America’s Most Content (and Miserable) States

by | February 28, 2014 at 12:24 PM | General

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The well-being of Americans hasn’t improved in the past six years, and it even declined slightly in 2013, according to a recent Gallup study. While national figures remained flat overall, the ranks of the states with the highest well-being scores changed considerably. North Dakota topped the well-being list in 2013 after failing to crack the top 10 in 2012. Hawaii, 2012’s top state, fell to number eight in 2013. West Virginia, on the other hand, remained at the bottom of the list for the fifth consecutive year.

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The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which interviewed more than 176,000 people from all 50 states last year, measures the physical and emotional health of Americans across the country. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the more than 50 metrics comprising the six broad categories Gallup used to identify well-being.

To read the full 24/7 Wall St. report, click here.

These are America’s most content (and miserable) states:

America’s Most Content States

5. Montana

  • Well-being index score: 69.3
  • Life expectancy: 78.5 years (21st lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 19.6% (the lowest)
  • Median household income: $45,076 (12th lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 92.8% (the highest)

Economic confidence in Montana was exceptionally bad in 2013, among the 10 worst states. Despite that, residents gave high ratings to their work environment. Nearly 94% of adults said they were satisfied with their job, the highest percentage nationally. This was likely due, in part, to feeling fully utilized at work — 89% of respondents said they used their strengths during the work day, more than all but one other state. Montana residents also practiced healthy behavior more than residents of most other states. A majority of the population reported healthy eating habits, weekly exercise routines, and lower than average smoking rate in 2013. Montana residents were also the least likely to be obese last year.

4. Minnesota

  • Well-being index score: 69.7
  • Life expectancy: 81.1 years (2nd highest)
  • Pct. obese: 22.0% (4th lowest)
  • Median household income: $58,906 (9th highest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 92.5% (2nd highest)

Minnesotans reported exceptional physical health in 2013. More than 81% of respondents were able to partake in age-appropriate activities, tied for the highest percentage in the U.S. Residents were also among the least likely Americans to report being obese. No state had fewer heart disease-related deaths per 100,000 residents than Minnesota in 2010. People surveyed in the state were also exceptionally likely to report having basic access to critical necessities, including medicine, and fruits and vegetable. Residents, were also among the most likely Americans to report they had adequate money for food, shelter, and health care. Minnesota’s median income of $58,906 in 2012 was one of the highest in the U.S. Also, 92.5% of adults 25 and over had a high school diploma — among the best in the nation. The state’s economy, too, grew at a rapid 3.5% clip in 2012, greatly outpacing the nation as a whole.

3. Nebraska

  • Well-being index score: 69.7
  • Life expectancy: 79.8 years (15th highest)
  • Pct. obese: 27.1% (25th highest)
  • Median household income: $50,723 (25th highest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 90.5% (tied-13th highest)

Nebraska had some of the nation’s highest scores for both emotional and physical health. Residents were among the least likely to be depressed last year, trailing only North Dakota and New Jersey. More than 81% of residents did not have any health problems preventing them from age-appropriate activities, tied with Minnesota for the best nationwide in 2013. One factor improving Nebraskans’ well-being was likely their high quality living conditions. More residents were satisfied with their city than those in any other state, and most believed their city was improving overall. People in Nebraska were more confident about the future of the U.S. economy than residents of nearly all other states.

2. South Dakota

  • Well-being index score: 70.0
  • Life expectancy: 79.5 years (tied-18th highest) 
  • Pct. obese: 28.3% (17th highest)
  • Median household income: $48,362 (22nd lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 90.5% (tied-13th highest)

Respondents from South Dakota were among the most likely people in the U.S. to report good emotional health. More than 86% of those surveyed reported smiling or laughing within the past 24 hours, second-highest in the U.S. Meanwhile, 90% reported enjoying a large portion of their day, and more than 93% felt happy during the previous 24 hours, both more than any other state. The state’s 3.6% unemployment rate in December tied for the second lowest in the U.S. Not only did much of the workforce have a job, but also people in the state were more likely to enjoy their work environment than residents of any other state except for neighboring North Dakota.

1. North Dakota

  • Well-being index score: 70.0
  • Life expectancy: 79.5 years (tied-18th highest)
  • Pct. obese: 26.0% (24th lowest)
  • Median household income: $53,585 (19th highest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 91.7% (tied-5th highest)

Due in large part to profitable oil discoveries in the region, North Dakota’s economy grew by more than 13% in 2012, by far the fastest growth nationwide. The state’s unemployment rate has also been very low in recent years, clocking in at 2.6% in December compared with 6.7% nationally. With such low unemployment, it’s perhaps not surprising that economic confidence levels in the state were among the highest 10 in the country. More than nine in 10 adults were satisfied with their jobs in 2013, one of several reasons the state’s residents rated their work environment best in the nation. Supervisors in the state were more likely to treat their subordinates as partners than in any other state. With good wages and plenty of jobs, the vast majority of residents had enough money for adequate shelter, food, and medicine. The proportion of respondents that were satisfied with their city and believed it was improving, however, was less than the national average.

