Sunshine States Make For Happier People

If you’re in one of the sunny, outdoorsy states like Louisiana, Hawaii, or Florida, and you’ve been feeling a bit blue about the upcoming Christmas sans snow, don’t fret, a new study reveals that you’re actually part of a lucky group of individuals who have been deemed “the happiest” in the country by researchers due to your warm and sunny surroundings.

A new study has compared self-described pleasant feelings with objective measures of good living and not only found that people who live in sunny, outdoorsy states are some of the happiest Americans, but now researchers think they know why.

When comparing the places across the nation where people are most likely to report happiness, researchers found that these same people also tend to rate high on studies that compare variables such as climate, crime rate, air quality, and schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a survey of 1.3 million people across the US using date that was collected over a period of four years and included a question about how satisfied people are with their lives. When these happiness rankings were compared with studies that rated states on “a variety of criteria ranging from availability of public land to commuting time to local taxes,” Economist Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and Stephen Wu of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., found that the happiest people tend to live in states that do well in quality-of-life studies.

Economists have been reluctant to use an objective validation of ‘happiness’ data in the past, but Oswald notes, “Very loosely, you could say that we prove that happiness data are ‘true,’—such data have genuine objective informational content. Moreover, it is interesting to uncover the pattern of life-satisfaction across one of the world’s important nations.”

Oswald does urge a bit of caution in regards to the rankings which concluded that Louisiana was number one in happiness, by acknowledging that part of the happiness survey occurred before Hurricane Katrina struck the state, and part of it took place after. Regardless, Oswald says, “We have no explicit reason to think there is a problem with the ranking.”

After Louisiana, the study found that Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arizona fell into the next four spots in the ‘happy states’ rankings.

Unfortunately, (brace yourself, New Yorkers…) at the other end of the scale, coming in last in happiness is the state of New York. Oswald suggested that part of the reason for this ranking was the long commutes, congestion, and high prices around New York City. When asked if he expected states like California (which ranked 46th) and New York to rank so poorly, Oswald said, “I am only a little surprised. Many people think these states would be marvelous 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.”

The study was not only intended for “interest” purposes, but Oswald noted that the results also had scientific relevance as well. “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.”