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Survey Reveals the Nation's Happiest States

Well-Being Index Rates the Emotional and Physical Health of Americans

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

March 8, 2011 -- People in Hawaii apparently feel they have a lot to laugh and smile about. That state ranks highest in the country in a rating of emotional health, helping it achieve the top rating for overall well-being in the U.S., according to a new survey.

Hawaii scored highest in three of six sub-indexes that make up the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index: emotional health, which includes smiling, happiness, and laughter; life evaluation, or an expectation of good times for the next five years; and physical health, which includes daily energy and feeling well-rested.

West Virginia came in dead last based on scores on the same three sub-indexes.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, along with West Virginia, made up the states with the lowest well-being scores.

Nevada, which is influenced by economic hard times, is the only state in the West in the same low range.

In the survey, a score of 100 represents an ideal condition of well-being. For the nation as a whole, the score was far below that ideal -- 66.8.

States With Highest and Lowest Scores

The top states in the Well-Being Index, and their scores, are:

  • Hawaii 71
  • Wyoming 69.2
  • North Dakota 68.4
  • Alaska 68.3
  • Colorado 68
  • Minnesota 68
  • South Dakota 68
  • Utah 67.9
  • Connecticut 67.9
  • Nebraska 67.8
  • Massachusetts 67.8

The states with the lowest scores are:

  • Michigan 64.6
  • Louisiana 64.3
  • Delaware 64.2
  • Nevada 64.2
  • Ohio 63.8
  • Alabama 63.7
  • Arkansas 63.7
  • Mississippi 63
  • Kentucky 61.9
  • West Virginia 61.7

Calculating Well-Being Scores

Categories that make up the overall index include life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and basic access. Gallup-Healthways says interviews were conducted in 2010 with a random sample of 352,840 adults living in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C.

The questions were wide ranging. For emotional health, for instance, questions were asked about laughter frequency, whether respondents were treated with respect, and whether they reported such things as sadness, anger, stress, and depression.

To arrive at a life evaluation score, people were asked about their current life situations and their expectations for the next five years.

For other categories people were asked about health problems, days taken off from work due to illness, whether they smoked or ate fruits and vegetables, and whether they had access to adequate medical care.

Money Problems Affect Well-Being Scores

According to the survey, residents of Delaware report the worst working environments in the nation, while those in South Dakota are most positive about the places they earn money.

Vermont has the best overall health habits in the nation and Kentucky has the worst.

Residents of Massachusetts have the best access to crucial necessities, such as clean water, medicine, food, and shelter, while Mississippi had the worst.

The researchers who put together the questions and tabulated the answers say improving well-being scores will be a challenge because many states have fiscal problems, which causes the closing of public schools, layoffs, and cuts in the number of workers and public services.

"Although money is tight, finding ways to increase residents' access to good jobs and to basic necessities -- including medical care in particular -- and decrease costly, chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes, will be the most likely means to improve well-being," the researchers write. "At a time when state and local governments are challenged with being able to provide basic services, business leaders may be able to step in and play an important role in increasing well-being in their communities, which is good for business, as higher well-being means lower healthcare costs and greater economic growth."

State-by-State Well-Being Scores

Here is a list of all the states based on overall well-being scores:

  • Hawaii 71
  • Wyoming 69.2
  • North Dakota 68.4
  • Alaska 68.3
  • Colorado 68
  • Minnesota 68
  • South Dakota 68
  • Utah 67.9
  • Connecticut 67.9
  • Nebraska 67.8
  • Massachusetts 67.8
  • Maryland 67.5
  • Washington 67.5
  • Montana 67.3
  • Kansas 67.2
  • New Hampshire 67.2
  • Vermont 67.1
  • California 67
  • Iowa 66.9
  • Idaho 66.9
  • New Mexico 66.7
  • Virginia 66.7
  • Wisconsin 66.7
  • New Jersey 66.6
  • Maine 66.4
  • Illinois 66.3
  • Oregon 66.3
  • Texas 66.3
  • Arizona 66.2
  • Pennsylvania 66.1
  • Georgia 66.1
  • New York 65.9
  • Rhode Island 65.7
  • Missouri 65.6
  • South Carolina 65.3
  • North Carolina 65.1
  • Florida 65.1
  • Oklahoma 64.9
  • Indiana 64.8
  • Tennessee 64.8
  • Michigan 64.6
  • Louisiana 64.3
  • Delaware 64.2
  • Nevada 64.2
  • Ohio 63.8
  • Alabama 63.7
  • Arkansas 63.7
  • Mississippi 63.0
  • Kentucky 61.9
  • West Virginia 61.7

SOURCES: News release, 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

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