America’s Happiest States

March 2, 2012 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Americans are not any happier than they were last year. In fact, they are slightly more miserable. At least, that’s what the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows. The annual index measures six areas of well-being, including life evaluation, physical health and work environment. In 2011, the national well-being score declined slightly from 2010 and was the lowest since the survey began in 2008.

Read America’s Most Miserable States
Read America’s Happiest States

On top of calculating an overall national level of well-being, the index also calculates the well-being for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The national score dropped slightly in 2011 to 66.2 from 66.8 in 2010. Like the national score, the best-off and worst-off states are largely unchanged. Hawaii remains in first place and West Virginia the last.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Gallup’s findings in order to identify objective measures that appear to impact well-being. Many of the states where people report having the highest levels of well-being benefit from many of the same social, health and financial trends. Nine of the ten fall within the 15 states with the highest rates of adults with high school educations; and six of the ten fall within the 15 states with the highest median household incomes and the lowest poverty rates. Seven of the ten best-off states have particularly low unemployment rates. Many also have among the longest life expectancies. Rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are very low, as are obesity and smoking rates.

Well-being has not improved since the financial crisis began in 2008, reflecting the moribund U.S. economy. Most states have imposed austerity measures to combat budget shortfalls. Gallup notes that “reductions in public services, public-sector layoffs or salary cuts, and decreases in federal aid” have hindered improvements in well-being across the country.

According to Gallup, states in some areas of the country continue to do better than others. Of the 10 states with the highest levels of well-being, nine are either in the West or Midwest. Of the 10 states with the lowest well-being scores, five are located in the South — a reality since the survey began.

In addition to the information from Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Science Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These are America’s Happiest States

10. Montana
> Well-being index score: 68.0
> Life expectancy: 78.4 (24th lowest)
> Obesity: 23.0% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $42,666 (11th lowest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 91.7% (3rd highest)

Residents of Montana are generally happy. They rate themselves among the highest in the nation in both Gallup’s life evaluation and emotional health categories. Montana has among the most educated adult populations in the country with 91.7% of residents aged 25 and older having at least a high school diploma. Residents of the state are also physically healthy. The state’s obesity rate of 23% is the sixth-lowest in the country. Montana also has the fifth-lowest rate of heart disease and the seventh-lowest rate of diabetes.

9. New Hampshire
> Well-being index score: 68.2
> Life expectancy: 79.7 (14th highest)
> Obesity: 25.0% (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $61,042 (7th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 91.5% (4th highest)

New Hampshire has high scores in the well-being categories related to physical health and healthy behavior — in each it ranks second. The state has plenty to be happy about besides health. New Hampshire is very wealthy, with the seventh-highest median household income in the country and the absolute lowest poverty rate. The state has the fourth-highest rate of adults with high school diplomas, the fourth-lowest unemployment rate, and the third-lowest rate of violent crimes.

8. Nebraska
> Well-being index score: 68.3
> Life expectancy: 79.2 (21st highest)
> Obesity: 26.9% (25th highest)
> Median household income: $48,408 (25th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 90.4% (9th highest)

Nebraska ranks among the top ten states for four of Gallup’s well-being categories: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, and work environment. The state is doing relatively well economically speaking and currently has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4.1%. State residents are highly educated, as the state boasts the ninth-highest rate of adults with high school diplomas. The state also performs well in several health metrics, including having one of the country’s lowest rates of heart disease.

7. Kansas
> Well-being index score: 68.4
> Life expectancy: 78.4 (25th lowest)
> Obesity: 29.4 (15th highest)
> Median household income: $48,257 (25th lowest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 89.2% (17th highest)

Kansas stands out in the areas of emotional health, physical health, and, most of all, work environment, where resident place their state third-best in the country. Among metrics outside of the Gallup report that were considered by 24/7 Wall St., Kansas stood out the most in obesity, for which it has the country’s 15th-lowest rate, and in education, for which it ranks 17th-highest for adults with a high school diploma.

