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The Happiest Regions in the U.S. (priceonomics.com)
49 points by ryan_j_naughton on Aug 16, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

This is really interesting. I think I know the answer. I live in Louisiana and I noticed a majority of residents grew up here, had family that grew up here, and have kids that are all growing up here and everyone knows each other, all their kids know each other,and there's very strong community values and regional pride.

So my theory is that happiness is tied to roots and community more than good economy, good education, good employment prospects, good future for your kids, low crime, and all of the other things LA isn't really strong on.

I would like to see the happiness research compared to migration statistics.

An important corollary is that "the happiness of current residents" may negatively correlated to "the happiness of new migrants" (who won't have the deep family roots).

Therefore, using this research to plan a relocation may be counterproductive.

I left Portland for New Orleans two months ago (I originate from Cleveland) and I couldn't be happier. Without question there is a more cohesive sense of community. People get offended in my neighborhood when I walk past them without saying hello. I barely knew my neighbors in North Portland except when we were banding together to keep tabs on the local heroin dealer ( and that was the most I'd spoken to neighbors compared to the three other places I'd lived in the area) Now only if I could grow royal poinciana here consistently....

My friends in SF (Noe Valley) don't know their neighbors at all and have no plans to change that state of affairs. I find this unconscionable.

Welcome to NOLA! Come for the fun stay for the alcoholism. Just joking. It's a great place...more or less.

You can grow some beautiful Wisteria or Sweet Olive if that would satisfy your green thumb.

Nextdoor.com is trying to bring back that sense of community that you talk about. You should give it a go.

I'm a little jealous of my friends in Louisiana. They have a few acres and have 3 generations of family on it. They live modestly (although not poor) but they're very close and happy.

Don't be. I'll leave for YEARS at a time and return home to Louisiana and everyone is still in the same place, doing the same thing, with the same people. And their kids will be taking their place. It's comforting in a way but hometown roots are also bondage.

I think that's a fair hypotheses. The movement of people in and out of cities results in residents having far few bonds with their fellow human being. I think there is a decent amount of evidence that "connectedness" contributes to happiness.

That's one of the reasons I've started thinking recently that things like churches are useful in principle independent of any spiritual benefit. I've often wondered about the stories I'd occasionally read about agnostics or atheists who attend church on purpose, that hypothesis would go some way to explaining that behavior.

Lots of truth to that. There's a reason many atheists have started holding their own "church" services, on Sundays.


My religious beliefs are . . . in flux, but my wife is a very committed Christian and I've started going to church with her. I have to say its pretty great. A couple of folks volunteer to watch the kids while everyone else listens to a nice service and has lunch. I think from the point of view of children it has some larger socialization benefits. Not just because there is a larger community of people keeping an eye on them, but because it can offer an alternative and potentially friendlier venue for socialization than the somewhat Darwinian environment of school.

> My religious beliefs are . . . in flux

That's.. interesting, I always thought of you as a stern atheist. May I ask you to elaborate how you came to a different position from your past (presumably) atheistic views?

I continue to find it difficult to entertain the invocation of the supernatural. But I've come to appreciate much of the substance of Christianity beyond the metaphysics. In the past, I used to think "Christianity - metaphysics" was just "be a good person secular humanism" but it's quite different.

There's also David Foster Wallace's take on religion, which is that you can take it or leave it, but the alternatives might "eat you alive":


That's a great reading, thanks.

On a separate note -- it really, really, really bothers me that DFW made the decision to commit suicide. I mean, it almost compels me to read what you linked in a way that I should not, on the line that hey - this is what he said and believed - and then he decided to go that way. It makes one question the message, that if I immerse myself in this viewpoint, will I also find myself being pushed in that direction? Or, is the message empty and insincere or really not as profound as it seems, given that he had these insights and still he decided to do what he did?

Meh, sorry that I'm being so negative here. I think it was mainly the free will thread ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8160395 ) that got me depressed (ideas that basically 1) completely kill any notion of the supernatural or deep meaning (in the way that our religious teachings may have impressed upon us; that we ourselves may have held so dear once upon a time) and 2) question the agency of a human's free will; realizing the lack of a free will just takes the joy out of living really... at least for me).

Depression is an illness. If the guy had died of cancer, would you be reading so much into his decision to "let himself go"?

(I confess I find this turn of phrase so repugnant that I can barely bring myself to type it, even inside scare quotes. Its implication is that a person with a proper philosophy, or one whose belief was sufficiently sincere, wouldn't have slacked off to the point that they suffered from a debilitating, painful, often fatal condition that is apparently the number-four cause of disability in the USA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOAgplgTxfc )

Most especially if you read the heartbreaking details of his last year. Nobody informed about the details of what happened to DFW could possibly argue that he had control over it.

Remember most Christians (most anybody in any religion) are just there for the coffee. As my Minister used to say, There are pillars and there are caterpillars. We know who the pillars of our local Church are. The Caterpillars just visit on Sunday; they crawl in and they crawl out.

It seems like that in some cultures people need clear excuses or pretences to be together with other people (atheists going to church looks like a pretense, i.e. the church and faith itself is not interesting, but the congregation is). Then religious people might very well become more sociable and communal than non-religious people, since they have a life-long activity and community to engage with. Would it be crazy to, umm, just drop the pretence and hang out with people? To strike up a conversation with a stranger with which you have apparently no activity, institution or familial bond in common without being looked at like you're a weirdo?

Though I guess human interactions are so complex and subtle that it might be a lost cause to try to drop the pretence, sometimes. But maybe some cultures do this a lot, for all I know.

