The Happiest and Unhappiest States in America
Life + Money

The Happiest and Unhappiest States in America

© Jason Reed / Reuters

Americans feel better about their lives now than at any point since the Great Recession. But their level of happiness largely depends on where they live.

Overall well-being in the U.S. reached a record high in 2016, according to the Well-Being Index from Gallup and Healthways. More than 55.4 percent American adults are “thriving,” versus just under 49 percent in 2008, when the survey series began.

The index also found historically low smoking rates at 18 percent, down from 21.1 percent; historically high exercise rates; the highest scores for healthcare access; and the lowest rates of healthcare insecurity since 2008.

Related: SLIDESHOW: The 20 Happiest States in 2017

Still, there are few dark clouds. Chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and depression reached their highest points since 2008. And the percentage of people eating healthy all day during the previous day is at a nine-year low.

The index series also highlights differences among regions and states. For instance, states in the Northern Plains and Mountain West generally report higher levels of well-being, while Southern and Midwestern states consistently show lower levels. For the past eight years, Hawaii and Alaska have historically recorded high well-being, while West Virginia and Kentucky have posted the lowest well-being.

The Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being series is based on more than 177,000 interviews with Americans living in all 50 states from January to December 2016. It looks at five elements in determining the well-being of each state:

  • Sense of purpose
  • Social network of connectedness
  • Financial security
  • Sense of community
  • Physical health and activity

Related: SLIDESHOW: The 20 Unhappiest States in 2017

The goal of these well-being scores, according to Gallup, is to help states and local communities create initiatives to improve their residents’ happiness. For instance, officials in California, Oregon, Iowa, Texas, Florida and Hawaii have launched an initiative to work with restaurants and grocery stores to make healthy food more accessible for residents.