Portland: The Happiest City in America

As a wanderluster who has travelled the world non-stop for the past five years, I would like to make the big jump to guess that Portland is the happiest city in America.  Although I am an American, I haven’t lived in the country for over five years.  Therefore, each time I come to the US, I feel as if I’m a visitor.  Most times I connect with family and friends, but sometimes I squeeze in a new city to explore.  This is the case for Portland. At the age of 39, this is the first time I visited and I am solo.

 I am exploring places to relocate to when my time for repatriation nears.  Moving back to America from Europe will be quite shocking, especially during these times.  I want a city that can ease the blow.  Many people have encouraged Portland, and therefore I took the jump to squeeze it in during the holidays.   

My interaction with Portland is quite limited, as I am travelling solo.  But what I have witnessed is joy.  People are happy here, despite the gray cold weather, grittiness, and numerous homeless that grace the streets, bridges, and sides of the highway.  My brother tried to correct me saying that some of these people choose this lifestyle and are not homeless per say but known as “wanderers.” 

On two different occasions, when I tried various coffee and donut shops the staff were dancing.  It was not a gimmick, they were simply jamming out to either Michael Jackson or some hipster song.  What a joy to witness that.  Dancing and joy are contagious.

Portlanders also exude this sense of Midwestern kindness.  As an Ohioan, this is comforting to experience in other towns.  It’s odd when a large city that is full of pedestrians, bicyclists, tourists, and people overall actually take the time to be kind. Each store I went into, the staff made an effort to say hello and good-bye.  They may have even offered up a chat.  In many other metropolitan cities, staff members will opt to ignore you while staring at their phones hoping you may leave.

Being pet-friendly is another reason why this town may be so happy.  Dogs may come in and out of establishments.  I have heard from someone who recently located from San Francisco that one of the draws of the town was this feature.  All the homes they looked at renting were open to welcoming their large older dog.  She actually felt bad about turning down potential landlords because they were all so kind.

 “Keep Portland Weird” is one claim to fame here, which you may definitely witness.  I saw someone wearing a Ramen Cup onesie during the day time. Nobody glanced twice.  Crazy hair colors, piercings, mismatched clothing, excessive tattoos….all are welcome. Numerous stores even boasted on their exterior walls how accepting they were of everyone.  It’s a liberal town that embraces all.

There are hidden spots of refuge such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which transports you to a different country after you enter it’s walls.   Drop in tai chi classes were available, or you could opt to have a tea ceremony in their tea shop. 

Powell’s Books, one of the most notable independent book stores in America, can also be a place of wonder.  With the decline and closure of many bookstores throughout America, it was awe-inspiring to see a type of place exists here. Perhaps it’s the love for literature that brings happiness.

Maybe it’s not a huge jump to make this conclusion of Portland being the happiest city in America.  The Nordic countries generally place in the top 3. One would think with the minimal sun and cold temperatures that people would automatically grumble.  But perhaps these towns carry what the Danish like to call “hygge”.  It’s coziness with friends, coffee and tea, delicious sweets which you don’t carry guilt for, books, being warm and comforted by your wool sweaters or layered attire, bicycling, nature, and kindness. 

Although I may not be relocating to Portland anytime soon.  I can appreciate it, and would definitely return.  I can see why people are drawn to the laidback lifestyle, eclectic vibe, and warm hearted locals. 

“Portland was a dream both in the literal sense and the metaphorical sense, both tangible and not – a fleeting affair you want to hold on to but can’t, so you try memorizing her every detail only to fail to do so in the consumption, in the savoring, in the absorbing of yourself into her. When she’s gone, she comes to you in snippets, replaying in your mind like a fragmented picture show.”
― Jackie Haze, Borderless

“How was I supposed to survive here? These Portlanders were an entirely different breed of white people.”
― Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath


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