These Are The 10 Happiest Mid-Sized Cities In America

By Chris Kolmar
Aug. 29, 2016

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There are certain things that you absolutely want in the place you live—but they’re pretty hard to scope out before you get there. Sure, you can visit places and see if there are safe neighborhoods, abundant nature, places to shop and eat, places to play—but what about those things that aren’t so visible? Things like residents’ attitudes? Beliefs?

And whether or not they’re happy?

Being somewhat abstract, happiness is difficult to measure on the best of days—but we think we’ve figured out a pretty good formula for measuring a place’s happiness, at least for the most part.

We’ll get to that in a moment, though. First, these are the 10 happiest mid-sized cities in America:

  1. Lee’s Summit, MO
  2. Broken Arrow, OK
  3. Mount Pleasant, SC
  4. Newton, MA
  5. Carmel , IN
  6. Fishers, IN
  7. Highlands Ranch, CO
  8. O’Fallon, MO
  9. Rochester, MN
  10. Livonia, MI

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

In order to make something concrete (this list) of something pretty subjective (happy places), we needed real data—we’re talking numbers—to do it right. We looked at the following criteria:

  • Being well educated (Population with at least a bachelor’s degree)
  • Having a job (As measured by the unemployment rate)
  • A short commute to work (God do people hate traffic)
  • Low cost of living
  • Having a family (Getting, and staying married, has a ton of happiness benefits, on average)
  • Owning a home (That’s a big plus)
  • And the poverty rate (Money definitely helps out)

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 America’s mid-sized cities (the 201st to 500th largest.)

We then ranked each place from one to 300 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.”

Keep reading for more on why each of these 10 places are so happy. At the end, we’ll have a more complete table of rankings.

1. Lee’s Summit

If you ask anyone in Lee’s Summit why they’re so happy, you probably won’t hear things like “because we all have insurance!” or “59 percent of us are married!” But that’s the underlying stuff, the stuff that we dug up.

More than most places in the country, too, Lee’s Summit residents are home owners (72 percent of them!) and the unemployment rate is close to nil, at just 5.4 percent. Take those two major life worries off the table, and your heart is sure to feel just a little bit lighter.

2. Broken Arrow

Imagine a land where almost everyone around is married (at least 59 percent of folks), where the poverty rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and 73 percent of people live in their own homes.

They don’t really have to worry much about unemployment (with a rate of just 6 percent), and as far as the cost of living goes, it’s hard to get much better.

That place is Broken Arrow.

3. Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is just about as pleasant as the name implies. An idyllic place, filled with families, married couples, and family homes.

The cost of living in Mount Pleasant is one of the lowest of all the places we looked at, at just 88.5 (where many are well over the average of 100!)

Mount Pleasant—more like Mount Affordable, amiright?

4. Newton

Have you guys seen Pleasantville? The movie about that almost eerily happy, idyllic, storybook town? That’s sort of like Newton—in a good way.

Of all the places we looked at, more Newtonians have insurance than anywhere else. Plus, the cost of living is the 11th lowest in the country, and the poverty rate is the 15th lowest! The only downside? A 25-minute commute time.

5. Carmel

Here’s another pleasant place where the commute may verge on the longer side, but hey—what’s a few more minutes in the car when you’re most surely heading to a job every day, and a home that you own—and your spouse and family—each night? (That’s the case for most residents, at least. Carmel has the highest percentage of married residents in the country!)

At 104, the Cost of Living is a bit higher than some, but certainly not on the highest end (Lafayette, Louisiana, for example, has a cost of living of 298!)

6. Fishers

Another town in Indiana, Fishers makes the list mostly for scoring well in… pretty much every category. Just like Carmel, it has one of the highest rates of home ownership in the country, at 80 percent. 62 percent of residents are married (which, fun fact! Studies show actually increases a person’s lifespan!), and the rate of unemployment is just about as low as the rate of people uninsured—really low.

Oh yeah, and Fishers has the second lowest rate of poverty in the country. No biggy.

7. Highlands Ranch

Just 12 miles south of Denver, Highlands Ranch is many people’s home away from it all. It has the lowest rate of poverty, of all 300 places we looked at, which of course, is totally correlated to the low, low unemployment rate of 4.3 percent.

Residents here are mostly married and have insurance (swipe that worry off the table!), and of course, own their own homes. Only thing is, it’s a bit expensive overall, with a cost of living of 113 (where the average is 100.)

8. O’Fallon

This Missouri city has a lot going on for it. 78 percent of residents here own their own home, and most of those are family homes, as 59 percent of folks are married. The poverty rate is next to nil, at just 4.4 percent (among the best in the country, for mid-sized cities), and unemployment is less than 5 percent.

Keep it up, O’Fallon!

9. Rochester

Time and time again, Rochester, Minnesota is praised and awarded for just plain being awesome. And if that’s not enough to make residents happy, well, perhaps knowing these things will.

Residents, you guys have the eighth shortest commute time in the country, at just 16 minutes on average. Less time in the car, more time to hang out with your families or spouses (which most of you have!) The unemployment rate here is just 4.8 percent, to boot.

10. Livonia

Source: Wikipedia

The final spot on our list goes to the happy folks in Livonia. Here, 81 percent of residents own their own homes—that’s more than all but one other place we looked at in the country. The poverty rate is also really low compared to most mid-sized cities, at just 5.5 percent, and to top it off, only 6.6 percent of residents have no insurance.

Keep living like you do, Livonia!

Happiness 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.

And if you happen to live in one of these 10 happiest mid-sized cities, congratulations!

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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Topics: Rankings