The Happiest States in the U.S.
If you’re looking for happiness, it helps to know that some states are better than others at creating opportunities for feeling fulfilled.
WalletHub recently ranked all 50 states by their level of happiness, drawing from happiness research to identify factors that help people find their bliss. The study analyzed 32 key metrics that can be narrowed down into three categories: emotional and physical well-being, work environment and community environment.
So, what are the happiest states in the U.S.? Keep reading to find out which ones are worth a visit — or even a move to in the future.
Emotional and physical well-being: 19*
Work environment: 20
Community and environment: 32
Total score: 53.47
*Rankings and scores are based on Wallethub’s Happiest States in America report. Metrics denote the state’s ranking for each category.
What Makes Arizona So Happy
Yes, Arizona may be a little too hot for comfort, but it makes up for the extreme heat by offering absolutely incredible nature experiences.
The state boasts 24 national sites, including three national parks: Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park and Saguaro National Park. It also has other notable natural wonders like Horseshoe Bend, the Wave and Monument Valley. Being out in nature has been proven to have a positive effect on mental and physical health as well as foster community and environment.
The state is also home to some of the best small towns in the U.S. like Sedona, where artists and hippie-chic bohemians congregate. A strong Native American culture and community as well as a large immigrant population contribute to making certain parts of the state diverse, which is always a big plus.
Emotional and physical well-being: 29
Work environment: 25
Community and environment: 5
Total score: 53.67
What Makes Nevada So Happy
While we want to make jokes about Las Vegas guaranteeing some form of happiness, Nevada actually has much more to offer than casinos and other hedonistic pleasures.
Of course, if you want to have fun, you know where to go. But the state also offers opportunities for introspection and community. All you have to do is step off the Strip and into the surrounding desert.
Nevada ranks fifth in terms of community and environment, which makes sense given that it’s home to diverse places like Lake Tahoe, Valley of Fire and the Spring Mountains. Besides, the state has a relatively low cost of living and no shortage of job opportunities, which is always a good combination for well-being.
Emotional and physical well-being: 23
Work environment: 27
Community and environment: 19
Total score: 54.32
What Makes Wisconsin So Happy
When a place’s biggest claim to fame is cheese, you know it’s somewhere you’d want to live.
Sure, the state may be too cold for comfort in the winters, but it is known for its affordability and hospitality. It is also considered one of the best places to raise a family.
In terms of community and environment, Wisconsin residents enjoy the great outdoors with access to both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. This also makes it a perfect place to enjoy fishing.
17. New York
Emotional and physical well-being: 6
Work environment: 44
Community and environment: 45
Total score: 54.86
What Makes New York So Happy
If you are to believe the Schuyler sister in “Hamilton,” New York is the greatest city in the world. Even if you don’t agree with this, it’s certainly one of the most exciting places to be, as an epicenter for fashion, art and food. The city is also incredibly diverse and overall very accepting.
Step outside of the Big Apple, and you’ll find yourself in a state where nature thrives. You can enjoy tranquil small beach towns, hike the Adirondack mountains or enjoy summer in the Catskills.
New York ranks very high in terms of emotional well-being, coming in as third in lowest share of adult depression.
Emotional and physical well-being: 20
Work environment: 24
Community and environment: 6
Total score: 55.59
What Makes Vermont So Happy
This northeastern state happens to be the second safest state in the country, which plays a huge role in the happiness of its residents.
Vermont also ranks high in community and environment, which makes sense given that it is mostly made up of tight-knit communities and is surrounded by gorgeous forests. Its capital, Montpelier, is the least populated state capital in the country, with only 7,477 people living permanently in it.
If you’re looking for somewhere quiet and peaceful where nature is never too far away, Vermont is where you want to be.
Emotional and physical well-being: 27
Work environment: 7
Community and environment: 18
Total score: 55.6
What Makes Washington So Happy
Gorgeous Washington has the perfect combination of city life and nature, especially for those lucky enough to live in Seattle.
Because of the numerous companies that have headquarters in the state, Washington has the second highest income growth in the nation. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly free up time to pursue it.
