Americans are not a notably happy people. In annual rankings, the United States never finishes in the top 10; without fail, it’s put to shame by a bunch of Northern European nations. (While the official World Happiness Report comes out March 20, a current World Population Review ranking has Finland at the top, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. The United States doesn’t appear until No. 19.)
Surely the coronavirus pandemic didn’t help, and there’s plenty of U.S. media and politicians who like to stoke anxiety and conflict, including about crime that’s been far worse within most of our lifetimes. A not particularly horrible economy has become just the latest argument that we live in some kind of nightmare world, yet a recent wave of layoffs was confined to the tech sector and unemployment recently reached its lowest point since 1969. Inflation has been slowing since June, though financial advice website WalletHub cites a recent American Psychiatric Association poll showing that 87% of Americans are “anxious” or “very anxious” about inflation.
There must be places where Americans are happy, though, and WalletHub set out to find where — and why.
“Happiness is more than a feeling of joy or excitement. It relies on various aspects of a person’s life — from emotional well-being to job satisfaction,” WalletHub says. “Studies have found that good economic, emotional, physical, and social health are all key.”
The site looked at 30 key metrics, from depression rates and feelings of productivity to financial factors such as income growth and unemployment, ranking the 50 states in happiness as of September. The results? It gave Hawaii the top spot and West Virginia the bottom. (The bottom five also include Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama.)
The top 10 happiest states, according to WalletHub:
- New Jersey
Hawaii has the lowest share of adult depression and fourth-lowest divorce rate, though its residents also had the second-worst sleep and were fifth in the country in terms of long-term unemployment, WalletHub finds.
Among the factors determining the happiest states, the site also finds Maryland has the fifth-lowest rate of suicide; Minnesotans the second-best sleep, fifth-highest rate of volunteerism, and the fourth-highest sense of safety; Utahans participate in the most sports and volunteer the most, while working the fewest hours, getting divorced the least and enjoying the fifth-highest feeling of safety and third-lowest rates of long-term unemployment. New Jersey has the lowest suicide rates, the fifth-lowest rate of adult depression, and third-lowest divorce rate. (New Jersey do, however, have the fourth-highest rate of long-term unemployment.)
Even if you don’t live in a happiest state, you can find happiness — and should pursue it.
“Community environments have an important influence on happiness and health,” says Maryam Kia-Keating, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of WalletHub’s study experts. “Research shows that greater racial diversity in a community increases the likelihood that people living there engage in prosocial behaviors, such as offering help to a stranger. That sense of connection and reassurance that neighbors are looking out for one another can have a powerful influence on happiness and well-being.”
See the whole study and its findings here.
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