A piece written for Brighton Journal.
Brighton has been boasted to be one of the happiest places in the UK in a recent survey however the Office for National Statistics argues it is about average for wellbeing. Perhaps this just relates to how we ask the question, or could it be the fact that Brighton is defined as the most ‘hipster’ city and the city with most freelancers and startups. Which in turn suggests to be Brightonian you have to go against the grain, to rebel, which doesn’t suit the human disposition.
As humans we love a good habit, give us 9-5, three meals a day, marriage, wearing bra’s, wearing pants, wearing clothes full stop. In fact, research shows us positive emotions can increase with routine and actually the reason the human race has flourished is because of our ability to work together in vast numbers out of habit. To rebel against the machine of society, much as we do in Brighton, could in fact challenge wellbeing, making the journey of happiness more complex.
If you have ever had a transition in your life and been left feeling extremely lost, then you can probably associate with this complexity. Freedom can often seem daunting, the psychology of human nature likes routine, familiarity and a feeling of safety. Yet in such times of transition, you’ll often find every Tom, Dick and Harry advising you to approach your transition as an opportunity, a chance to seize the day and that in fact, the world is your oyster.
The synonyms of rebel; revolutionary, insurgent, revolutionist, mutineer, agitator, subversive, guerrilla, anarchist are very akin to the Brightonian mindset. The political marches and campaigns of Brighton alone fulfil these descriptors; Free the Nipple, The Naked Bike Ride, The Mermaid March, Surfers against Sewage, accompanied by one of the biggest Pride celebrations. Brighton also boasts an unusual political sphere with the largest party being the Greens, it is also a thriving hub for many actors, musicians and public figures and a recent NHS survey even suggested due to its naturally inclusive nature it has a higher Trans population.
Some go as far as to say they feel it would be useful to mobilise the Brighton culture and tour it around the UK or even world to promote its hippy, rebellious dare to defy the norm narrative. But yet beneath the rainbow flags, Brighton has a few dark secrets; Brighton has the fifth-highest suicide rate in England, one of the greatest life expectancy gaps of 8 years between the most and least deprived areas, the second-largest homeless population and its drug death rate is twice the national average. So is it the misleading perception of Brighton that brings the collective minds together and draws people from afar or are rebels who go against the grain more likely to come across strife?
One thing research has proven is that like it or not rebels are inherently attractive and addictive. Think about it, you're more likely to hold those who appear authentic in high regard, more than that they catch your eye. Imagine the suited individual with the converse trainers on, the rule breaker at work, your friend who doesn’t give in to peer pressure.
The Myers Briggs test is a popular personality questionnaire used by the corporate world to root out those individuals who hold the following sorts of traits:
high adjustment ability
With the belief system that such individuals tend to be the most successful. Each trait looks suspiciously akin to the ‘rebel’ definition that psychologist Gretchen Rubin offers:
“Rebels place a high value on authenticity and self-determination and bring an unshackled spirit to what they do. Rebels work toward their own goals, in their own way, and while they refuse to do what they’re “supposed” to do, they can accomplish their own aims.”
The quest for novelty is extremely natural, it is deep-seated within our innate behaviour to be alert and interested in our environment and is a strong element of the rebel personality. Animals often put themselves in dangers way just for novel excitement; during an experiment where scientists placed a box of snakes in a monkey enclosure, the monkeys not only sought out the box but even went back for a second look. Yet in the human kingdom due to the predictability and habit forming of adult life, we lose the impetus to be novel. However novelty and rebelling against the norm helps grow our confidence in how able we are, novelty in relationships is key to stopping the rot of boredom and having novelty at work increases productivity.
So perhaps the answer is to revel in the Brightonian mindset, as supposed to falling prey to it, we have to challenge living against the grain and accept it isn’t easy. In turn, questioning social norms and becoming a little more ‘Brighton’ might just change your life. Studies that look at social norms have found surprising results; people rated happiness as higher after a nap vs parenthood and showed that marriage only brings happiness briefly at the time - he'll probably get old fat and bald anyway. Perhaps this tells us more about modern society and our innate biological drives not meshing well, but its also a good argument for choosing life and not letting it choose us.
So take a moment to take stock, ask yourself does your lifestyle match your heart and ability or does it just bring stability? Are you defined by your loved one or occupation? do you have your eggs in more than one basket to avoid disappointment? Contemplate your life journey, imagine yourself looking in your rearview mirror, who are you? what skills have you picked up on the way down the highway of life? And does the road ahead turn you on?
Remember, if you're going to jump on the society roller coaster at least choose to and maybe add a bit of the Brightonian lifestyle into yours to be a little bit more rebel.
With Love from Yours Truly