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America's happiest (and most miserable) states


Princeville at Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii

Top five most happy states:

1. Hawaii

Well-being index score: 71.1

Life expectancy: 81.5 years (the highest)

Obesity: 25.7% (20th lowest)

Median household income: $61,821 (8th highest)

Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 90.6% (10th highest)

In Gallup’s 2012 well-being index, Hawaii performed better than any other state. It ranked first or second in five of the six categories that make up the index, and 14th in basic access to care. Hawaii’s residents reported being generally happier with their current lives than those of any other state. They were also a more optimistic group. More than two-thirds of Hawaiians reported not feeling stressed, compared to just 52.8 percent of West Virginians who could say that. A larger proportion of Hawaiians exercise than any state but Alaska, and residents also eat healthily and do not smoke. At the latest count, life expectancy at birth in the state was 81.5 years, by far the best in the country.

2. Colorado

3. Minnesota

4. Utah

5. Vermont


According to a Gallup poll released Thursday, the United States has shown almost no improvement in well-being in the past five years, increasing slightly from 2011 when Americans reported the most miserable scores since the survey began.The top and bottom states have also remained nearly the same. West Virginia, which received the lowest well-being score in 2012, has routinely been in the bottom two, and Hawaii ranked highest for the fourth year in a row.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has surveyed 1.7 million Americans since the survey was first conducted in 2008, reflects the physical and emotional health of residents in each of the 50 states. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the scores of each state in the six categories that comprise Gallup’s index to identify objective measures that impact well-being.

Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport explained to 24/7 Wall St. that well-being is important because happier, healthier citizens tend to have positive social and economic impacts on the places they live.

“Well-being is important because of the hypothesis that it leads to good outcomes,” Newport said. “If your citizens have high well-being, they’re more likely to be better citizens and engage in better behaviors and make things better all the way around. It’s a positive goal for those that look at what we ought to emphasize in society.”

Among the 55 questions Gallup asked residents in each of the past five years, there were certain categories that the states with low well-beingtended to do poorly in and high well-being states tended to do well in. States with high well-being had populations that smoked less, exercised more and tried to learn new things each day. These states also tended to share the outcomes of those behaviors and activities — residents had lower levels of key health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attacks, and had more energy.

Of the data 24/7 Wall St. considered in addition to Gallup’s indices, several showed a strong relationship with well-being. It appears that states with happy residents tended to have much lower poverty rates and higher median income. The states with the highest levels of well-being all have poverty levels below the national rate. Having stable income is important because it enables people to meet basic needs such as healthy food, clean water, medicine and health care.

We also found a strong relationship between employment and high school graduation rates and well-being. All 10 high well-being states had unemployment rates lower than the national average. All 10 states were in the top 15 for adults with a high school diploma.

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