America’s Most Content (and Miserable) Cities

March 25, 2014 by 247alex

Provo, Utah, is the metro area with the most content residents in America, according to the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The area with the most miserable residents is Huntington, West Virginia.

To determine the well-being of Americans, Gallup-Healthways surveyed hundreds of thousands of Americans in 189 metropolitan areas in the U.S. in 2012 and 2013. The survey recorded the physical and emotional health of the residents, as well as financial, employment, and social indicators, among others. The resulting Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index allows for comparisons between places and over time.

Click here to see America’s most content cities 

Click here to see America’s most miserable cities

One of the six categories that comprised the index was physical health. The category included different health measures, such as the prevalence of certain diseases and conditions. Physical health was a meaningful predictor of how content — or miserable — residents were. The higher a metro area’s score in the Well-Being Index, the more likely its residents were to report good physical health.

For instance, residents of the cities with the highest overall well-being were less likely than most Americans to report being obese. Residents in Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, which were among the nation’s most content cities, reported the nation’s lowest and third-lowest obesity rates, respectively. Similarly, residents of most of the content cities were less likely to report that they had diabetes or that they had previously suffered a heart attack.

In America’s most miserable cities, residents were less likely to be in good physical health and far more likely to report unhealthy behaviors. Residents in all of the nation’s 10 most miserable areas were more likely to smoke than the average American. In one of these cities, Charleston, West Virginia, slightly over 35% of people said they smoked — the worst rate in the nation. Respondents in all of America’s most content cities, on the other hand, were less likely to smoke. Six of the most content cities had among the 10 lowest smoking rates.

While income wasn’t a direct measure in the index, differences in incomes were quite prominent between America’s most content and miserable areas. In all but one of the 10 areas with the highest Well-Being Index scores, the median household income was well in excess of the national median of $51,371 in 2012. In San Jose the median household income was more than $90,000 that year, the highest in the country. In two other cities, Honolulu and San Francisco, it was more than $70,000.

Conversely, in each of the 10 cities with the lowest well-being scores, incomes were lower than the typical American household. In three of these metro areas, median household income was less than $40,000 in 2012.

According to Patrick Bogart, director at Gallup, the effects income has on well-being are manifested in different ways. “You have better emotional health, [because] you worry less about money for example,” Bogart said. Higher income can also improve health because it allows access to better food, health care services and medicines.

Educational attainment, too, wasn’t a direct factor in the index but had a strong relationship to peoples’ well-being. Bogart told 24/7 Wall St. that a good education generates opportunities for Americans. “It opens up opportunities to learn or do something interesting; it opens up job or income opportunities that don’t exist [without a higher education],” Bogart said.

In fact, all of the areas with the highest Well-Being Index scores had large populations of college graduates. In Boulder, Colorado, nearly 58% of residents aged 25 and up had at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest rate in the country. In the nation’s most miserable cities, the percentage of adults with a degree was universally lower than the national rate of 29.1%, and in four instances, it was below 20%.

In many cases, content cities often featured major research universities. Provo, Boulder, Fort Collins, and Ann Arbor are all well known for their large academic institutions. And, according to Gallup’s Bogart, “Folks in these college towns have opportunities to learn, to grow, [and] to experience new and interesting things.” Having interesting experiences daily, Bogart added, is critical to overall well-being. “It’s one thing to be physically healthy,” he said. “But to be experiencing something new, to be [frequently] learning something new, really provides a person their identity.”

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 189 metropolitan areas assessed by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. This index calculates well-being for the U.S., 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 behaviors, 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 2012. We reviewed local, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates, current as of December 2013, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also considered violent crime rates for 2012 by metropolitan statistical area from the FBI Uniform Crime Report Program.

These are America’s most content and miserable cities.

 

America’s Most Content Cities

10. Lincoln, Neb.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.1
> Pct. adults with college degree: 35.9% (41st highest)
> Pct. smokers: 17.2%
> Median household income: $50,668

Unlike most areas with the happiest residents, median income in Lincoln was just in line with the national median. Still, a large portion of residents said they were thriving, rating their current life and outlook for the future as especially good. Lincoln residents gave higher evaluations to their work experience than residents in any other area, except for San Luis Obispo, Calif. More than 91% said they were satisfied with their jobs, the 12th-highest percentage in the nation. Additionally, nearly 64% felt treated like a partner at work, higher than in all but a few other metro areas. The area is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which spent a quarter billion dollars on research and development in fiscal 2012 and had more than 8,000 employees as of 2013.

9. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.2
> Pct. adults with college degree: 45.0%
> Pct. smokers: 13.1%
> Median household income: $74,922

The San Francisco metro area isn’t just one of the richest areas in America by median household income, it also has some of the most content residents in the country. People in the area had extremely high evaluations of their lives. More than 57% of residents said they were thriving, the 12th-highest percentage in the nation. Residents were also generally healthy, as less than 20% suffered from obesity, among the lowest rates in the U.S. Like many of the most content cities, the area is well educated — 45% of its residents had a college education or higher. Students have a wide choice of top schools to attend in the area, including the University of California at San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley, and San Francisco State University.

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8. San Luis Obispo, Calif.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.4
> Pct. adults with college degree: 33.5%
> Pct. smokers: 12.7%
> Median household income: $60,264

Residents of the San Luis Obispo area reported among the highest scores in the country for emotional health. Those surveyed were among the most likely to report that they felt good over the past day. Slightly less than 89% of residents surveyed said they smiled or laughed a lot over the past day, the third-highest percentage in the nation. In addition to strong emotional health, residents also enjoyed good physical health. Respondents were among the least likely in the nation to report smoking, and among the most likely to report having eaten healthy food exclusively within the past day. Further, residents gave higher ratings to their work environments than people anywhere else in the nation. A majority of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs, and 67.3% said they felt their supervisors treated them like partners at work — the highest percentage in the U.S. Also, 73.3% said they had learned something new or interesting in the past day, well above the national rate of 63.3%.

7. Naples-Marco Island, Fla.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.4
> Pct. adults with college degree: 31.0%
> Pct. smokers: 17.1%
> Median household income: $54,126

Residents of the Naples area reported among the highest emotional health scores in the country. Almost three of every four said they had not spent much time worrying, and 88.3% said they smiled a lot within the past 24 hours — both the highest percentages in the nation last year. Nearly all respondents felt they had positive interactions with other area residents, with roughly 97% saying they were treated with respect in 2012. While 28.2% of the Naples population was over 65 years old in 2012, few metro areas scored better for overall physical health. Almost nowhere else were people more likely to note they felt well rested and that they had enough energy to get things done.

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6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.4
> Pct. adults with college degree: 49.7%
> Pct. smokers: 14.3%
> Median household income: $56,330

Ann Arbor residents had higher evaluations of their lives — rating their current life and outlook for the future as especially good — than people anywhere else in the U.S. Nearly 64% of residents said they were thriving, the most in the nation. Ann Arbor residents were also the least likely to say they struggled to afford basic necessities such as food and shelter, and among the most likely to say they had health insurance. Respondents gave only middling ratings to their work environment, although 93% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs. Like many of America’s most content metro areas, Ann Arbor is home to a major research university, the University of Michigan, which is one of the area’s largest employers.

 

5. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
> Well-Being Index score: 70.6
> Pct. adults with college degree: 46.4%
> Pct. smokers: 11.1%
> Median household income: $90,737

The San Jose area, home to Silicon Valley, was the richest metro area in the country in 2012. Based on another Gallup survey, residents were more confident in the overall direction of the economy than people anywhere else in the country, other than Washington. High-paying jobs may have something to do with this. According to a recent analysis by 24/7 Wall St., many of the companies with the highest median salary are located in Silicon Valley. Overall, respondents reported enjoying their work environment. Roughly 62% of residents said they felt their boss treated them as an equal, more than in the vast majority of metro areas. Area residents were relatively emotionally healthy, with high numbers claiming they felt treated with respect, and relatively few reporting they felt depressed.

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4. Honolulu, Hawaii
> Well-Being Index score: 70.7
> Pct. adults with college degree: 32.2%
> Pct. smokers: 17.9%
> Median household income: $71,404

Honolulu residents were among the most emotionally healthy Americans. Notably, more than nine in 10 respondents said they enjoyed themselves in the past 24 hours, more than in any other area reviewed. Honolulu also led the nation in several physical health measures, including the percentage of respondents saying they were well rested. The area’s obesity rate of 23.9% was lower than the national rate of 27.1%, and Honolulu residents were among the most likely to find time to exercise for at least 30 minutes on a regular basis. Residents can also count on relatively good health services. Hawaiian employers have been required to offer generous health benefits since 1974, providing among the most comprehensive health care systems in the nation.

3. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
> Well-Being Index score: 71.1
> Pct. adults with college degree: 44.7%
> Pct. smokers: 16.9%
> Median household income: $55,890

Fort Collins residents were among the most content American workers. More than 66% of those surveyed said they felt treated like a partner at work, a higher percentage than in all but two metro areas. Much of the work in the area demands high skills and education, which could explain people’s satisfaction. The area is home to a large number of high-tech manufacturers, as well as Colorado State University, a major research institution. Residents, too, were among the healthiest in the country — the area had one of the lowest obesity rates in the nation. Residents also were more likely than those elsewhere to practice healthy behaviors, with more than 61% of people exercising regularly, the second highest rate in the nation. Last year, 58.6% of people surveyed in the Fort Collins area stated they were thriving, more than in all but a few other metro areas.