The state’s large coastline and its mountainous terrain make it perfect for outdoor pursuits, which helps explain why it also has the second highest sports participation rate. In short, people in Washington state are active, and their wealth is increasing. Sounds like a recipe for happiness.
Emotional and physical well-being: 11
Work environment: 21
Community and environment: 33
Total score: 56.27
What Makes Virginia So Happy
Virginia is for lovers and, apparently, for happy people. The state boasts closeness to the nation’s capital, which always ensures that certain areas are in demand, have a diverse population and a robust economy.
Having free museums and cultural institutions nearby certainly helps in terms of intellectual fulfillment. Outside of the city, there are also several places to enjoy nature, the most obvious of which is the astonishing Shenandoah National Park, where you’ll run into people hiking the Appalachian trail.
There are also several vineyards and beach towns, so you truly have a good pick of places to live or visit.
Emotional and physical well-being: 8
Work environment: 12
Community and environment: 43
Total score: 57.30
What Makes Massachusetts So Happy
Massachusetts is a state that has many reasons to be proud. To begin with, it is home to some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the entire world, including Harvard University and MIT. These institutions bring in top talent and make the state a center of innovation, which explains why it scored so well in terms of work environment.
The state also ranked highly in emotional and physical well-being, which is no surprise given the amount of perfect little small towns along Cape Cod, where you can get fresh seafood and see numerous species of whales in migration.
12. South Dakota
Emotional and physical well-being: 22
Work environment: 10
Community and environment: 4
Total score: 58.53
What Makes South Dakota So Happy
You may be surprised to find South Dakota on this list, given the misconception that the state has nothing interesting.
While it’s true that there are no big, cosmopolitan cities here, what South Dakota lacks in city noise, it has in astonishing natural beauty. Badlands National Park is the most well-known and was featured in the Oscar-winning film, “Nomadland.”
South Dakota also ranks very high in community and environment as well as working conditions.
Emotional and physical well-being: 9
Work environment: 8
Community and environment: 36
Total score: 59.06
What Makes Nebraska So Happy
Places with higher incomes tend to also have higher cost of living, but Nebraska has the opposite. While income is high, the cost of living has remained fairly low, making it easier for people to save, pursue fulfilling hobbies and generally not have to spend as much time worrying about putting food on the table.
The job market is also growing, which is a good sign for residents and a signal for people looking to enjoy the beauty of the Great Plains and a quieter way of life that it may be time to make the move.
Emotional and physical well-being: 5
Work environment: 18
Community and environment: 37
Total score: 59.23
What Makes Connecticut So Happy
Unlike Nebraska, Connecticut has a high cost of living. Its residents don’t seem to mind too much, though, given that they have a high quality of life to match it.
The state has a low unemployment and poverty rate, which are good signs that its residents are able to meet their basic needs and then some. It also has a high life expectancy, which makes sense given its positive economic factors.
It doesn’t hurt that Connecticut is home to Yale University and that it has a long, beautiful coastline dotted with charming small towns either.
Emotional and physical well-being: 34
Work environment: 2
Community and environment: 2
Total score: 59.58
What Makes Idaho So Happy
An often ignored state, Idaho ranked extremely high for work environment and community, coming in second for both factors. Having fulfilling work and a strong social network make work-life balance easier to achieve. That’s something we wish all states had!
However, Idaho doesn’t rank too well in terms of emotional and physical well-being. Otherwise, it would have had a higher place on the ranking.
Emotional and physical well-being: 15
Work environment: 6
Community and environment: 11
Total score: 59.56
What Makes Iowa So Happy
Another state that is highly underrated, Iowa is actually the No. 1 most affordable state in the country. This alone makes it a great place to live, but you can add to it that the state has low crime and high education. Combined, these factors also mean that the state is rife with economic opportunity.
If you love gigantic cities, then you may want to cross Iowa off your list, but if you’re looking to settle somewhere smaller where the community is strong, you’d be amiss to ignore Iowa.
