The Happiest States in the U.S.


Which is the happiest state in the United States? It depends on who you ask. Two studies have evaluated measures of the quality of life in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and have ranked them in order of most happy.

In the most recent study, researchers from the University of Warwick in England examined data from a random sample of 1.3 million US citizens on life satisfaction. They compared findings to a 2003 study that considered indicators for each state including weather (ie: average days of sunshine, precipitation, temperature), coastal land, public parks, commute time, crime rate, air quality, teacher-to-student ratio, and cost of living. They found a close correlation between these quality of life indicators and how happy people reported they were in the Behavioral Risk Surveillance System.

The happiest state in the US was Louisiana. Researchers noted that much of the data was prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the state overall remains happy. The rest of the top ten, in order, was Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Maine. New York is the least happy state, according to the rankings.

The study is published online in the journal Science.


The Warwick study, though, doesn’t match up to a survey last month called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index conducted by the University of Cambridge (also in England), which also ranked states based on happiness. In this study, researchers asked 350,000 individuals questions about six-types of happiness, including overall evaluation of life, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors and job satisfaction. The interviews took place between January 2 and December 30, 2008.

Overall, the states with the most tolerant, educated and wealthy residents were the most happy. The reasoning is that wealthy states can provide infrastructure and a higher standard of living, therefore it is easier for residents to have their needs met. Another factor was a higher proportion of “creative” types of people, such as artists because the residents felt more free to express themselves. Lastly, the residents who were wealthier and more educated also tended to have better health status, as they were more likely to have insurance coverage.

On the average, the states with the most well-being were Mountain and West Coast states. At the top was Utah, followed by Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington (state), Massachusetts, California, and Arizona. At the bottom of the rankings was the state of West Virginia.

The results from this study were published in the December issue of the Journal of Research in Personality.

So what can this data do for us as a country? For happy states, it can be used as a tool to attract people to live. For those states ranked as unhappy, policy changes to improve the quality of life for residents can improve scores and bring about a more healthy citizenship.