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 prophecy."
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 measured up.
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 quality-of-life measures.
"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 policies."
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.
State Rankings for Happiness
Here's how states are ranked by happiness levels:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
- New York