Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins, Thomas C. Frohlich

Boulder, Colorado
Source: Thinkstock

10. Boulder, CO
> Poverty rate: 12.9%
> Obesity rate: 13.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: N/A
> 5-year pop. change: 7.9%

One of the healthiest cities in the country, Boulder residents report a greater sense of physical well-being than any metro area other than Barnstable Town, Massachusetts. A nation-leading 69.6% of surveyed Boulder residents exercise regularly. Only 13.3% of metro area adults are obese, the lowest share of any metro area nationwide. With opportunities for running and walking along Boulder Creek Path, rock climbing in Eldorado Canyon State Park, or other activities in the 60-plus public parks throughout the area, roughly 98% of residents have access to locations for physical activity.

A college education can improve an individual’s sense of control over their life and enhance their overall well-being. In Boulder, 60.6% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, the largest share of any U.S. metro areas.

Sunset on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Source: Thinkstock

9. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC
> Poverty rate: 14.3%
> Obesity rate: 24.6%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 349.4
> 5-year pop. change: 10.4%

With miles of beaches, hundreds of tennis courts, and two dozen golf courses as well as venues for kayaking, biking, and hiking on Hilton Head Island alone, the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort metro area is a popular vacation destination for many. The people who call the area home are also pleased with their communities. Gallup found that 64.1% of area residents cannot imagine a better community than their own, the sixth largest share of any metro area, and 74% are proud of their community, 10 percentage points higher than the comparable national figure.

Hilton Head residents also take good care of themselves. Some 72% of survey respondents eat healthy throughout the day, and 61.4% exercise regularly, each the seventh highest share of any U.S. metro area.

Lynchburg, Virginia at Monument Terrace
Source: Thinkstock

8. Lynchburg, VA
> Poverty rate: 14.8%
> Obesity rate: 30.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 180.4
> 5-year pop. change: 2.7%

Some 95.3% of survey respondents in the Lynchburg metro area reported experiencing happiness regularly, the largest share of any area surveyed. Personal happiness is closely tied to environment, and Lynchburg residents appear to be happy with their communities. Some 77.5% of those surveyed agree that their city is a perfect place for them, and nearly 85% report feeling safe and secure, the third and 18th largest shares of any metro area, respectively.

Overall well-being in the Lynchburg area is also boosted by healthy personal relationships. The area is one of only three in the country where more than 70% of respondents report having a role model that makes them enthusiastic about the future.

San Luis Obispo County, California
Source: Thinkstock

7. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA
> Poverty rate: 14.9%
> Obesity rate: 21.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 403.3
> 5-year pop. change: 4.3%

Like many other metro areas in California with high self-reported overall well-being, people in the San Luis Obispo metro area keep themselves in relatively good physical health. Some 67% of area residents surveyed exercise regularly, and 72% report eating healthy throughout the day, the third and eighth largest shares of any U.S. metro area.

People in the area are also very happy with their communities. Of all residents surveyed, 66% agree that they could not imagine a better community than their own, the largest share of any metro area in the country.

Sarasota, Florida
Source: Thinkstock

6. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
> Poverty rate: 11.8%
> Obesity rate: 22.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 416.6
> 5-year pop. change: 9.3%

Located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton is one of several oceanfront U.S. metro areas to rank highest in terms of residents’ overall well-being. Just over 64% of residents surveyed agree their community is the best they can imagine, nearly the largest share in the country and far higher than the 51.6% share of respondents nationwide.

Financial pressures detract less from overall well-being in the area compared to most parts of the country. According to the Gallup survey, 57.8% of area residents have not worried about money in the past seven days, the largest share of any U.S. metro area.