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.
Iowa’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.
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.
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