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Here’s Where Older Americans Are Happiest

'Well-being' is measured in several ways to determine the No. 1 state

By Shayla Thiel Stern

According to the the annual Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being, older Americans are happiest in Hawaii.

Well, of course they are.

Happiest State
Credit: Washington Post

Approximately 98 percent of you probably had the same reaction that I did when seeing the Gallup study results, which you can view in their entirety here. How could you live in paradise and feel anything but happy?

However, scanning the rest of the Top 10 states left the social scientist in me a little bit perplexed.

Arizona? Sure. It’s a top retirement destination. Colorado? A lot of people head for the mountains when they want to find happiness. But how did both Dakotas make it? Frigid New Hampshire, Minnesota (my current home state) and Iowa (my childhood home state)? And what on earth can account for Wisconsin? (That’s a joke, Badger friends. Wisconsin is wonderful.)

It turns out that location is only part of the equation for a person’s sense of well-being.

How Happiness Was Measured

The annual survey, which was taken by 115,000 Americans 55+ over 15 months, indexed people's happiness and well-being through several criteria, including measures like financial stability, sense of purpose, health, community and social well-being. Location plays a large part in whether the other factors are achieved.


Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, told the Washington Post that the top states in the study also tend to be “healthier” states. For example, states with anti-smoking legislation are in the top half of the list. States at the bottom of the list (West Virginia and Kentucky) do not ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars at the state level.

“Where people believe that their well-being is automatically cared about by their leaders, not only do they report a higher level of well-being but their well being continues to go up over time,” Witters said in the Post story.

He noted that respondents in the happiest states also reported “always making time for regular trips and vacations with family and friends, reaching their goals in the last 12 months, using their strengths and aptitudes as a human being,”

The Good News for Everyone

Overall, participants in the study were more satisfied with their standard of living than younger counterparts. Additionally, they worry less about money and say they have "enough money to do what they want."

Plus, older Americans reported higher rates of having a personal doctor and health insurance and lower incidence of depression and obesity than younger people.

So the good news is: You are likely to  get happier as you get older. And you don't even need to move to paradise to make that happen.

Shayla Thiel Sternis the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. Read More
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