Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Detailed Findings & Methodology

While the ability to do everything one wants to do intuitively should improve with income, it is not necessarily the case. “[We] find a lot of people that will strongly agree with that statement in low income bands. They have a budget, they stick to it, and they live within their means,” Witters said.

It seems that higher income tends to contribute to higher well-being. Median household incomes in a majority of the 25 highest well-being metro areas are well above the national median of $55,617 a year, while a majority of low well-being cities report lower incomes.

In most of the 25 happiest cities, residents report healthy behaviors and generally better health outcomes. By contrast, residents of low well-being areas tend to report relatively poor health behaviors and outcomes. When asked if in the last week they have felt active and productive every day, around two-thirds of Americans replied affirmatively. A greater share of adults agreed in 22 of the 25 happiest cities.

All of these well-being metrics are higher for Americans 55 and older. And while significant numbers of metro areas on both ends of the index report high shares of elderly residents, retirement communities are clustered at the top, including Naples, Florida, which has remained in the No. 1 position for three consecutive years.

Witters explained that for older Americans, while physical health inevitably worsens in some respects, diets tend to improve, chronic conditions tend to improve, older individuals are much less likely to be obese, and they smoke less than younger cohorts. Also, with hangups like vanity long gone, Witters noted, older Americans are also more likely to feel good about their physical appearance. “You just kind of feel more comfortable in your own skin,” he said.

To determine the happiest and most miserable cities, 24/7 Wall St. used the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup’s results are based on some 354,500 telephone interviews conducted nationwide between January 2017 and December 2017. Gallup only reports the results for metropolitan areas in which at least 300 interviews were completed. 24/7 Wall St. supplemented Gallup’s response-based data with several socioeconomic, health, and crime data. Income and poverty statistics came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey (ACS). Violent crime rates came from the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the U.S. report. All other data were aggregated from the county level using 2017 data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

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