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What Are the Happiest States in the US?

sunrise on a beach
Sunny beaches do seem to make for a cheery atmosphere, with Hawaii snagging the top well-being spot again in a yearly poll. (Image credit: © Cjwhitewine |

Hawaii continues to hold on to its ranking as the happiest place to live, according to results of a new Gallup poll, which also showed that you don't need the warm sun to put a smile on your face.

The results are preliminary for 2011, with the year's complete rankings for U.S. states by Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index expected to come out early next year.

The well-being Index score is an average of six factors, including included life evaluation (self-evaluation about your present life situation and anticipated one in five years); emotional health; work environment (such as job satisfaction); physical health; healthy behavior; and basic access (access to health care, a doctor, a safe place to exercise and walk, as well as community satisfaction). [See last year's results for happiest states]

The results, which were collected between January and June 2011, from surveys of 177,000 Americans ages 18 and older, are calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where a score of 100 would represent ideal well-being. States' scores varied by a range of 8.7 points.

"Top 10" States (3 states tied and so are included in the top 10):

  • Hawaii: 71.1
  • North Dakota: 70.5
  • Alaska: 69.4
  • Nebraska: 68.4
  • Minnesota: 68.3
  • Colorado: 68.3
  • Utah: 68.1
  • New Hampshire: 67.9
  • Iowa: 67.9
  • Kansas: 67.8
  • Vermont: 67.8
  • Maryland: 67.8

Check out the complete list of the 50 happiest states.

Following past years' results, the southern states showed low rankings overall, with eight of the bottom 11 states taken by the South. Living in the West, in contrast, seemed to make for a cheerier life, with four of the top seven states — Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado and Utah — located in that U.S. region.

North Dakota gets the award for most improved, moving up in well-being scores proportionally more than any other state, from 68.4 last year to this year's 70.5. Wyoming took the biggest plunge, dropping from last year's 69.2 to 66.5 on the well-being index. (Gallup notes Wyoming has a relatively small sample size at the midway point of the year and so a larger margin of error.)

Though Hawaii got the highest overall score for well-being, it didn't top every category. For instance, Alaska scored highest in life evaluation; North Dakota for work environment; Vermont for healthy behavior; and Massachusetts snagged the No. 1 spot for basic access.

At the bottom, West Virginia fared worst on life evaluation and physical health, two areas in which the state's residents have seriously struggled since the launch of the Well-Being Index in 2008, according to Gallup officials. Kentucky took the bottom spot for emotional health, while Mississippi is again at the bottom on basic access, as it has been in three previous years. Louisiana has the lowest work environment score so far in 2011, replacing Delaware for the first time since 2009 in that bottom spot. Oklahomans showed the unhealthiest behaviors.

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Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.