Happiness comes from a combination of internal and external factors. We can influence it somewhat by approaching situations positively or choosing to spend time with people we love, doing activities we enjoy. Some years, it’s harder to be happy than others, though. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it, causing sickness, limiting social interactions and leading to widespread job losses. During these trials, which have had a strong negative impact on Americans’ mental health, WalletHub searched for the states where people can stay positive despite the circumstances.
In this study, WalletHub drew upon the findings of “happiness” research to determine which environmental factors are linked to a person’s overall well-being and satisfaction with life. Previous studies have found that good economic, emotional, physical and social health are all key to a well-balanced and fulfilled life.
To determine where Americans exhibit the best combination of these factors, we examined the 50 states across 32 key metrics, ranging from the depression rate and the positive COVID-19 testing rate to income growth and the unemployment rate. Read on for our findings, additional insight from a panel of experts and a full description of our methodology.
Happiest States in the U.S.
‘Emotional & Physical Well-Being’ Rank
‘Work Environment’ Rank
‘Community & Environment’ Rank
Happiness is more than a feeling of joy or excitement. It relies on various aspects of a person’s life — from emotional well-being to job satisfaction. To expand the discussion, we asked a panel of experts to share their advice and insight on achieving overall happiness and career contentment. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- What are the key ingredients to a happy life?
- How important is money to people’s happiness?
- What are the secrets to career contentment?
- How much does where you live influence your happiness?
- Considering the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, what will be the long-term effects on Americans’ happiness? What are some steps a person can take to protect their psychological well-being?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the happiest states in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: 1) Emotional & Physical Well-Being, 2) Work Environment and 3) Community & Environment.
We evaluated those dimensions using 32 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing maximum happiness.
Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Our analysis draws upon the findings of the following research, each of which has indicated a correlation between our data and happiness:
- Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity (Chan and Diener, 2010)
- Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences (Bhattacharjee and Mogilner, 2014)
- Sports Participation and Happiness: Evidence from U.S. Micro Data (Huang and Humphreys, 2010)
- Unhappy Cities (Glaeser, et al., 2014)
Emotional & Physical Well-Being - Total Points: 50
- WalletHub “States with the Fewest Coronavirus Restrictions” Score: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States with the Fewest Coronavirus Restrictions” ranking.
- Positive COVID-19 Testing Rate of Last 4 Weeks: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric represents the average weekly positive COVID-19 testing rate of last 4 weeks per 100,000 population.
- Career Well-Being: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Gallup’s “Well-Being Index,” particularly the “Career” element, defined by Gallup as “Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.”
- Physical Health Index: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric measures self-reported effects of disease on personal happiness.
- Adverse Childhood Experiences: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
- Share of Adult Depression: Triple Weight (~6.67 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of adults aged 18 and older who were diagnosed with depression.
- Social Well-Being: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Gallup’s “Well-Being Index”, particularly the “Social” element, defined by Gallup as “Having supportive relationships and love in your life.”
- Share of Adults with Alcohol Use Disorder: Double Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Adequate-Sleep Rate: Half Weight (~1.11 Points)
- Sports-Participation Rate: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
- Share of Adults Feeling Active & Productive: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Gallup’s “State of the States” poll and measures the share of state residents who reported feeling active and productive every day for seven days prior to polling.
- Illness & Disability Index: Triple Weight (~6.67 Points)
Note: This metric measures self-reported effects of illness and disability on personal happiness.
- Life Expectancy: Double Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Suicide Rate: Triple Weight (~6.67 Points)
- Food-Insecurity Rate: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Work Environment - Total Points: 25
- Number of Work Hours: Double Weight (~5.00 Points)
- Commute Time: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
- Share of Households Earning Annual Incomes Above $75,000: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Share of Adults Worried About Money: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Gallup’s “State of the States” poll and measures the share of state residents who reported worrying about money every day for seven days prior to polling.
- Current Unemployment Rate: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
- Long-Term Unemployment Rate: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
- Job Security: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric measures the probability of unemployment.
- Job Satisfaction Score: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Monster and Brandwatch’s “Job Happiness Report” and measures how much people love or hate their jobs based on an analysis of two million related tweets. The ratio score was calculated as follows: Number of People Who Love Their Jobs / Number of People Who Hate Their Jobs.
- Income-Growth Rate: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
- Economic-Confidence Index: Full Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on Gallup’s “U.S. Economic Confidence Index,” which “is based on the combined responses to two questions, the first asking Americans to rate economic conditions in this country today, and second, whether they think economic conditions in the country as a whole are getting better or getting worse.”
- Median Credit Score: Half Weight (~1.25 Points)
Note: This metric is based on the Chase Slate 2016 Credit Outlook Survey, in which three in five survey participants responded that “a higher credit score can make them happier.”
Community & Environment - Total Points: 25
- Volunteer Rate: Half Weight (~1.67 Points)
- Ideal Weather: Triple Weight (~10.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather” ranking and was calculated as the average of the ranking for the top three cities by population in the state.
- Average Leisure Time Spent per Day: Double Weight (~6.67 Points)
- Separation & Divorce Rate: Full Weight (~3.33 Points)
- Safety: Full Weight (~3.33 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Safest States in America” ranking.
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feeding America, Corporation for National and Community Service, Gallup, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, United Health Foundation, Brandwatch, TransUnion, Minnesota Population Center - University of Minnesota, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, The COVID Tracking Project and WalletHub research.