6. Colorado
> Well-being index score: 68.4
> Life expectancy: 79.9 (10th highest)
> Obesity: 21.0% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $54,046 (15th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 89.7% (15th highest)

Although Colorado ranks relatively well in all well-being categories, it stands out for physical health and healthy behavior. These rankings, which are based on the perceptions of state residents, largely reflect the reality illustrated by more objective metrics. Colorado has one of the longest life expectancies in the country. It has the lowest rate of obesity, at just 21%, and the lowest rates of both diabetes and heart disease. It also has the fourth-lowest rate of cancer in the nation.

5. Alaska
> Well-being index score: 69.0
> Life expectancy: 78.3 (23rd lowest)
> Obesity: 24.5% (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $64,576 (3rd highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 91.0% (5th highest)

Alaska ranks high in all well-being categories except for basic access, which measures access to basic necessities. Alaska has one of the lowest scores in that category. Its overall well-being score, however, is high thanks to high scores in categories such as life evaluation, where the state ranks No.1. The state is relatively wealthy, with the country’s third-highest median household income and second-lowest poverty rate, although these are somewhat offset by the state’s particularly high cost of living. Alaskans also have low rates of heart disease and obesity, and the lowest rate of diabetes in the country.

4. Utah
> Well-being index score: 69.0
> Life expectancy: 80.1 (tied for 6th highest)
> Obesity: 22.5% (3rd lowest)
> Median household income: $54,744 (13th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 90.6% (7th highest)

Utah has high scores in well-being categories. Residents of the state indeed have plenty to be happy about. The state economy is doing well, and the state’s unemployment rate of 6% is the nation’s ninth-lowest. The state also has a fairly high median income and a low poverty rate. Utah is also very healthy with the sixth-highest life expectancy in the country. Only 9.1% of adults smoke — the country’s lowest rate — and 22.5% of adults are obese, which is the third-lowest rate. The state has the lowest rate of cancer, and the third-lowest rates of diabetes and heart disease. The state also has among the highest rates of adults with high school diplomas and the lowest rates of violent crime.

3. Minnesota
> Well-being index score: 69.2
> Life expectancy: 80.9 (2nd highest)
> Obesity: 24.8% (14th lowest)
> Median household income: $55,459 (12th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 91.8% (2nd highest)

Those living in Minnesota report being particularly happy in all well-being categories,  including top ten rankings in five of six areas. The state does especially well in the physical health category, where it ranks number one. Minnesota residents have the second best life expectancy in the country at nearly 81 years. The state has exceptionally low rates of obesity and tobacco use. It also has among the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes in the country. On top of this, Minnesota has the second-highest rate of high school-educated adults, the tenth-lowest poverty rate, and the ninth-lowest rate of violent crime.

2. North Dakota
> Well-being index score: 70.0
> Life expectancy: 80.1 (tied for 6th highest)
> Obesity: 27.2% (23rd highest)
> Median household income: $48,670 (23rd highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 90.3% (10th highest)

North Dakota is another state that ranks highly in all well-being categories. However, residents feel particularly good about their work environment, where the state ranks No.1. Indeed, it is hard to deny the state is a good place to work, especially when North Dakota boasts an unemployment rate of 3.3% — the lowest in the country. The state is home to one of the country’s most widely educated adult populations. It also has a healthy population, as the sixth-highest life expectancy in the country suggests. It also has among the lowest rates of both cancer and diabetes.

1. Hawaii
> Well-being index score: 70.2
> Life expectancy: 81.5 (the highest)
> Obesity: 22.7% (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $63,030 (5th highest)
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 89.9% (13th highest)

Residents of Hawaii consider themselves the happiest people in the country. The state has among the highest ranks for five of six well-being categories, including first-place spots for emotional health and healthy behavior. Hawaii has the longest life expectancy in the country of 81.5 years. It has among the lowest rates for obesity, smoking, cancer, and heart disease. The state’s median income of $63,030 is the country’s fifth-highest, and its poverty rate of 10% is the sixth-lowest. The state also has a relatively high rate of adults with high school diplomas and a relatively low rate of violent crime.

Also Read: America’s Most Miserable States

Charles B. Stockdale