It sounds like a laughable generalization: How can living in any one state make you "happier" than than living in another? There are miserable people everywhere you go, whether it's Hawaii or West Virginia. On an individual level, happiness is an abstract concept that can mean different things to different people. Measuring the happiness of a city, a state, or an entire country seems like an even more futile undertaking.
But certain factors like crime, unemployment, average commute time, and cost of living often can have a huge influence on the happiness of an entire population. Just like a state's suicide rate or number of heart attacks can give useful insights into the well-being of its residents.
Personal finance website WalletHub looked at all this data and more for its study ranking the 50 states and the District of Columbia in order of happiness. Released Monday, it took into consideration 28 metrics—from a state's obesity rate to its number of hedonistic Facebook posts—and gathered data from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, Gallup-Healthways, and Hedonometer.org to get a well-rounded view of how each state stacks up.Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, told the Daily Dot in an e-mail that she believes it's "extremely useful" for states to look at well-being indicators of its people, and not just economic indicators such as GDP and unemployment rates.
"If policy makers care about their constituents actually being happy, then they need to consider these [well-being indicators] and look at what correlates with them. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can establish causal paths from such studies (we have to do actual experiments for that), but we can draw some tentative conclusions," said Lyubomirsky.
But she also cautioned that in some cases the differences in well-being between states can be statistically meaningless. For instance, with Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota (all midwestern states with low populations), the difference in the rankings is as little as a fraction of a point.
So debate, roll your eyes, or call a U-Haul. Here are the top 10 happiest states in America, according to WalletHub.
10. CaliforniaThe Golden State's placement as No. 10 on the list may seem surprisingly low given its wealth of beaches, natural resources, and good weather. California's residents rank highly in physical and emotional well-being. The state has a low obesity rate, rate of heart attacks, and a low number of people diagnosed with depression. But long commute times, high cost of living, and a higher-than-the-national-average unemployment rate of 5.5 percent contributed to California falling in the rankings.
9. South DakotaSouth Dakota may be a fly-over state, but its residents have a strong sense of community. You can relax if you forget to lock your door in South Dakota. The state has the lowest rate of property crime in the nation.
Nebraska ranks second in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Satisfaction index survey, with its residents reporting a general satisfaction with life. The state also has lowest rate of binge-drinking in the country.
7. IowaIowa's easy to underestimate, but its low long-term unemployment rate is promising. Residents of Iowa also sleep well, eat well, and are less likely to be divorced.
6. IdahoIdahoans have one of the highest rates of volunteerism in the country. The weather isn't half-bad in Idaho either, and its residents are incredibly chipper on social media. Idaho ranks among the highest on Hendonometer.org, a site that measures the happiness of populations through their tweets.
5. ColoradoColoradoans sleep well and are less likely to have heart attacks or be obese. The state also ranks No. 2 in sports participation.
4. HawaiiLow unemployment and illness rates are just a couple of the many, many reasons people in Hawaii are happy. Little else explanation needed.
3. North Dakota
North Dakotans ranked themselves highly in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Satisfaction index survey. You're also likely to never go hungry there. North Dakota's rate of food insecurity is the lowest in the country.
2. Minnesota"Minnesota nice" isn't just a stereotype. The state ranks No. 1 in the emotional and physical well-being metrics studied in the survey. Safety and a sense of community are also behind Minnesota's high spot in the rankings.
Why is Utah the happiest state in the union? The state has the lowest divorce rate, the highest volunteerism rate, and the lowest number of work hours in the nation.
Here are how the rest of the states panned out in the ranking:
11. New Hampshire
18. District of Columbia
20. New Jersey
26. New York
27. Rhode Island
30. North Carolina
38. South Carolina
41. New Mexico
51. West Virginia