New research published in the journal Science found that southern states—including Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, and Mississippi—have the happiest people.
The researchers at the U.K.’s University of Warwick and Hamilton College in the U.S. compared measurements of peoples’ self-declared happiness levels to measurements of life satisfaction (based on factors such as weather; environment; commuting time; violent crime; student-teacher ratio; local taxes; local spending on education and highways; and cost of living).
Interestingly, the researchers said they found a very close correlation between people’s subjective life-satisfaction scores and objectively estimated quality of life.
“We wanted to study whether people’s feelings of satisfaction with their own lives are reliable, that is, whether they match up to reality—of sunshine hours, congestion, air quality, etc—in their own state. And they do match,” said the lead researcher, Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick, in a release of the results. “When human beings give you an answer on a numerical scale about how satisfied they are with their lives, it is best to pay attention. Their answers are reliable.”
Despite its sunshine, California ranked number 46 on the list, and New York ranked dead last. Why are states that attract so many newcomers so low on the list? Well, their popularity has something to do with it.
As Oswald explained, many people think states like New York and California are wonderful places to live. The problem is, if too many people think that way, they move to the states and bump up the congestion and the housing prices. “In a way, it is like the stock market. If everyone thinks it would be great to buy stock X, that stock is generally already overvalued. Bargains in life are usually found outside the spotlight. It may be that exactly the same is true of the best places to live,” Oswald said.
See the next page for a full ranking of states.
Ranking of happiness levels by U.S. state (including the District of Columbia):
8. South Carolina
12. North Carolina
15. South Dakota
24. New Mexico
25. North Dakota
27. New Hampshire
34. West Virginia
37. District of Columbia
42. Rhode Island
49. New Jersey
51. New York