The meaning of local community for happiness and selfhood
Research until now remains divided on how location matters to the well-being of people in general. Some scholars report on data showing that people living in urban areas are happier than those in rural areas, others argue exactly the opposite. Faced with severe population decline, rural areas try hard to both attract new people into their regions as well as retain the people living in their communities to stay and stop further outmigration. Thus it is an important policy imperative to understand the people in local communities, to understand their needs and wants. As part of this, to understand the well-being of the people living in rural communities, and how living there matters to them, is an important first step. In early and mid 2018, we conducted qualitative interviews with residents in both a small rural settlement as well as in a neighboring small town in Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu. Findings point to aspects of embeddedness into the community, age, and employment within or outside the locality in regards to the significance of the local community for the residents’ sense of happiness. Opinions on one’s local community range from extremely positive to severely negative: from providing safety and a care network of extended family members to seeing community as bothersome, demanding of one’s extremely limited spare time, and literally crushing one’s freedom of control of one’s own time. Comparing the subsets from rural and urban localities, we point out their differential impact on local happiness.