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2. Boulder, Colo.
> Well-Being Index score: 71.3
> Pct. adults with college degree: 57.9%
> Pct. smokers: 12.3%
> Median household income: $66,989

Boulder residents were among the happiest in the nation in their personal lives. Residents valued learning, as the area ranked second in the percentage of people who said they learned something new in the past 24 hours. Residents were also among the nation’s most educated — 58% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, the most nationwide. Nearly 90% said they experienced enjoyment within the previous day. The general contentment was also reflected in the overall health of the population. The area had the third-lowest smoking rate, as well as the lowest percentage of residents with high blood pressure.

1. Provo-Orem, Utah
> Well-Being Index score: 71.4
> Pct. adults with college degree: 35.8%
> Pct. smokers: 7.0%
> Median household income: $58,218

The Provo metro area received the best score of any area in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. One major reason was that respondents had extremely positive evaluations of their lives. Only Ann Arbor residents gave more positive evaluations of their present lives, and nowhere were people more likely to be optimistic about their lives in the next five years. Residents were also extremely emotionally healthy. More than 95% said they had felt happy for much of the preceding day, again more than in any other metro area. This may be due in part to the fact that more than three-quarters of those surveyed said they learned something new every day, the most in the nation. Also likely helping residents to enjoy their lives, Provo had one of the lowest crime rates in the nation in 2012, as well as just a 4% unemployment rate last December, also among the lowest in the nation.

Click here to see America’s most miserable cities

 

America’s Most Miserable Cities

10. Evansville, Ind.-Ky.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.9
> Pct. adults with college degree: 22.2%
> Pct. smokers: 29.4%
> Median household income: $44,887

Half of Evansville residents said they were suffering last year, one of the highest proportions nationwide. Like most metro areas fairing poorly on the Well-Being Index, Evansville residents earned less than the average American. The median household income in the area was $44,887 in 2012, considerably less than the national median of $51,371. Respondents’ unhealthy habits contributed to their low well-being. Residents in only two other cities were less likely to engage in behaviors leading to good physical health. Nearly 29.4% of Evansville respondents said they smoked last year, and less than 60% ate healthily all day, both among the worst rates nationwide.

9. Mobile, Ala.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.9
> Pct. adults with college degree: 21.5%
> Pct. smokers: 22.8%
> Median household income: $39,691

Mobile, Alabama, had among the highest percentages of residents who said they were angry within the past 24 hours. Exceptionally high rates of violent crimes may be one cause for unhappiness. There were 552 violent crimes and about 11 murders per 100,000 residents in 2012, both among the most in the nation. Residents did not particularly enjoy their work either. Only a little more than half said they felt their bosses treated them as partners. In terms of health, the area also did not fare especially well. One in 20 residents said they had previously been diagnosed with cancer, one of the highest rates in the country. The area was also in the top 10% for the percentage of residents who suffered from high blood pressure.

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8. Shreveport-Bossier City, La.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.9
> Pct. adults with college degree: 23.4%
> Pct. smokers: 24.7%
> Median household income: $44,118

The Shreveport economy has performed exceptionally poorly in recent years. According to IHS Global Insight, the area’s economy shrank by 11% in 2012, and again by more than 5% last year. The weak economy has likely impacted the well-being of residents. Shreveport was one of only a few metro areas where the unemployment rate worsened between December 2012 and December of last year, rising from 6.0% to 6.3%. In addition to enduring poor economic conditions, Shreveport residents also had some of the nation’s least healthy behaviors. Just 46% said they exercised for 30 minutes on a regular basis last year, less than residents of all but one other area.

7. Columbus, Ga.-Ala.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.3
> Pct. adults with college degree: 21.9%
> Pct. smokers: 27.4%
> Median household income: $42,972

Columbus area residents were among the most depressed in the country. Roughly 24% said they had been told by a physician or nurse that they suffered from depression, one of the highest percentages in the country. As much as 19% of people surveyed said that they had not experienced enjoyment within the past 24 hours, the seventh-highest percentage among cities surveyed. A large portion of the residents, roughly 23%, did not like the city in which they lived, also one of the highest rates in the Well-Being Index. A lack of access to basic needs, for which Columbus was rated among the worst in the nation, can also explain the residents’ unhappiness. The area ranked last, for example, in having easy access to medicine. And just 67% of respondents said they had enough money to buy food at all times last year, also the least nationwide.

