America’s Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

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Colourful Chairs on a Jetty at Sunset, Burlington, Vermont
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6. Vermont
> Poverty rate: 10.2% (4th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.7% (9th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 25.1% (8th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 36.9% (7th highest)

A college education can give people a greater sense of control over their life, and it is likely no coincidence that many of the happiest states also tend to have well educated populations. In Vermont, 36.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, a larger share than in all but six other states.

A strong sense of well-being in the Green Mountain State is also likely attributable to the relatively low likelihood of financial instability and low incidence of violence. Only 10.2% of Vermonters live in poverty, well below the 14.7% national rate. Further, with only about 118 violent crimes for every 100,000 state residents annually, Vermont is the safest state in the country.

Grand Canyon, Arizona
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7. Arizona
> Poverty rate: 17.4% (8th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.1% (8th highest)
> Obesity rate: 28.4% (17th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 27.7% (18th lowest)

For a state with relatively high overall well-being, Arizona is an outlier in a number of measures. For example, the state’s unemployment rate of 6.1% is eighth highest in the country. The state’s high unemployment may be due in part to low education levels among members of the labor force. Just 27.7% of the state’s adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national share of 30.6%. The state’s educational attainment rate is one of the lowest among states with high well-being overall.

On the other hand, state residents are less likely to suffer from a number of serious illnesses. For example, 136 out of every 100,000 Arizona residents die from heart disease each year, much lower than the national rate of 167 per 100,000 residents.

A yellow canoe rests on a rocky shore of a calm blue lake in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota
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8. Minnesota
> Poverty rate: 10.2% (4th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.7% (9th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 26.1% (12th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 34.7% (10th highest)

The overall well-being of Minnesota residents is likely closely related to healthy habits and good physical health. Obesity is a root cause of multiple serious, often fatal, health conditions, and only 26.1% of Minnesota residents are obese, a smaller share than the 29.8% of Americans. Additionally, adults in the state report an average of only 2.9 mentally unhealthy and 3.1 physically unhealthy days a month, each nearly the fewest such days of any state in the country. In Minnesota, healthy outcomes are bolstered by healthy habits. Only 21.8% of adults lead completely sedentary lifestyles, a considerably smaller share than the 26.2% of American adults.

Minnesota residents also report a high degree of financial well-being. This may be partially due to the relatively few residents in the state who face serious financial hardship. Just 10.2% of the Minnesota residents live in poverty, the fourth smallest share in the country.

horse rural farm with mountains and clouds in Montana
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9. Montana
> Poverty rate: 14.6% (24th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.1% (12th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 23.6% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 30.6% (20th highest)

Montana is one of the least densely populated states in the country, which can limit access to fresh, healthy food for some communities. Indeed, 26% of state residents earn low incomes and have low access to food, one of the worst food access problems in the country. Still, Montana residents are relatively healthy. Just 33.1% of adults in the state have high cholesterol, 29.1% high blood pressure, and 3.2% heart disease, all lower than the corresponding national rates of 36.3%, 30.9%, and 3.9%. Just 23.6% of Montana adults are obese, the third lowest obesity rate in the country.

Montana survey respondents also have high regard for their community. There are more recreation facilities, farmers markets, and grocery stores in Montana per capita than the average across all states, and some of the cleanest air in the country.

Looking down South beach on a beautiful day Miami, Florida
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10. Florida
> Poverty rate: 15.7% (16th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.4% (20th highest)
> Obesity rate: 26.8% (16th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 28.4% (23rd lowest)

Due to the entrenched nature of socioeconomic conditions, states tend to rank similarly from one year to the next. Florida bucks this trend, rising to 10th this year after historically low or middle rankings. Florida residents report a higher well-being in the purpose, community, social relationships, and physical health elements than a majority of states. The largest hindrance to the Sunshine State’s well-being is likely financial strain. The typical Florida household earns $49,426, roughly $6,000 less than the national median household income. An estimated 15.7% of Florida residents live in poverty, a slightly larger share than the 14.7% national poverty rate.