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Top 5 Happiest States in the U.S.

West Virginians Happier, but Still Least Happy
By Richard Kearns
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 28, 2012 -- People who live in Hawaii are the happiest in the U.S. and have the most positive outlook, according to this year’s Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

It’s the third year in a row the survey has ranked Hawaii as the No. 1 state for well-being. North Dakota, Minnesota, Utah, and Alaska rounded out the top five happiest states.

West Virginia scored lowest on well-being, but did slightly improve from last year.

The Well-Being Index score for the nation as a whole is the lowest since tracking began in 2008.

The rankings are based on daily surveys conducted from January through December 2011. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents ideal well-being. Hawaii’s score of 70.2 wasn’t perfect, but it topped the list.

Staying consistent with the trend for the past four years, Western and Midwestern states notched nine of the 10 highest well-being scores, while Southern states claimed half of the bottom 10 scores.

What Makes a Happy State?

The Well-Being Index is calculated based on six key areas:

  • Life Evaluation: Alaskans ranked their lives as “thriving,” giving them the highest ranking in this category with a score of 60.2, while West Virginia residents ranked lowest on this scale at 41.1.
  • Emotional Health: Hawaiians were the most likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot “yesterday” and were the least likely to report daily worry, stress, or depression, scoring at 83.3. Kentucky ranked lowest in emotional health with a score of 75.5.
  • Work Environment: North Dakota workers said they have the most positive work environments, including job satisfaction and trust, and can best use their strengths while performing their job. This gave them the highest ranking in this category at 54.3. Delaware ranked lowest in job satisfaction at 40.6 and had the worst workplace perception for a third year in a row.
  • Physical Health: Minnesota ranks at the top of this category -- which includes the percentage of obese residents, disease, and other health problems and daily ailments -- with a score of 79.9. West Virginia ranks lowest at 69.9, in part because it has the highest obesity rate.
  • Healthy Behaviors: Hawaii ranks at the top of this category also, with a 68.9. The Hawaiians’ good eating and exercise habits, along with their lower smoking rates, gave them the top spot. Oklahoma ranks lowest with a score of 59.1. 
  • Basic Access: Massachusetts residents rank highest in this category for a second year in a row, with an 86.6. This high rating is a result of the high percentage of residents who have health insurance along with access to basic necessities and satisfaction with one’s community. Mississippi ranks lowest in this category, as it did in 2010, with a 77.6.

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