The Happiest State Has One Of The Highest Poverty Levels and One Of The Lowest Household Incomes In The Nation
There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across U.S. metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than other Americans. Newer residents of these cities appear to be as unhappy as longer term residents, and yet some people continue to move to these areas. While the historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. According to a working paper from researchers at Harvard University and the University of British Columbia, the five happiest cities in the U.S. all happen to be located in one state, which also ranks as the happiest state.
That state is Louisiana. Specifically, the list-toppers of cities include Lafayette, Houma, Shreveport-Bossier City, Baton Rouge and Alexandria. Although some disagree that Louisiana is the happiest state, some research is proving otherwise. Polls that disagree typically use determinants such as financial, economic and purpose driven objectives many of which are career oriented, none of which apply (or have a significant impact) on happiness levels of Louisianans. Some studies have even declared Louisana to be one of the unhappiest states according to tweets and other statistics which are being proven wrong.
The paper, co-authored by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser, UBC Vancouver School of Economics professor Joshua Gottlieb and Harvard doctoral student Oren Ziv, used data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey titled the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Rounding out the top 10 happiest cities are Rochester, Minnesota; Corpus Christi, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Nashville, Tennessee; and Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
The study was adjusted for age, sex, race, income and other factors, as women, for example, are happier than men, and married couples are happier than single or divorced respondents.
On the other end of the spectrum, the unhappiest cities had New York City topping the list, followed by St. Joseph, Missouri; South Bend, Indiana; Erie, Pennsylvania; Evansville, Indiana--Henderson, Kentucky; Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Jersey City, New Jersey; Gary, Indiana; and Scranton--Wilkes-Barre--Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
Among the goals of the study was to explain why many "unhappy" cities were still seeing population growth. After all, why would people move there if it were such an awful place?
One interpretation of these facts is that individuals do not aim to maximize self-reported well-being, or happiness, as measured in surveys, and they willingly endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs. In this view, subjective well-being is better viewed as one of many arguments of the utility function, rather than the utility function itself, and individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness.
"Self-reported unhappiness is high in [many] declining cities, and this tendency persists even when we control for income, race and other personal characteristics," the authors write. "Why are the residents of some cities persistently less happy? Given that they are, why do people choose to live in unhappy places?"
Louisiana ranks very low in median family and household income, typically 47th and 48th out of 51 states.
It also ranks among the highest in percent of people below poverty level. So why are they so happy and makes cities and states unhappy?
According to a study from Lund University, collective picture of what makes us happy is more about relationships and people, and less about things.
"It's relationships that are most important, not material things, and this is in line with other findings in happiness research," says Danilo Garcia, researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy's Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health.
The report concludes many of the unhappy cities have always been so according to limited data. Higher wages play a role in enticing people to move to unhappy places, as does lower housing costs. The authors write:
"Differences in happiness and subjective well-being across space weakly support the view that the desires for happiness and life satisfaction do not uniquely drive human ambitions. If we choose only that which maximized our happiness, then individuals would presumably move to happier places until the point where rising rents and congestion eliminated the joys of that locale. An alternative view is that humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right. Indeed, the residents of unhappier metropolitan areas today do receive higher real wages -- presumably as compensation for their misery."
Psychological well-being has been linked to many important life outcomes, including career success, relationship satisfaction, and health. A report published in Psychological Science, revealed that self-reported feelings of well-being tend to increase with age, but that a person’s overall level of well-being depends on when he or she was born and that happiness increases with age.