Opinion » Maxed Out

Carpe Diem



Money can't buy happiness. Your mama probably told you that. Mine did. Mother doesn't always know best ... just most of the time. But I can understand where she was coming from. Money can't buy happiness is one of those things people who don't believe they have enough money say to make themselves feel better. To underscore the correctness of their position, they point to rich people who aren't happy and say, "See, I told you so." QED.

But, of course, there are people simply incapable of happiness. And happiness is a subjective state of being so no one can ever really tell if someone is happy or not. Some people who seem happy jump in front of trains. Some who seem unhappy are absolutely giddy inside.

So, can money buy happiness? Maybe ... a definite maybe. What it can buy is a sense of security. And this is nowhere more apparent than the sense of security an affordable home brings. I've talked to scores of Whistleratics who, after sweating it out for enough waitlist years—years akin to Dog Years, one waitlist year feeling like seven—finally get a chance to buy or rent a Whistler Housing Authority home. They all say the same thing: "Now I/we can get on with our lives."

If that isn't happiness, I don't know what is.

But why take my word for it. Then again, why not? It's not like I've ever lied to you. A working paper published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research—yes, I have a pathetically dull reading list—drilled down into the slippery concept of happiness using, not surprisingly, economic and other data, courtesy of Stats Canada. After paying homage to the money can't buy happiness nonsense, the paper concluded it could ... to a point.

That point, not surprisingly, hinged on affordable housing. Which is why places like Toronto and Vancouver scored so poorly on happiness.

Now, before you get all Bhutanese on me and start clamouring for a Gross National Happiness strategy for Tiny Town, let me reassure you the Campagne de Fous already has that plank in its/my strategy. But we don't call it that. It's just folded into the Neverending Party's Livin' the Dream manifesto.

And while I'm hesitant to use the term"evidence-based decision making," since that term has been debased by every politician at every level of government who has ever uttered it through their lying lips, let us consider some of the things those economic researchers found that foster happiness.

Money is first on the list. It may not buy happiness but it buys housing. Toss in a puppy, a six pack and a hockey game on the telly and who wouldn't be happy? But money is just an avenue to affordable housing. It explains why wealthy neighbourhoods even in Toronto and Vancouver tend to be happier than less wealthy neighbourhoods.

So affordable housing is key. But that's just the start. Yapping at the heels of affordable housing is sane commutes, which explains more of why Toronto and Vancouver's overall scores are in the toilet. Notwithstanding Tiny Towns periodic—OK, daily—gridlock-lite, most of us still have a mercifully short commute and many of us can commute by bike, skateboard, transit, walking or, in my case, plodding down the stairs in my slippers ... which isn't always as easy as it sounds.

Living in a place with lots of open space, as opposed to being crammed into highrise with neighbours who, for all you know, are running a meth lab, or so you suppose based on the gross smells that permeate the building.

Whistler has open space to burn. Let me rephrase that, now that fire season has started earlier than most of us can remember. There isn't a neighbourhood in Whistler that is more than a short walk to scores of kilometres of hiking and biking trails most people have to drive hours or days to experience. We have multiple lakes we can swim in during the months shrinkage isn't life threatening. We have mountains to get high on. And soon, we'll have an artificial turf field for those of us who prefer their nature unnatural.

And other than the odd bear or cougar, that open space is about as safe and crime free as space gets. If kids are you, raising free-range kids in Whistler is still an option for all but the most paranoid.

That's partly because we enjoy the other primary feature underpinning happiness: community and a sense of belonging. A community can't make you feel welcome if you don't want to take part in that community. Far too many people choose to live in their own bubble, even here, and don't enjoy that warm sense of belonging, friendship and neighbourly support that is so readily apparent in every part of town. If you don't want to belong here, there's probably no place for you so I hope you enjoy your own company.

With the exception of enough affordable housing, this town's got it all—all the elements of happiness. So the Campagne de Fous is doubling down on creating more WHA housing. Oh, I know, the current administration is promising 1,000 bed units is in the works. But that's cheque's in the mail stuff. We need more if we want to peg the Happy-o-meter.

Fortunately, we've got the land, we've got the equity in WHA's portfolio of properties, we've got the people who know how to get things built, we've got the buyers and renters drooling to just get a chance to put their money down and we've got the people who know how to manage the finished product. The risk of proceeding aggressively exists only in the mind of some decision makers.

The Campagne's previously announced plan to cajole the provincial government to apply the poorly-named speculation tax to Whistler's non-resort, market housing won't do much to make market houses affordable. That ship's already sailed. But it will, coupled with an empty-home tax, bring in revenue to support other programs designed to boost our coefficient of happiness and reign in the runaway escalation of house prices. Coupled with whittling down the waitlist by providing more affordable homes, this town will probably be happy enough to even stop bitching about Vail Resorts. Well, maybe not that happy. But happier than we are.

So with the race under way, let's see what the folks who want to call the shots for the next four years have to say about their plans to make us all happier than a kid in a puppy pile. Anyone who says, "more of the same," fails the test. It's time to take it for ourselves because no one's waiting to give it to us. Get involved. Belong. Burst your bubble.