Hawaii is the second happiest U.S. state, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Science. More interestingly, the researchers say that a community’s perception of its level of happiness seems to correlate with mostly objective measures of quality of life.
“We wanted to study whether people’s feelings of satisfaction with their own lives are reliable, that is, whether they match up to reality — of sunshine hours, congestion, air quality, etc — in their own state,” professor and lead author Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick said in a statement. “And they do match.”
Using a random sample of 1.3 million Americans spread across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the study looked at people’s self-declared levels of happiness. The top five states ranked by happiness were:
And the bottom five were:
49. New Jersey
51. New York
The list correlated strongly to a 2003 study focused on factors that would conceivably provide for a happy life, including climate, the amount of public land and national parks, education, taxes, commute times, crime, and the cost of living.
“When human beings give you an answer on a numerical scale about how satisfied they are with their lives, it is best to pay attention,” Oswald concludes. “Their answers are reliable.”
Oswald concedes that there are some unexpected results, such as Louisiana ranking first despite the widespread impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since much of the data came from before the disaster, he said the rankings of the other states were probably more reliable.