7. North Dakota
Emotional and physical well-being: 18
Work environment: 3
Community and environment: 7
Total score: 60.02
What Makes North Dakota So Happy
North Dakota’s surprisingly strong ranking is mostly due to its work environment. The state has the lowest unemployment rate, something that residents are no doubt very happy about. The tech industry has been eyeing this northern state, which may bring even more economic opportunity to the area.
It also ranks fairly high in community and environment, due to the fact that it is mostly made up of compact communities where everyone knows each other and offers support.
That said, people in North Dakota work more hours than almost anywhere else in the country. While this is great money-wise, it’s not as good for a balanced lifestyle.
Emotional and physical well-being: 7
Work environment: 18
Community and environment: 13
Total score: 61.14
What Makes California So Happy
Do we even need to explain this? California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S., boasting a grand total of nine national parks — the most of any state!
You can find anything you want in California, from large cities to vineyards to snow peaks to beaches and some of the tallests forests in the world. There are also plenty of economic opportunities, with Los Angeles dominating the entertainment industry and San Francisco leading in the tech world.
If the state doesn’t rank higher it’s because it is also very expensive, which makes it difficult for many residents to meet even their most basic needs.
Emotional and physical well-being: 3
Work environment: 33
Community and environment: 9
Total score: 61.78
What Makes Maryland So Happy
Like Virginia, Maryland has many suburbs around D.C., making it a prime location for recession-proof economic activity and a strong real estate market. It’s no surprise that the state has one of the strongest economies in the country, which residents love.
Besides that, it is also home to Baltimore, another of the nation’s most important cities. It has several beaches, provides access to the Appalachian trail and boasts several delicious crab dishes.
4. New Jersey
Emotional and physical well-being: 1
Work environment: 30
Community and environment: 22
Total score: 64.10
What Makes New Jersey So Happy
When people visit your state for vacation, you know you’re winning. Its secret may be in its Jersey Shore, which has towns known for their wild party scenes as well as towns known for their hidden quiet beaches.
New Jersey also enjoys proximity to New York City, leaving many people to profit from the city’s job market and entertainment without having to pay ridiculous rent or dealing with the noise and air pollution.
Whatever the reason is, New Jersey is doing a great job at taking care of its people, ranking first for emotional and physical well-being. Part of its high score has to do with the fact that it has the lowest share of adult depression and the lowest suicide rate out of all states.
Emotional and physical well-being: 4
Work environment: 4
Community and environment: 10
Total score: 65.87
What Makes Minnesota So Happy
Sleep is important for emotional and physical well-being, and Minnesotans get the most adequate sleep. This is probably the biggest factor in their general friendliness and happy demeanor.
Other things that help Minnesota’s ranking are its affordability and its access to nature, with shores on both Lake Superior and Lake Minnesota.
Emotional and physical well-being: 14
Work environment: 1
Community and environment: 1
Total score: 69.42
What Makes Utah So Happy
Utah is mostly known for two things: Mormons and national parks. It may then come as somewhat of a surprise to see it rank as the second happiest state in America.
However, the state’s sheer beauty and sense of community place it at No. 1 for community and environment. In fact, residents of Utah volunteer more than people in any other state, implying that they care a lot about giving back. Add to that the lowest divorce rate, and you can see the state highly values personal relationships.
Utah also earns the No.1 spot for work environment, with the fewest work hours in the nation. This means that people actually have time to explore and enjoy their state’s breathtaking landscapes, which include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Arches National Park.
Emotional and physical well-being: 2
Work environment: 16
Community and environment: 3
Total score: 69.58
What Makes Hawaii So Happy
We’re willing to bet that no one is surprised that Hawaii is the happiest state in the U.S. After all, the gorgeous state is unmatched in terms of natural beauty and is known for its welcoming and friendly native culture.
Hawaiians place high importance on family and relationships, which may be the reason that they enjoy the second lowest share of adult depression. They are also known to be active, with surfing culture being strongly rooted in their ancestral practices and with almost endless opportunities for hiking.
Work environment isn’t as good as one would hope, but the state still manages to come in first in the whole nation.