West Ranks Highest on Happiness Index

In a new study, residents of Western cities ranked consistently higher in physical and mental health than other areas of the country.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures the unquantifiable. Thriving, struggling, and suffering all fall under the poll’s domain, as do smiling and laughter, learning, enjoyment, worry, and sadness. These factors, combined with more concrete parameters, such as physical health and access to health insurance, help researchers at Gallup keep statistical tabs on the nation’s happiness.

In the most recent Well-Being Index, Western cities came out on top. The survey collected data in interviews with more than 353,000 Americans in 2009. According to USA Today, Boulder, Colorado received the highest ranking, with scores in the top 10 for physical health, healthy behaviors, and “basic access,” which measures respondents’ access to basic necessities such as shelter, clean water, food, money, and medicine. USA Today attributes Boulder’s happiness to its unemployment rate, which at 5.7% is significantly lower than the national rate of 9.7%.

California also ranked well, with Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, San Jose, and Ventura occupying 4 of the remaining spots on the top 10 list of happiest metropolitan areas.

Year-round access to fresh fruit and vegetables and good weather for exercise and recreation are factors that influence the rankings for both Western states. This suggests that lower-ranking cities can improve the overall health and wellness of their residents by increasing access to fresh foods and creating more opportunities for outdoor exercise. By studying the poll, lawmakers can gain high-level insight into what keeps people happy and healthy.

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