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