These Are the 10 Happiest States in America

David Luther
by David Luther
Rankings - 1 year ago
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If you’re thinking about moving to a new state for work, there are certain things that you absolutely want in the place you’ll live, besides a job.

Safe neighborhoods, abundant nature, places to shop and eat, places to play — but even if your new home has everything you want for yourself, wouldn’t it be good to know how happy the people around you will be based on quality of life?

Because no man is an island unto himself, we figured out a pretty good formula for measuring a place’s happiness, so you’ll make sure you aren’t the only happy island amidst a sea of miserable people.

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Well, being somewhat abstract, happiness is difficult to measure on the best of days — but don’t worry, because we care about how happy the fifty nifty united states are so much that we decided to do our Zippia thang and rate them all.

We’ll get to that happiness index in a moment, but first we have the 10 happiest states in America:

  1. Idaho
  2. Virginia
  3. Washington
  4. Connecticut
  5. Colorado
  6. Illinois
  7. New Hampshire
  8. North Dakota
  9. Utah
  10. Arkansas

Like we said, this was pretty hard to come up with objectively, so keep reading to find out how we did it.

How We Came Up with this List

People these days… really love starting sentences with, “people these days”.

But they also tend to judge things strictly by one metric, usually one that’s utilitarian. Degrees are judged by the jobs they get you, careers are judged by the salary they get you, salaries are judged by the spouse they get you, on and on — but what about the intangibles that make you happy, goshdarnit?

The fact is, it’s not all salaries and degrees. We all know that money can’t buy happiness — after all, mo’ money mo’ problems. So, if not by the zeros in our bank accounts, how can we actually measure happiness?

In order to make something concrete (this list) of something pretty subjective (happy places), we needed real data to do it right. We went to the American Community Survey to looked at the following criteria:

  • Higher education — having at least a bachelor’s degree goes a long way
  • Employment rate — because having money isn’t everything, but not having it is
  • Short commute — a round-trip under an hour keeps you sane, if nothing else
  • Low cost of living — it’s a whole lot easier to be happy if you can afford it
  • Owning a home — the American Dream almost always includes that white picket fence
  • Having a family — nuptial bliss, and all of that, to fill that home
  • Lower poverty rate — because it’s a lot easier to be happy if other people aren’t miserable

Next, we averaged the seven rankings into a Happiness Index for each place, with the lowest overall index winning the title “Happiest State in America.” Keep reading for more on why each of these 10 places is so happy — at the end, we have a more complete table with the data.

1. Idaho

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 16.1
Homeowners: 23 percent
People above poverty: 90 percent

If you ask anyone in Idaho why they’re so happy, you probably won’t hear things like “because we’ve got houses and the jobs to pay for them!” But that’s the underlying stuff, the stuff that we dug up.

More than the vast majority of the country, fewer people here have employment and the correlated poverty problems — it’s in the top five for three categories and in the middle of the pack for the rest, giving it the gold medal for happiest state.

2. Virginia

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 16.4
Homeowner rate: 31 percent
Bachelor’s degree rate: 21 percent

Imagine a land where almost everyone around has a short drive from the homes they own, on the way to the job they got with their degrees — this place is VIrginia.

Did you know “it’s for lovers”? Well, that’s more or less true, since about half of the households in the state are married, which is impressive given that 18 percent of them are below the poverty line.

3. Washington

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 16.4
Percentage with a commute under 30 minutes: 81 percent
Employed: 94.4 percent

While most of the states on this list are pretty crappy in at least one rank and phenomenal in others, the Evergreen State is more like the “pretty above average at everything” state — even if that doesn’t really roll off of the tongue.

Ranked in the top fifteen for five categories, Washington is a pretty good place to move to get a job, buy a house, find a spouse, and do it all without being in poverty, given that you don’t live in Seattle, which single-handedly drives its cost of living up the 37th on our list.

