The Unhappiest City in America

To make a life in Portland - that is, to settle in here, to give yourself over fully to the place - you have to submit to the weather. You have to make peace with the 222 cloudy days each year, and find a kind of pensive beauty in the nine months of rain. You must adapt to the rhythms and eccentricities of the weather, and learn that the rhythms of temperature and cloud-cover and precipitation are themselves eccentric - like the way the sun comes out at 3 p.m. nearly every day, but only for an hour.

These things are not easy to do. Business Week recently named Portland the “unhappiest city” in America due to its high rates of depression, divorce, and suicide (respectively ranked 1, 4, and 12 nationally). According to the magazine, the high levels of unhappiness are due at least in part to “lousy weather.”

I happen to love the weather here. As a kid, I was convinced that all great adventures begin in the rain. And so Portland awakens youthful dreams of thrilling deeds (mostly laid away in books), while satisfying my grown-up conception of rain as a metaphor for renewal (itself a great adventure) and serving as the set and soundtrack for my carefully-cultivated melancholy.

My wife Kate, on the other hand, has a harder time of it. The rain and the clouds, the cold, hail, ice, and snowstorms are personal affronts against her. The lack of sunshine inflames her eczema (and our 18 month-old daughter’s too). Raised in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, Kate grew up tromping through the forests; given a choice, she might prefer to live in a tent and cook over an open fire. The last 18 months have been especially gloomy in Portland, and Kate has been kept too much inside.

To thrive in Portland, you also learn that weather like we’ve had since last Sunday - sunny skies, temperatures fifteen degrees above average - is an absolute gift. I’ve spent the last few days riding my bike and walking, driving with the windows down, making the transition from jeans and hoodies to shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Kate, who hurt her foot running last week, has been homebound, but she spends hours each day in the garden, or playing with Molly in the front yard, or reading on the lawn chair. The weather returns to normal tomorrow, with a twenty degree drop in temperature, clouds, and even rain on Thursday. But at this moment, this morning, the sunrise through my living room window is a revelation, and the sky is so blue it must be received like a blessing.


  1. Well said, john. That reminds me of that time I told a guy from Chicago I was sick of the rain, and he asked me if I'd just moved to Portland, even though he'd only lived there 10 months.

    Here's a question: does Kate affect how you feel about the rain? I mean, i'm sure she affects you by being frustrated by it, but does it make you actually like the rain less?

    I'll admit...living down in Arizona has made me appreciate the sun, even if it's 100 degrees today.

  2. in oregon you get 4 full seasons. tough to beat that.

  3. I've suffered through 24 years of the upper Midwest. Minnesota has winter for 8 months out of the year.

    I'm hoping to move over to Portland in the next few months or so. Thanks for telling me my wildest dreams of cloudy weather will come true.

  4. Rain sucks. I too do not trust days like today because of the impending 222 rainy others. You are spot on Mr. Pattison. Mother Nature is one colossal Indian giver.

    Furthermore Jordan Green and his Phoenix weather can suck it.

    To my good man Tyler, there is in fact something that can beat 4 full seasons... it's called having nice weather "all the time." -And I rest my case.

    Lastly Betsy, I'm intrigued by your profile pic. Either you're playing hide and seek with a giant child or you're an insane, unlikely heroine from 19th century literature that is kept in an attic whereupon a visitor looking for the lavatory just happened to open the door...

    I'm going out to get some sun now. But I am not going to like it.

  5. Tyler, there might be 4 seasons in Oregon, but they blur and overlap a lot of the time. Growing up in the mountains of Northern California I was exposed to clear-cut seasons with one ending and the next beginning. When you started wearing shorts, it was time to wear shorts. When you took out your winter coat it was because there was rain and snow. Living in Portland has taught me the value of keeping my "winter coat" by the front door for 8 months out of the year.

  6. before i moved i was warned about the 9 months of rain. well, i've lived here for almost a year now and i don't think we've had a solid week of rain yet. maybe a week of snow, but not rain. and as for the heat... i'm looking forward to the 20 degree drop. heat is part of why i left georgia.

  7. Aaron,

    I am Lucy Pevensey, jumping out of a wardrobe to frighten an unsuspecting friend, in an Embassy Suites.

  8. Ok, I have to say, Tyler, you are wrong. There is no such thing as 4 seasons in Portland. There is summer- which is awesome. But only from the middle to end of June until maybe Oct- but there is at least a few weeks of 60 degree weather there in "summer".

    Then there is the rain season. (Some call this fall, winter and spring.) Fall is fun, crisp weather. Winter is largely dark, cold and wet- and occasionally a fun snow day or two. Spring, as far as I can tell- is just one continuation of winter- sure, it maybe a little less dark, but it is still wet, cold and drags on clear through the end of June. Spring should actually be a time of warming temperatures and increasing sunshine and outdoor activities. Sunny days should be a given, not a random occurrence. It feels like winter will never end, and you are stuck in your house forever in gray drizzle.

    It is the Spring time weather that makes me loathe to return to Portland.

  9. we've been having a pretty nice spring this year, actually.

  10. I hate to bring up statistical analysishere, but the article says it weighted depression, suicide and unemployment heavily to determine the score. They also ranked only 50 cities.

    The depression rate is interesting because they get this from treatment reecords based on filed insurance claims. I think you could make an arguement that Portlanders are aware of resource, not to proud to seek help or various other things. But to say Portlanders are more depressed because we have higher treatment rates is poor science especially when discussing one of the most under diagnosed causes of suffering.

    If you want reasons to dog portland at least be honest that you just don't like it, don't create some random formula and let this masquerade as legitimate analysis.

  11. Sure, the city as a whole might be unhappy, but I bet the umbrella manufactures wear a big smile almost every day.

  12. To balance my lovely wife's whining above, I should mention she only lived in Portland for four years. June is not always so bad, and Mindy saw some bad springs. Growing up there, I'd say bad weather usually starts to tail off around mid-May.

  13. @bryan:

    Real Portlanders do not carry umbrellas.

    Does that make our logo a bit hypocritical? yes it does.