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6. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Tex.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.2
> Pct. adults with college degree: 17.1%
> Pct. smokers: 26.1%
> Median household income: $43,421

Beaumont residents gave their work environments some of the lowest ratings in the nation. Less than half of Beaumont residents said they were treated like a partner by their supervisors, much less than the 57% of Americans who said so last year. The area’s unemployment rate has been improving in recent years, but at 9.4% it is still among the highest nationwide. Like residents in a number of other miserable areas, Beaumont residents often did not practice healthy behaviors. Most notably, just 57.3% of respondents stated they had eaten healthy food all of the previous day, among the worst in the nation. According to a recent University of Vermont study reviewing more than 10 million tweets from around the country, Beaumont was rated as America’s saddest city.

 

5. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.2
> Pct. adults with college degree: 16.7%
> Pct. smokers: 30.1%
> Median household income: $37,364

Roughly 51% of residents in the Hickory region of North Carolina were considered to be struggling, based on self-evaluations of their current lives and futures, compared to just 44% of Americans. Residents were less optimistic about their futures than respondents in all but seven other cities. About 19% said they did not have enough energy to keep pace with their daily lives within the previous 24 hours, which was close to last nationwide. Additionally, only 77.4% said they had not been sad within the past 24 hours, among the lowest rates in the nation. Possibly adding to the unhappiness of residents was the area’s economy. The median household income was just $37,364 in 2012, among the lowest in the country.

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4. Spartanburg, S.C.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.2
> Pct. adults with college degree: 20.5%
> Pct. smokers: 27.5%
> Median household income: $40,879

Spartanburg residents were among the poorest and unhappiest in the nation. Only 45.9% of people surveyed said they were especially happy about their current lives or future prospects, which ranks among the lowest in the nation. Few places had worse scores than Spartanburg for overall emotional health. Area residents were among the most likely Americans to report being depressed or angry. A large proportion of the residents were struggling financially. The median household income was $40,879 in 2012, among the lowest in the country. In many cases, residents did not have enough money for basic needs. Only a little more than 73% of respondents said they had enough money for food at all times in the previous 12 months, and 72.5% said they had enough money for health care and medicine. Both were among the worst figures in the nation.

3. Redding, Calif.
> Well-Being Index score: 62.0
> Pct. adults with college degree: 18.2%
> Pct. smokers: 20.4%
> Median household income: $45,442

Redding area residents had exceptionally negative evaluations of their lives, with 6.8% describing themselves as suffering, the highest of any metro area. Limited job opportunities may be one factor. The unemployment rate in the area, which was nearly 14% at the end of 2011, had not fallen below 10% as of the end of last year. Residents were also among the least emotionally healthy. Just 87% of respondents said they were treated with respect in the last 24 hours, less than in every other area reviewed last year. Respondents also reported higher rates of depression than almost anywhere else in the country. One possible explanation for this may be Redding’s violent crime rate of more than 723 per 100,000 people in 2012, one of the highest in the nation.

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2. Charleston, W.Va.
> Well-Being Index score: 60.0
> Pct. adults with college degree: 23.0%
> Pct. smokers: 34.3%
> Median household income: $47,610

Charleston area residents were exceptionally unhappy with their jobs, giving their work environments some of the worst marks in the nation. Nearly 19% of respondents were not satisfied with their jobs in 2013, the highest rate in the nation. And roughly 26% believed they did not use their strengths at work, also the highest in the nation. Respondents’ emotional health was also among the poorest in the nation. Only 81.2% said they had not been angry for much of the past 24 hours, the worst rate in the nation. Additionally, 27.2% said they had been told by a medical professional they had depression, the second-highest percentage in the country. Residents’ physical health was similarly poor. The area ranked in the top five for the percentage of people who suffered from both diabetes and high blood pressure. And 7% of those surveyed stated they had previously suffered a heart attack, nearly twice the national rate of 3.8%.

1. Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio
> Well-Being Index score: 59.5
> Pct. adults with college degree: 19.0%
> Pct. smokers: 29.2%
> Median household income: $39,160

The Huntington metro area was the worst rated in the nation by a number of measures. Respondents were the most likely Americans to report physical health problems, with exceptionally high rates of diabetes, cancer diagnoses, and chronic pain. More than 34.4% reported high cholesterol, and 46.9% reported high blood pressure last year, both the most of any metro area and perhaps leading to the high rate of heart attacks reported. Nearly one in 10 people surveyed stated they had previously suffered a heart attack, more than in any other area. Nearly 40% reported they were obese last year, the highest rate in the nation. Similarly, no metro area scored worse for emotional health than Huntington, where residents were more likely to say they felt worried or depressed than anywhere else in America. Residents also had lower overall evaluations of their current lives and future prospects than respondents in any other metro area.

Click here to see America’s most content cities