4. Connecticut

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 16.9
Homeowner rate: 22.5 percent
Above poverty: 89 percent

Even though it’s got a reputation as a getaway for snobby people from New York… Well, it is.

With a middling homeowner rank and a high cost of living, it makes it into the top ten rankings by being in the top ten rankings for pretty much all of the other categories.

5. Colorado

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 18.7
Married households rank: 50
Education rank: 1

With 90 percent of its residents having commutes under half an hour and 24 percent of them having bachelor’s degrees, Colorado miraculously bullies its way over its high cost of living and bad poverty ranking into the top ten.

So even though it’s got a bunch of poor, unmarried folks, the other ones with their short commutes are all happily talking about their mortgages and alma matters on the slopes.

6. Illinois

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 19
Married households: 51 percent
Homeowner rate: 25 percent

Illinois makes the list mostly for scoring well in… pretty much every category.

This cozy well-to-do town has been lauded more than once for its all-around awesomeness. The economy here is healthy, residents are well educated, and now we see, also some of the happiest in the country—at least according to these criteria.

7. New Hampshire

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 19.9
Homeowner rank: 50
People with a commute under 30 minutes: 85 percent

Okay, so maybe New Hampshire didn’t exactly nail it in the homeowner category (they, in fact, have the lowest homeowner rate in the country), but what’s paying rent when you’re almost surely driving a short distance to a great job every day, and coming home to your spouse?

Statistically speaking, this is what a lot of people’s lives look like in New Hampshire, and if family comforts are your recipe for happiness, New Hampshire might be your ideal state.

8. North Dakota

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 20.7
Poverty rate: 19.3 percent
Homeowner rate: 27 percent

North Dakota ranks as having one of the highest homeowner rates with one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and all with an average cost of living.

So if you need a job tomorrow, consider a move up to the Roughrider State. It just might not be the highest paying one available — North Dakota has the lowest adjusted median income for any state in the top ten, so you’ll probably be owning a small house.

9. Utah

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 20.9
Unemployment rank: 6
Married households: 45 percent

The Bee Hive state used its strong work ethic and considerable skills to nab the ninth spot on our list for happiest states, though it’s probably not for the whole 2.5 kids and a white picket fence: it’s 38th for homeowners and 45th for families.

But you’re all probably well-educated enough to decide whether or not that matters to you on your short commute — your state is first in the country for recent and future job growth while finishing sixth in unemployment rate.

10. Arkansas

Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

Source: Wikipedia

Happiness Index: 20.9
Cost of living rank: 2
Homeowner rank: 4

The final spot on our list goes to the happy folks in Arkansas, where everyone can afford a home, have a family, and find a job in this super cheap state — even if it’s got one of the lowest rates of bachelor’s degrees and longest commutes in the country

But then again, if you can afford a nice enough car and make enough money to support yourself without a degree, why bother, I guess? Well, actually, no, but still…

Happiness by the in Numbers

Sure, happiness may be sort of hard to pin down—after all, it is an abstract feeling—but we think we’ve gotten a pretty good formula down for predicting a city’s overall happiness.

If you are one of the lucky residents of one of these happy 10 states, well, congratulations! And if not, check out the stats below to see why not.

Happy reading, everyone!