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America’s Most Miserable States

5. Ohio

  • Well-being index score: 64.2
  • Life expectancy: 77.8 years (13th lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 30.9% (8th highest)
  • Median household income: $46,829 (17th lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 88.8% (25th highest)

Despite its low well-being score, Ohio stands out from other low ranking states because it doesn’t exhibit many of the elements often present in those states. For one, Ohio’s median household income of $46,829 in 2012 was higher than most states with low well-being scores. Similarly, its residents had better access to basic needs than residents of other low well-being states. However, residents generally had low evaluations of their lives, trailing only West Virginia and Kentucky by that measure. Just 49.3% of respondents stated they were thriving in their lives last year, one of the lowest proportions in the nation. Relatively few respondents indicated they had a learning experience within the previous 24 hours, and residents were among the most likely in the U.S. to have felt angry that day. This contributed to Ohio’s low ranking for emotional health.

4. Alabama

  • Well-being index score: 64.1
  • Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 28.1% (tied-20th highest)
  • Median household income: $41,574 (4th lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 84.0% (6th lowest)

The median household income in Alabama of just $41,574 in 2012 was fourth lowest in the nation. The relatively low income of many state residents may have made it difficult for them to access basic necessities. Relatively few Alabama residents said they had enough money to afford medicine, food, or adequate shelter. Alabama residents also had among the worst physical health in the nation. High blood pressure and diabetes in particular were much more common in Alabama than in most other states. Also, there were 236 deaths per 100,000 people due to heart disease, the second-most nationwide.

3. Mississippi

  • Well-being index score: 63.7
  • Life expectancy: 75.0 years (the lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 35.4% (the highest)
  • Median household income: $37,095 (the lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 82.3% (3rd lowest)

Nowhere else in the U.S. did people feel as negative about their work environment as in Mississippi. But this was just one of the problems facing state residents. Respondents were among the most likely in the nation to lack access to basic necessities. More than a quarter of people surveyed in the state indicated they did not have money for food at some point in the previous 12 months, while nearly as many lacked money for health care. By a number of measures, the state was one of the absolute poorest in the nation. The median income in Mississippi was just $37,095 in 2012, lowest in the U.S. Also, 24.2% of people lived below the poverty line, more than in any other state. With limited access to basic needs and poor healthy behaviors, the state was among the worst in the nation in physical health assessments. Last year, no state had a higher obesity rate than Mississippi. In 2010, no state had a higher rate of death from heart disease or a lower life expectancy at birth than Mississippi.

2. Kentucky

  • Well-being index score: 63.0
  • Life expectancy: 76.0 years (tied-6th lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 30.6% (9th highest)
  • Median household income: $41,724 (5th lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 83.8% (5th lowest)

Kentuckians had some of the most unhealthy behaviors last year. Less than 60% of those surveyed said they ate well all day, the worst among all states, while the smoking rate was the highest in the nation. Unhealthy habits in the state likely contributed to poor physical health. Respondents from Kentucky were among the most likely to complain about lack of energy and sleep, and nearly 30% said health issues prevented them from going about their normal lives. The state’s population was the nation’s most reliant on prescription drugs, with 19.3 prescriptions filled per capita in 2011, tied with West Virginia.

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1. West Virginia

  • Well-being index score: 61.4
  • Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd lowest)
  • Pct. obese: 34.4% (2nd highest)
  • Median household income: $40,196 (3rd lowest)
  • Pct. with high school diploma: 84.5% (8th lowest)

No Americans had as negative an outlook about their future as West Virginians, who rated their projected life in five years the lowest. Additionally, just 44.8% of residents described themselves as thriving, the lowest in the nation. West Virginia also had the lowest score for overall emotional health, ranking either the lowest or second-lowest in nearly all of the indicators considered by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Unsurprisingly, residents had less confidence about the future of the U.S. economy than those anywhere else in the nation. Outside of attitudes, West Virginians were also the least physically healthy respondents in the nation. The state had the highest rates of both high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the second highest obesity rate. It also had the highest rate of respondents unable to partake in age-appropriate activities.

To see the full list of the most content (and most miserable) states, visit 24/7 Wall St. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.