The Pleistocene Dream?

<p>Owning a home may appeal to primitive happiness-seeking instincts, but the resulting suburban isolation and solitary commutes many people face may be making us profoundly unhappy, writes Charles Montgomery.</p>
December 18, 2007, 12pm PST | Michael Dudley
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"Though we know maxing out our ecological footprint might involve picking up some bad carbon karma, we feel somewhere deep in our guts that we need this house in order to be happy."

"Unfortunately, it has recently been revealed that our guts may be fooling us. The psychological matrix that fuels our desire for more square footage also ensures that we will be thoroughly unsatisfied once we settle into our new place. This bad news comes from a growing army of economists, psychologists, and evolutionary biologists obsessed with happiness. The field offers plenty of insight into how our cities and our emotional lives shape each other, as well as a rudimentary map of the minefield laid around the walls of the happy house."

"The big-home urge is woven right into our genes, a hand-me-down from our hunter-gatherer ancestors."

"I've been tempted by the suburbs myself. With their wide lawns and cul-de-sacs, they seem to offer a rough approximation of the pastoral landscapes that made our ancestors feel safe. This is an illusion. In the US, at least, people who live in low-density sprawl are more likely to die violently than their inner-city cousins - thanks mostly to car accidents. Meanwhile, a Columbia University study found that suburban kids are far more likely to get hooked on drugs and booze. Why? Not enough chill-out time with their parents, for one thing. And where are suburban parents in those crucial after-school hours? Drumming their dashboards on marathon commutes home from distant offices. We are fooled by the suburbs' verdant disguise, even as they lock us into more dangerous lives."

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Published on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 in The Walrus


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