State Rank Happy Index Col Index Home Ownership Poverty Family Rate Unemployment Bachelor’S Percent Commute Under 30 Minutes
Idaho 1 16 92 28.4% 10 48.81% 4 17.68% 69.51%
Virginia 2 16 100 31.05% 18 49.56% 5 20.97% 82.4%
Washington 3 16 105 25.31% 12 48.94% 5 20.9% 81.21%
Connecticut 4 16 127 22.52% 10 50.53% 6 20.95% 81.46%
Colorado 5 18 103 26.98% 16 43.54% 4 24.09% 89.68%
Illinois 6 19 94 25.22% 13 51.06% 8 19.9% 74.19%
New Hampshire 7 19 117 10.88% 11 50.18% 7 21.84% 84.8%
North Dakota 8 20 99 27.03% 19 49.11% 7 20.07% 77.92%
Utah 9 20 93 20.16% 13 45.13% 5 20.75% 80.62%
Arkansas 10 20 87 26.29% 10 49.82% 7 13.64% 64.72%
Massachusetts 11 21 133 20.69% 16 51.06% 6 22.76% 86.34%
Tennessee 12 22 89 23.37% 11 61.19% 9 15.9% 67.16%
Iowa 13 22 91 23.52% 16 49.17% 6 18.17% 70.16%
Vermont 14 21 121 25.93% 16 50.88% 9 21.69% 83.78%
North Carolina 15 22 93 18.14% 11 48.55% 5 18.44% 71.63%
Kansas 16 22 89 19.64% 14 45.01% 6 20.01% 77.56%
Montana 17 23 100 22.7% 12 46.76% 7 20.0% 76.33%
Maryland 18 23 125 25.87% 18 48.91% 7 20.57% 78.81%
Maine 19 23 110 24.59% 13 52.75% 8 18.72% 71.87%
Oregon 20 23 115 21.51% 11 47.27% 4 19.25% 73.08%
South Dakota 21 23 103 22.66% 15 50.95% 7 19.01% 72.65%
New Jersey 22 24 121 27.9% 18 48.14% 9 22.77% 87.01%
Georgia 23 24 91 26.97% 12 48.65% 10 18.13% 69.76%
Florida 24 25 98 25.58% 14 49.36% 8 17.5% 69.47%
Indiana 25 25 89 25.6% 15 47.76% 6 15.4% 67.13%
Hawaii 26 25 167 25.07% 18 49.11% 7 20.37% 78.01%
Michigan 27 26 89 21.17% 15 48.83% 6 16.46% 68.38%
South Carolina 28 26 99 22.56% 8 51.73% 9 16.52% 69.03%
California 29 26 135 13.19% 13 48.13% 2 19.81% 73.75%
Texas 30 26 90 18.37% 12 48.35% 8 18.22% 71.33%
Missouri 31 26 90 18.15% 11 50.17% 9 16.92% 69.11%
Rhode Island 32 26 120 21.85% 17 55.07% 8 19.08% 72.68%
Minnesota 33 27 100 24.91% 19 47.38% 9 22.52% 85.92%
West Virginia 34 27 93 24.42% 10 49.42% 8 11.74% 62.13%
Kentucky 35 27 90 25.69% 11 49.04% 9 13.08% 64.05%
Delaware 36 27 101 22.12% 21 49.67% 4 17.77% 69.55%
Louisiana 37 27 94 26.26% 12 48.15% 8 14.84% 66.37%
Nebraska 38 27 91 20.24% 16 48.93% 10 19.6% 73.5%
Wisconsin 39 28 96 23.0% 15 48.26% 9 18.43% 71.55%
Mississippi 40 29 85 19.23% 17 51.9% 7 12.95% 62.37%
Arizona 41 30 98 20.07% 14 50.73% 9 17.28% 69.34%
Alaska 42 30 131 23.71% 11 44.11% 7 17.91% 69.74%
Pennsylvania 43 30 101 25.33% 15 44.67% 7 17.42% 69.46%
Wyoming 44 31 91 21.89% 15 47.62% 8 17.12% 69.27%
Ohio 45 32 93 17.57% 13 43.98% 6 16.36% 68.31%
New York 46 32 131 16.39% 18 46.46% 5 19.38% 73.18%
Alabama 47 33 91 23.23% 15 46.9% 8 14.78% 65.0%
Oklahoma 48 34 89 19.82% 17 47.74% 9 16.14% 68.25%
Nevada 49 37 103 23.33% 22 47.66% 7 15.15% 66.45%
New Mexico 50 37 96 18.53% 17 48.11% 8 14.79% 65.53%