Updated January 20, 2021 – Originally published August, 2014
Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study of U.S. Unhappy Cities. The study also listed the cities that have the happiest people. While it is relatively easy to guess the unhappiest places, the cities with the happiest folks tend to be surprising. The study was not specifically about retirement, but we certainly think it is relevant.
But first – happy places…
Clyde, a long time Member and frequent contributor, brought this article back to our attention in connection with a fascinating piece he read in The New Yorker: “Find the Place You Love… Then Move There“. In it Arthur. C. Brooks talks about the notion that most people have a place they think of as home, no matter how many times they might move in their life. He says that although moving is a horrible and painful process, sometimes it is worth it if it brings you happiness. We couldn’t agree more when it comes to retirement. If where you are living doesn’t make you happy, find someplace that does and move there!
These are the top 6 metros with the happiest people according to the study. Kudos to the State of Louisiana, which has 2 out of the 6. Note that although 5 out of the 6 metros are in or close to the Sunbelt – what is going on in Rochester, Minn. to make folks so happy? (If the name appears in blue that link will take you to our city review).
– Charlottesville, Virginia
– Rochester, Minnesota
– Lafayette, Louisiana
– Naples, Florida
– Flagstaff, Arizona
– Shreveport, Louisiana
There is a clear trend on the unhappy list; places in the Rust Belt bring up the bottom. New York, NY was a surprising addition as a very unhappy place. The addition of the Big Apple and its irrepressible citizens makes us think of our friend John, aka Chief Rain Cloud, when he describes his state of mind: “I’m not happy…unless I’m not happy”. After all, John is from Long Island.
– Gary, IN
– Pittsburgh, PA
– New York, NY
– South Bend, IN
– Erie, PA
– Scranton, PA
What does this all mean
The researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia studied the data from a host of angles in their attempt to understand why some cities have unhappier people than others. In the end they came up with relatively few answers. Sure, higher income people tend to be a bit happier, as do married vs. divorced folks. In the end they had one important conclusion: rust belt cities that have seen declining populations and economic well-being tend to be unhappier than places with healthier trends. And going back in time, those same mid-western industrial cities were unhappier years ago, which probably led to the reduced good fortune they have now.
Trying to explain why some places tend to have happy people and others the other way is difficult. In the end we think you can be happy wherever, and however you want!
The CDC question interviewed and got responses from more than 1.5 million Americans between 2005 and 2010 on this question: “In general, how satisfied are you with your life”. There were 4 choices: Very satisfied, Satisfied, Unsatisfied, and Very Unsatisfied. A very satisfied response got 4 points, going down to 1 point for very unsatisfied. 45.7% of those overall said they were “very satisfied” with their lives.
The Happiness Map
This Map of the U.S. showing Happiest and Unhappiest Cities. Blue areas are the happiest, red are the unhappiest.
Comments? Do you live in a happy, or an unhappy place? What areas of the country seem to you to have the happiest folks? Does it even mean anything to you anyway? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.