The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

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Source: Bbean32 / Wikimedia Commons

15. Greeley, CO
> Poverty rate: 11.3%
> Obesity rate: 25.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 270.6
> 5-year pop. change: 12.2%

Greeley is one of several metropolitan areas situated along Interstate 25 in the Front Range region of Colorado where residents are among the happiest in the country. Greeley residents report having a strong sense of purpose. Approximately 82% of surveyed residents enjoy what they do every day, and 76% believe they are able to use their strengths to the best of their ability in daily life, compared to 77% and 69% of Americans, respectively. Greeley’s healthy job market may be one reason why so many residents find fulfillment in their lives and careers. Just 2.8% of the area’s workforce is unemployed, nearly the smallest share of any city.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Flickr

14. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX
> Poverty rate: 31.5%
> Obesity rate: 36.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 298.1
> 5-year pop. change: 8.1%

A relatively large 31.5% share of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area residents live in poverty. Despite financial challenges, metro area residents’ well-being benefits from a strong sense of purpose, community, and social life. As a result, the city’s population is one of the happiest in the country and the McAllen metro area ranked second in the country in terms of area residents’ perception of their own success.

Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, McAllen’s population has expanded 8.1% in the past five years, more than twice the national population growth rate. While McAllen’s 31.5% poverty rate is third highest in the country, many new residents may be immigrating to the United States with a fresh optimism that partially accounts for the city’s high sense of well-being.

a winter snow at Watson Lake Prescott Arizona
Source: Thinkstock

13. Prescott, AZ
> Poverty rate: 15.1%
> Obesity rate: 24.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 294.0
> 5-year pop. change: 5.3%

Prescott residents report a higher degree of satisfaction with their community than most metropolitan areas. Approximately 80% of those surveyed believe their current house or apartment is the ideal residence for them and their family, and 85% report a constant feeling of safety, each among the largest such shares in the country. The area’s violent crime rate of 294 incidents per 100,000 residents is indeed far lower than the national rate of 387 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans. Strong community ties may be facilitated by the large number of area residents living in retirement communities. About 29% of metro residents are 65 and older, almost twice the national share.

Bench Santa Barbara - California
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12. Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA
> Poverty rate: 15.7%
> Obesity rate: 19.0%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 322.2
> 5-year pop. change: 4.8%

Physical health and strong social connections can have a significant bearing on individual well-being, and Santa Maria-Santa Barbara residents tend to take good care of their health and relationships. Only 12.4% of metro area adults smoke, one of the smaller shares among metropolitan areas. Also, the Santa Maria area is one of only 16 nationwide where over 60% of surveyed residents exercise regularly. Physical health is bolstered by personal relationships in Santa Maria as 80.3% of respondents in the area say they receive encouragement to be healthy from someone in their life. The metro area is also one of less than two dozen nationwide where over 80% of those polled report their relationship with a close friend or partner is stronger than ever.

aerial view of park and playground at foothills of Rocky Mountains in Fort Collins, Colorado, shot from a low flying drone
Source: Thinkstock

11. Fort Collins, CO
> Poverty rate: 12.7%
> Obesity rate: 18.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 199.1
> 5-year pop. change: 11.0%

In the Fort Collins metro area, 78.7% of surveyed residents state they are proud of their community, 76.6% believe their city is the perfect place for them, and 87.7% report always feeling safe — correspondingly the third, fourth, and fifth largest shares nationwide. A strong sense of security among Fort Collins residents is likely justified as the metro area’s violent crime rate of 199 incidents per 100,000 residents is far less than the national rate of 387 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans. Fort Collins is one of several metro areas in Colorado’s Front Range region to rank among the happiest in the country.