Special Report

America's Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

1. Hawaii
> Poverty rate:
11.4% (7th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.6% (6th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 22.1% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31.0% (16th highest)

Hawaiians are the happiest people in the United States. Living in a place often referred to as paradise almost certainly plays a role. With relatively healthy behaviors and access to one of the nation’s first near-universal health care systems, Hawaiians are also very healthy. Residents report nearly the lowest incidences of heart-related ailments such as high blood pressure and heart attacks, and the second lowest cancer death rate after only Utah. Partly as a consequence, premature death is also relatively uncommon in Hawaii.

State residents are happy, but Hawaii is the least affordable state to live in the country. The distance goods must travel from the mainland is one factor. Another is the exceptionally high cost of housing on the islands, which is driven by extremely high demand from wealthy individuals around the world.

2. Alaska
> Poverty rate:
11.2% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (4th highest)
> Obesity rate: 29.7% (24th highest)
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.0% (24th lowest)

High incomes and strong educational attainment may contribute to the high level of reported happiness of Alaska residents. The typical household in Alaska makes $71,583 a year, the third highest median income of any state after Maryland and New Jersey. About 93% of Alaskan adults have at least a high school diploma, the highest share in the country. Financial well-being was the largest driver of happiness in the state. Alaskans are considerably more likely than Americans nationwide to say they have enough money to do everything they want to do.

Alaskans maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, another key to happiness. Their vegetable intake per capita surpasses that of 45 other states. Alaskan adults also have above average rates of physical activity, and below average rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

3. Montana
> Poverty rate:
15.4% (22nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.1% (12th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 26.4% (9th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.3% (22nd highest)

Montana trails just Hawaii and Alaska in residents’ well-being. Unlike most of the nation’s happiest states, however, Montana residents are not especially wealthy. The typical household earns $46,328 annually, lower than the national median of $53,657. State residents also report relatively high tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as the nation’s highest suicide rate. Alcoholism is one driver of the high suicide rate, as is social isolation and rural living, according to Montana’s department of public health. American Indians, who make up just 6% of the state population, are by far the most likely to commit suicide in Montana.

Despite this, Montanans are on the whole very happy. Residents report relatively healthy behaviors, and among the lowest incidences of heart-related ailments. Just 30% of adults report insufficient sleep, one of the lowest proportions. Also, Montana’s economy is relatively strong with an unemployment rate of just 4.1%, one of the lowest nationwide.

4. Colorado
> Poverty rate:
12.0% (13th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.9% (10th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 21.3% (the lowest)
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.3% (2nd highest)

Colorado residents are some of the nation’s most active Americans. This has likely helped improve health outcomes and increase the odds of residents living happy lives. Just 83.6% of adults in the state report physical activity, the highest percentage nationwide. Perhaps as a result, Colorado’s obesity rate of 21.3% is the lowest in the country. The incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes diagnoses, and cardiovascular deaths in Colorado each rank second lowest compared to other states.

State residents are also relatively well educated, which not only helps increase incomes but also is itself a factor in well-being. More than 38% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, the second highest share after only Massachusetts.

5. Wyoming
> Poverty rate:
11.2% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 29.5% (24th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.6% (15th lowest)

Wyoming is one of several Great Plains states among the happiest in the country. The state’s strong education system likely contributes to the well-being of its residents. At 92.6%, the share of state adults with at least a high school diploma is the second highest in the country.

In interviews with Gallup, Wyoming residents also exhibited a particularly strong sense of community. This may be partially due to the low incidence of crime and poverty in the state. At 11.2%, Wyoming’s poverty rate is the sixth lowest of all states. Similarly, the violent crime rate of 196 incidents per 100,000 residents each year is the third lowest nationwide.

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