America's Most Content (and Miserable) Cities

According to a recent study, the city with the most content residents in the United States is Lincoln, Neb. The city with the most miserable residents is Charleston, W.Va.

The GallupHealthways Well-Being Index, which has surveyed 1.7 million Americans since it was first conducted in 2008, measures the physical and emotional health of residents in 189 of the nation’s largest metropolitan regions. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the scores of each metro area in the six categories that comprise Gallup’s index to identify the cities that did best and worst.

Click here to see the 10 most content cities

Click here to see the 10 most miserable cities

Generally, people in cities with high well-being reported higher scores in most areas. Residents had low obesity and high energy levels. They also smoked less and engaged in more exercise. In the cities with poor well-being, residents were more likely to report being sad and experiencing health problems that kept them from their usual daily activities.

For the most part, the cities with the highest levels of well-being had median household income considerably above the national median, including Washington, D.C., at $86,680 — the highest in the nation. All but one of the areas with the lowest levels of well-being had higher poverty rates than 15.9%, the national average.

High educational attainment also appeared to have an impact on the cities where residents were content. Most of the metro areas with the highest well-being also had a high percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. In five of these areas, more than 40% of residents aged 25 and over had their bachelor’s. In Boulder, 59.1% of people had a bachelor’s degree, versus 28.5% nationwide. On the other hand, educational attainment was low in many of the metro areas with the lowest well-being.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, explained: “When you have highly educated residents, that works towards your well being in a lot of ways.” He added that having an educated population improves the quality of jobs available and the likelihood of healthy decisions.

Not surprisingly, residents in the cities doing best also are surrounded by opportunities to learn. According to Witters, “Learning and being engaged by interesting, new ideas is critical for most people.” This tends to be high in college towns, “which is why college towns tend to have high well-being.” A review of these cities shows many to be college towns, with Ann Arbor, Boulder and Burlington, all home to their states’ flagship public universities.

Witters explained that observing healthy behavior is generally better in college towns. People see the dentist more often, exercise more and are generally more aware of healthy behaviors because colleges promote them. They also encourage exercise, as “colleges and universities will put up fitness centers that can be available not just to the student body, but to people in the community.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed all metropolitan areas assessed by the Gallup-Healthways 2012 Well-Being Index. This index calculates well-being for the United States, as well as for states, metropolitan areas and occupations. Scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The index is composed of six sub-indices that measure access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and emotional health. 24/7 Wall St. also considered income, poverty and educational attainment figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, all from 2011. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we reviewed local unemployment rates as of January 2013. These are preliminary and not seasonally adjusted. We also considered violent crime rates for 2011 by state from the FBI Uniform Crime Report Program.

These are America’s most content and miserable cities.

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