Do you think your state promotes happiness and well-being? If you live in Utah, Minnesota, or Hawaii, you may be more inclined to answer “yes,” as those three states are said to be the happiest in the nation. A report from WalletHub analyzed 28 factors that affect a person’s happiness, including self-reported items like satisfaction with life and physical and emotional health, along with data like depression rates, income, unemployment, volunteerism, and the number of hours spent at work.
The report ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on a 100-point scale. One view of the report shows we could all use a little more happiness. Even top-rated Minnesota only scored 70.81, suggesting that there’s always room for improvement. While you may not think your state affects your happiness, experts agree that location can play a role. Factors like a sunny locale may improve happiness, but other elements are at play, too.
“It [location] can matter a lot, but it’s not always in the ways we might imagine. Sometimes, living near a valued community is more important than white sandy beaches,” Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and professor in the Media Psychology Program at Fielding Graduate University, told WalletHub. “In a perfect world, you would seek balance between valued social connections, ability to use one’s strengths, being part of a larger purpose and having psychologically supporting and aesthetic surroundings.”
While we likely need to take steps to improve our own happiness, you may be up against additional challenges in the 10 most unhappy states — especially the one ranked worst.
Happiness rating: 49.67
We start of our list of unhappiest states in Ohio. To arrive at the overall ranking, states received scores in three main categories: Emotional & Physical Well-Being, Work Environment, and Community & Environment. The Buckeye State ranked right in the middle (No. 25) for Community and Work Environment — not so bad. But its other categories fell toward the bottom of the list, landing it just barely on our list of the unhappiest states to live in.
Happiness rating: 48.95
Nevada has the lowest income growth and the highest divorce rate of all 50 states, which are both detrimental to its happiness ranking (especially in the Community & Environment category). It also has a low volunteer rate, contributing to its overall ranking as the No. 14 unhappiest state.
13. South Carolina
Happiness rating: 48.55
South Carolina’s beauty can’t keep the sadness away. It ranks very low (No. 45) in the Community & Environment category, likely influenced by its fourth worst safety rating. It’s Work Environment ranking is much better, at No. 30, keeping it out of the contenders for most unhappy state in the U.S.
Happiness rating: 46.96
You’d think those gorgeous mountains would make Wyoming a happier place to live. But the Cowboy State has its fair share of issues. Its fourth worst in the Work Environment category, with its suicide rate (the highest in the country) and long work hours contributing to this. As the No. 12 unhappiest state overall, Wyoming’s Community and Environment ranking (No. 30) keeps it out of the top 10. The bright side: This state has the third highest income growth in the nation.
11. New Mexico
Happiness rating: 45.53
The Land of Enchantment is not so enchanting when you consider its long-term unemployment rate — the worst in the country. This, as well as high suicide and divorce rates make it nearly one of the 10 most unhappy states. It squeaks by at No. 11 overall, with an especially bad Work Environment category (No. 45).
Happiness rating: 45.43
Alaska actually did okay with its Emotional & Physical Well-Being, with a No. 23 ranking. But the other categories decimated The Last Frontier’s happiness rating. Out of all 50 states, it scored last in Community & Environment and second to last in Work Environment. What contributed to this sadness? It has a very high suicide rate and residents work long hours.
Happiness rating: 44.29
Tennessee ranked No. 38 for the Community & Environment category and No. 45 for the Emotional & Physical Well-Being category. A No. 17 ranking in the Work Environment category kept the state from a worse overall ranking. Despite other dings on Tennessee’s record, the state scored closer to the middle of the pack for other categories; it didn’t rank in the top five for any. Sorry, Volunteer State.
Happiness rating: 43.86
Missouri actually ranked No. 26 in the nation for Work Environment, which isn’t so terrible. But it scored quite poorly in the Community & Environment category, ranking at No. 44. That category includes items like the rate of volunteerism, the divorce rate, and population growth, among other things. What really got Missouri was it’s ranking in the top five worst states for safety (taken from the safety rankings of another WalletHub analysis.
Happiness rating: 41.69
Kentucky’s happiness rating shows there’s a lot of room for improvement, particularly in the Emotional & Physical Well-Being category. The Bluegrass State scored a 46 in this area, in part because of low rates of adequate sleep (third worst state) and low rates of sports participation (fifth worst state) diagnoses.
Happiness rating: 38.89
The rest of the unhappy states’ ratings stay below the 40-point threshold. In this case, the Magnolia State ranked fourth worst in the nation for the Community & Environment section. Sub-par rankings in the other categories also contribute to Mississippi being one of the top 10 unhappiest states in the nation. It ranked as the worst state for rates of sports participation and it has the second worst volunteer rate in the nation. It also scored poorly for safety and divorce rates. Mississippi has some work to do.
Happiness rating: 37.33
Although Arkansas has a middle-of-the-road Work Environment ranking, it has the absolute worst scores concerning Emotional & Physical Well-Being. Factors that likely contribute to this situation: It has a high rate of adult depression (third worst) and low rate of sports participation (second worst).
Happiness rating: 36.60
Alabama has actually improved since last year — from second most unhappy state to fourth. That’s progress! But the Cotton State still has a poor Emotional and Physical Well-Being ranking, coming in at No. 47 compared to the rest of the nation. In fact, all of the state’s category rank No. 42 or worse. Among other factors, residents in the state report having trouble getting adequate sleep.
Happiness rating: 35.35
Louisiana ranks last in the Work Environment category, and it ranks third worst in the Community & Environment category. What makes its residents so sad? The Pelican State has a low rate of sports participation, but people work a lot. It has one of the lowest volunteer rates and one of the highest divorce rates. It’s also not known for being a safe place to live. Unfortunately, this all sounds like a recipe for unhappiness.
Happiness rating: 34.97
Oklahoma really struggles with its Emotional & Physical Well-Being, but it improved two spots from last year when it ranked last in this category. It has the third worst sports participation rate and the third worst safety ranking. Its Community & Environment rank was its top-scoring category, but not enough to make it a better place to live. Oklahoma is our second most unhappy state.
1. West Virginia
Happiness rating: 34.89
Despite ranking No. 31 for Community & Environment, poor ratings in the other categories deemed West Virginia the unhappiest state in the nation. High rates of depression really hurt the Mountain State’s Work Environment score; it ranks as the third worst.
Of course, having a statewide low ranking doesn’t mean all individuals are automatically unhappy — or should view this as a concern automatically. “Based on my extensive research, I would say that intentional positivity is the key to a happy life,” Carolyn M. Youssef-Morgan, Redding Chair of Business at Bellevue University, told WalletHub. “The intentional piece about this is that positivity is a choice,” she added, explaining that roughly 40% of our happiness is determined by our own ability to consciously choose contentment. While factors like personality, family income, and where you live are at play, learned traits like effective goal-setting and intentionally acting more positively can also affect overall happiness.
Erika Rawes also contributed to this report.
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