We all know that money can’t buy happiness—we’ve heard it time and time again since we were kids. And, in fact, studies just show that after a certain point, money can not only not make a difference in your wellbeing, but become a hindrance. (Mo’ money, mo’ problems.)
So, if not by the zeroes in our bank accounts, how can we actually measure happiness? And which cities in the U.S. are the happiest?
First, we’ll answer the latter. Here are the 10 happiest big cities in America:
Like we said, we didn’t just come up with this list by looking at people’s salaries—keep reading to find out what we did consider in our happiness rankings.
For more reading check out:
We didn’t just pull this list of happy cities out of our hats—we looked at the following criteria to determine where people are the happiest:
That’s a ton of fun — and happiness — for the whole family, backed by science. The data all comes from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey.
After we decided on the criteria, we gathered the data for the 200 largest cities in the country.
We then ranked each place from one to 200 for each of the seven criteria with a score of one being the happiest. (Any ties were given to the larger place!)
Next, we averaged the seven rankings into a Happiness Index for each place, with the lowest overall Index winning the title “Happiest Big City in America.” Here’s lookin’ at you, Olathe!
Keep reading for more on why each of these 10 places made the cut—or just hop to the bottom for a more detailed look at these happy cities.
On paper, Olathe seems like a family-friendly, well-to-do sort of community, but in reality… okay, that’s exactly what it is. More people own homes in Olathe than nearly anywhere other large cities in the U.S. It ranked sixth in this category overall, and sixth for its number of married residents.
Couple that with an unemployment rate of just 5.2 percent and the 10th lowest poverty level—and you’ve got yourself a recipe for happiness.
Kansas must be putting something in their water (magical rainbow fairy dust?), because residents here really seem to be doing it right. The second happiest city is another from The Sunflower State, mostly because of its low poverty level—the third lowest in the country!
Almost all residents in Overland Park have health insurance—and perhaps related, almost all of them are gainfully employed, with the seventh lowest unemployment rate around.
Imagine a land where nearly everyone has health insurance; where all of your friends and family who want jobs, have them; where getting to said job only takes an average of 18 minutes each day.
The cost of living is pretty low, so of course, you all own your own homes. And poverty, well, that’s nearly non-existent here.
Welcome to Cedar Rapids.
Of all of the places we looked at, Sioux Falls had the third lowest unemployment rate, at just 4.6 percent.
Residents here are also lucky enough to have an average 17-minute commute time, and about 90 percent of them have health insurance. Sioux Falls, you’re doing it right!
Bellevue has often been hailed as a more family-friendly and upscale sister of Seattle—and now we see it’s just plain happier, too. Hey, don’t blame us. It’s science.
Bellevue residents are almost all insured (about 93 percent of them, anyway), married, and employed. Sure, it doesn’t exactly have Seattle’s edge or young culture, but if you’re looking to cozy up and settle down happily, this might be the place for you.
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.
Namely, Cary residents aced it in the marriage department—nearly 61 percent of residents have spouses! That’s one of the highest percentages in the country.
Plus, Cary folks almost all have jobs, and as a result, the poverty level here is nearly nil—it’s the seventh lowest around.
Okay, so maybe Gilbert didn’t exactly nail it in the commute category (they, in fact, have one of the longer average commutes in the country), but what’s a little extra driving time when you’re almost surely driving to a great job every day, and coming home to your spouse, in the house that you guys bought?
Statistically speaking, this is what a lot of people’s lives look like in Gilbert, and if family comforts are your recipe for happiness, Gilbert might be your ideal city.
With the 12th lowest rate of poverty and the 13th lowest of unemployment, Virginia Beach is one of the more well-to-do and happy places in the country. This plus a bucket of oysters from Lucky Oyster—what more could you ask for?
Here’s a little slice of life for Chesapeake residents: You wake up each morning, likely next to your spouse (as most residents here are married), you take a big morning stretch, get some breakfast in your stomach, and head off to work—with about a 25-minute commute time.
While you’re at work, maybe you have to schedule a doctor’s appointment for that weird cough that’s been bugging you since your vacation—no biggy, you, like most residents in Chesapeake, have health insurance. After work you head back to your home—and we do mean your home, as 67 percent of residents own their houses. Happy Monday.
Last but certainly not least on our list is Frisco. Okay, sure, Frisco residents have to deal with a somewhat arduous commute compared to most (nearly 30 minutes)—but when it comes to pretty much everything else, these guys are doin’ it right.
Married—check. Frisco has the highest percentage of married residents. Home owners—why yes—only the second most home owners in the country. Employed? Of course! Frisco has an unemployment rate of just 4.9 percent. In fact, the only drawbacks are the aforementioned drive time and the cost of living.
If you are one of the lucky residents of one of these happy 10 cities, well, congratulations! And if not, it may have been that your city was just too small to make the cut—in which case, keep checking back here to read our other posts on “Happiest” cities of all sizes.
Happy reading, everyone!