Southern States Are the Happiest
6 of the Top 10 States in a Happiness Study Are in the South
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 17, 2009 -- There may be something to be said for southern hospitality
and sunshine. A new study shows that Southern states are the happiest while
coastal rivals New York and California are at the bottom of the list.
Researchers ranked the happiest states (plus the District of Columbia) on
self-reported measures of happiness as well as objective measures like
sunshine, congestion, and housing affordability and found six out of the top 10
happiest states were in the South.
Louisiana topped the list, followed by Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and
Arizona rounding out the top five.
New York ranked dead last at number 51 and California fared only slightly
better at number 46.
"We have been asked a lot whether we expected that states like New York and
California would do so badly in the happiness ranking," says researcher Andrew
Oswald of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, in a news release.
"Many people think these states would be marvellous places to live in. The
problem is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those
states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a non-fulfilling
In the study, published in Science, researchers took a different
approach in ranking the happiest states. Rather than relying solely on surveys
that ask people how happy they are or economists' measures of quality-of-life
data, researchers decided to combine the two and compare how the states
They used information from a 2005-2008 nationwide life satisfaction survey
of 1.3 million Americans and a 2003 study with objective happiness indicators
for each state, such as how much rain and sunshine each state received, number
of hazardous waste sites, commuting time, violent crime, air quality, spending
on education and highways, and cost of living.
When they compared the tables side by side, they found a very close
correlation between how happy people said they were and objective
"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,"
says Oswald. "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. This suggests that life-satisfaction survey data might be
very useful for governments to use in the design of economic and social
Oswald says he's confident the results are a true reflection of how happy
the people in each state are, although some caution is needed in regard to the
Louisiana findings in the wake of the turmoil caused by Hurricane Katrina.