financial security have been met. Above and beyond, we need our chosen habitat – in this case, the city – to challenge us. Urbanites love their challenges, hurdles, stumbling blocks, and diversions. In order to feel at home in our metropolitan surroundings, we crave the everyday confrontation with adversity. We love our city and identify with it and its offerings. In a way, we are all a little bit Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, and Rome. We are the generation that deliberately chose the metropolis over the countryside. We are happy where we are. Welcome to the urban adventure.

Looking at Barcelona, photo: saabi/
Looking at Barcelona, photo: saabi/

smart recently published an international and representative study on urban joy. Together with market and media research institute rheingold, the brand conducted a comprehensive and in-depth survey on the individual and subjective perception of 3,269 European urbanites. 3,129 of these completed an online survey while the remainder participated in group discussions and one-on-one interviews. The study focused on our sense of joy, not quality of life, i. e. the attraction and draw of the urban environment and the criteria that influence our subjective and individual sense of joy.

Previous studies on this subject had thrown a spotlight on external factors like financial situation, working conditions, job opportunities, educational opportunities, health care, etc. Meanwhile, conventional studies on happiness examined the fleeting moment of joy, yet without a clear focus on urban living. Pursuing a different tack, the smart study surveyed the manifestations of subjective joy, thus for the first time identifying, substantiating, and comparing six factors that shape our sense of urban joy:

The big picture
Intoxicating vibrancy
Contrasting diversity
A sense of home
Constant reinvention
Comprehensive infrastructure

These factors involve challenges, so-called ‘Herculean tasks,’ that confront a city’s residents. As mentioned earlier, joy does not thrive in an even-keeled environment with problem-free days and no surprises, but arises when we successfully brave everyday urban challenges, tackle manageable obstacles, and finally leave the urban arena as a victorious gladiator, according to the study’s findings. And while this might carry a whiff of Hollywood and the above-mentioned ‘big picture,’ the overall mechanism makes perfect sense.

Looking at Basel; photo:
Looking at Basel; photo:

We all want to feel alive and grow. This is what governs our life and productivity. And although this sense of joy is measurably lower in cities affected by financial crises, the demands on urban life and factors of urban joy remain comparable across Europe. In terms of psychology and urban joy, there are far more commonalities between Europeans than the current political situation might suggest.

So, despite a defined desire for a unique city and separatist slogans like “Berlin is so über-hip,” “Paris is so different,” or “people from Zurich are arrogant,” us metropolitan gladiators seem to have far more in common with each other than we might think. All of us are a little bit Europe. And that’s beautiful.

For further results of the smart study, check out

Text: Agi Habryka
Header image: baunzaun./