Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins, Thomas C. Frohlich

Source: Thinkstock

20. Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS
> Poverty rate: 20.0%
> Obesity rate: 32.0%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 233.3
> 5-year pop. change: 4.8%

Residents of Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula have some of the worst physical well-being of any metropolitan area. Residents are among the most likely in the nation to have their daily scheduled disrupted because of poor health. An estimated 30.2% of area adults lead sedentary lives, and 32.0% are obese, much larger shares than the national 23% inactivity rate and 27% obesity rate. Gulfport’s median household income of $44,328 a year is roughly $11,500 less than the median income nationwide. Low income may prevent city residents from leading active, healthy lives. As many as 23% of surveyed Gulfport residents claim they do not have enough money to buy food, nearly the largest share nationwide.

Source: Thinkstock

19. Tulsa, OK
> Poverty rate: 15.4%
> Obesity rate: 31.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 500.8
> 5-year pop. change: 4.4%

Poor social cohesion and unfulfilling relationships push Tulsa, Oklahoma down on Gallup’s well-being index. Relationships with friends and family often need to be nurtured in order to be mutually beneficial, and more than one in three Tulsa metro area residents surveyed do not make time for regular trips or vacations with friends and family, one of the larger shares of any metro area surveyed. Additionally, only 71.2% of residents surveyed say that they have someone in their lives encouraging them to be healthy, one of the smallest such shares of any metro area — and many area residents would benefit from healthier habits. People in Tulsa are more likely to smoke and less likely to exercise than the average American.

Source: Thinkstock

18. Bakersfield, CA
> Poverty rate: 21.9%
> Obesity rate: 28.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 556.3
> 5-year pop. change: 4.8%

One component of happiness that appears to be missing from the lives of many Bakersfield residents is a strong social support network. Just 73.5% of surveyed Bakersfield residents say their relationship with their spouse, partner, or closest friend is as strong as it has ever been, one of the smallest shares. Meanwhile, 39% state they do not make time for regular trips or vacations with friends and family, the second-largest shares nationwide. Lack of social support likely hinders a sense of community in Bakersfield. Some 28% of residents do not believe Bakersfield is the right city for them, and 68% do not feel safe. One reason may be the high violent crime rate, which at 556 incidents per 100,000 residents is well among the nationwide rate.

Source: Thinkstock

17. Worcester, MA-CT
> Poverty rate: 11.9%
> Obesity rate: 26.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 434.8
> 5-year pop. change: 1.8%

Residents in only a handful of cities report a lesser sense of purpose than those in the Worcester metro area. While just 3.3% of the Worcester workforce is unemployed, and 38.0% of residents have a bachelor’s degree — compared to 4.7% and 30.6%, respectively, nationwide — the area’s strong economy may not be providing fulfilling occupations that can provide city residents with a strong sense of purpose. Approximately 11% of surveyed residents do not like what they do every day, and 18% do not learn something new on a daily basis, each among the largest shares nationwide.

Source: Thinkstock

16. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR
> Poverty rate: 17.0%
> Obesity rate: 31.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 724.7
> 5-year pop. change: 4.2%

Nearly 16% of survey respondents in the Little Rock metro area have not experienced happiness regularly over the last two years — the fourth highest share of any metro area in the country. Many area residents depend on substances to control their mood. More than one in four Gallup survey respondents in the metro area report using drugs or medication to help them relax almost every day, one of the highest such shares in the country.

Problems such as these may be tied to unfulfilling social connections. Nearly 13% of survey respondents in Little Rock do not receive positive energy from friends and family on a daily basis, a higher share than in all but a handful of other U.S. metro areas.