There is a lot to consider when moving to a new place. What’s the cost of living there? What’s the community like? Will I be within reaching distance of a good taco place? What we’re essentially asking ourselves, if only indirectly, is “Will I be happy there?” In the spirit of our cultural pursuit of happiness, WalletHub recently compiled a list of the happiest cities in America, ranking the most populous cities across the country based on how happy its residents are.
Where we live does affect how we feel. Last year, a study on location and happiness led by a team of Yale researchers identified 12 different factors related to a person’s well-being. While some of the factors are unsurprising (higher levels of education and income are linked to higher improved well-being) some were more unexpected. Communities with a higher percentage of bicycle commuters and better access to preventive care correlated with overall better well-being of its residents. Diversity was also a source of improved well-being: communities with a higher percentage of black residents were linked with better well-being.
WalletHub analyzed the 182 cities (the 150 most populated U.S. cities plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state as to include all fifty states) across three key areas: Emotional and physical well-being, income and employment, and community and environment. Those categories were measured using 31 different weighted metrics from life expectancy to adequate-sleep rate (which was weighted double) to unemployment rate (also weighted double) to ideal weather (which was given half-weight).
Per those metrics, here are the top ten happiest cities in America:
- Plano, TX
- Irvine, CA
- Madison, WI
- Fremont, CA
- Huntington Beach, CA
- Fargo, ND
- Grand Prairie, TX
- San Jose, CA
- Scottsdale, AZ
- San Francisco, CA
While California cities made up five of the top ten happiest cities, Los Angeles, the state’s most populous city, fared toward the middle at number 82. Texas gets to claim the happiest city, per WalletHub’s metrics. However, Houston, Texas’s most populous city, was ranked at 106.
Both cities ranked number one in the categories of community and environment (Freemont, CA) and emotional and physical well-being (San Jose, CA) also made it to the top ten overall happiest cities. However, Seattle, WA, which ranked number one in the income and employment category, ranked 54 in overall happiness. Perhaps this supports previous studies that suggest money does not buy you happiness once all your basic needs are met.
WalletHub also denoted the top and bottom five cities across categories like highest adequate-sleep rate (Overland Park, KS ranked first; Detroit, MI ranked last) and fewest work hours (Burlington, VT ranked first; Anchorage, AK ranked last). They also denoted how big the gap is between the top and bottom cities (i.e. the sports-participation rate in the top cities is twice as high as the bottom). Among those category callouts is suicide-rate. The gap between the cities with the lowest suicide rate and the highest suicide rate is much more significant: the cities with the highest suicide rate is seven times higher than the cities with the lowest suicide rate.
Finally, WalletHub asked experts their interpretations on the findings, specifically “do Americans place too much importance on happiness?” “When thinking about if Americans place too much emphasis on happiness, I think it depends on how you define happiness and well-being,” Kristin Horan, Ph.D. and assistant professor, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida, told WalletHub. “Researchers have found that there is an important difference between well-being defined as feeling good and experiencing pleasure and well-being as defined as experiencing meaning, purpose, and personal growth.”
Horan also mentioned the emphasis to only pursue pleasurable activities and experiences may do more harm than good in the long-run. “The pressure to live the picture-perfect life that you see on social media does suggest that we may place too much importance of feeling good. However, I would not say that we place too much emphasis on pursuing meaning and purpose.”
In other words, how you find your happy place may not be how WalletHub found theirs. But if you're looking for somewhere to start, I'd guess your happy place is within reaching distance of a good tacos.