Certainly some cultures need less pretense, but then being social in public in America (where the things you list simply aren't that weird) is not quite the same as being part of a long-lived communal social group.

Certainly I don't think we've abandoned social groups, but I do think they've been uprooted from the geographic association they once were required to have. Even at university it's quite possible to sit away from people and just stare at your phone or computer screen for hours. Nowadays it seems you practically have to fight to form strong groups that require in-person presence and dedicated time.

Not having lived in such smaller tighter knit communities, some people "don't even know what they are missing" so to speak. In other words, it is a totally alien experience.

The "village" though has its dark side and that is everyone is in everyone's business. That goes directly in the face of American individualism.

There is also "social" and "social". That is "social" in a context of a hobby or a club. Or it is programming club, or samba dancing club, or painting class at the local art centre. One can go to those yet still keep most of their non-group-specific life private. Like for example one might attend the local ham radio club and everyone would know they how many words per minute in morse code one can type but they might not be aware that the person's wife just died and they are about to lose the house and so on.

Churches and tight knit communities with all their downsides sort of force and reveal stuff at that depth and are also able to influence it (for better or for worse).

Does connectedness through social media like facebook, twitter, e-mail or even calling through phones contribute to happiness?

There is bias based on if it is socially acceptable in an area to be unhappy. There are many places where saying you are unhappy is looked down upon or causes people to avoid you.

This study also should have controlled for antidepressant usage.

http://insights.som.yale.edu/sites/default/files/antidep_201... http://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/study-maps-mental-heal...

Can anyone explain how these articles, studies, etc, can infer happiness through people's reports of their own mental states?

It sure seems to me like asking people if they're happy measures what they consider is a culturally acceptable answer to the question, and nothing else.

Thanks. The between figure 2 (the one shown in the article) and figure 3 which is the same map controlled for income is interesting. As a Montanan I take it to mean that we get more happiness for our buck here.

Interesting! It would be neat to line-up the map with the red/blue political map. By first glance it looks like the red states are the happiest.

What is also surprising is that some of the poorer states in the US, LA, GA, AL are some of the happiest states, while the most wealthy, NY (Long Island), CA (around LA) are some of the unhappiest.

The declining mid-west cities makes sense to me.

>What is also surprising is that some of the poorer states in the US, LA, GA, AL are some of the happiest states

Unless I'm reading that map wrong, Alabama was slightly below average. Also Georgia is pretty close to the middle for average income, and once you adjust for cost of living it's even higher.

It's interesting that the difference between Georgia and Alabama is so great, because once you remove metro Atlanta, the weather, culture, income, and cost of living are pretty close. So why does it seem someone living in rural GA is much happier than someone living in rural Alabama? By the way I live in Georgia, but only about 30 minutes from the Alabama line.

Sorry! I don't know my Southern geography apparently, I meant Mississippi, not Alabama.

At the risk of falling into the "All heatmaps end up generally being a reflection of population density heatmap" pitfall, I'd cite the fashionable argument that education is inversely correlated with happiness, coupled with reasonably recent census data http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer to point out that, with some exceptions, there does seem to be similarities. If anyone has information that would support or refute this, I'd be curious, a brief searching didn't turn up anything solid.

>I'd cite the fashionable argument that education is inversely correlated with happiness

That argument doesn't seem to be supported.

The article points out that high school graduates are more satisfied than dropouts. Also up to a point higher income (correlated with higher education) leads to higher satisfaction. A quick google search seems to confirm that education is correlated with life satisfaction [1,2,3].

Furthermore the study mentioned in the article is specifically looking at location differences. They acknowledge that other factors like "income, education level, age, and marital status" matter more, but that there even controlling for those factors there are still differences based on location.

[1] http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/does-education-...

[2] http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2012...

[3] http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/does-educat...

It looks like the happiness map is at county level or higher, where as any useful map/data trying to break education and income apart would use census block group or tract at the largest.

imagine philadelphia county which has some of very highly educated areas such as around the University of Pennsylvania. But the overall education of Philadelphia is quite poor.

im just saying that any attempt to link education with happiness data at the county level is somewhat useless for most of the country.

Colorado has a very high rate of college graduates (third in the county I believe). It's all blue.

I'm not that surprised. Obtaining self-sustainment is more rewarding than being exploited by serving another.

Discontent stems from being exploited, and LA, NY are clear examples of cities and areas where expectation and exploitation go hand in hand.

I consider myself more on the right side of the US political spectrum, but I cringe when I read comments like this from either the left or the right.

Then you should read your own comments and cringe as well as it adds nothing, nor explains your subjective reaction.

A strange selection of colours for the map. Warm, bright colours represent low values and sadness. Cold, blue colours represent high values and happiness. It's the opposite of both heat maps and of semantic colour associations with emotion.

Even accepting most of the "equilibrium" premises, the author misses the temporal trade-off: I suppose a lot of people choose to be unhappy in certain moments of their lives so they can be more happy in others -- it's not a greedy, monotonic response that would lead to the mentioned equilibrium.

What is the frequency that they asked the question and did they weigh their response to heavily? It would be useful if they could count in the variation of how people perceive their lives. If it is based on just a few responses, then this graph would just be a snapshot rather than a general trend indicator.

I'm flabbergasted that only ~6% of Americans are unhappy. Don't something like 30% of Americans have a negative net worth? How can you be satisfied with your life when you literally don't have two pennies to rub together?

That's easy to answer -- people who have money care about money, people who don't, care about something else, like their immediate family, or fishing, or reading mystery novels, activities that cost almost nothing.

The people that annoy me are those who say things like, "Joe Smith is worth a million dollars." Implicit in that sentence is the idea that someone who has no money is worth nothing.

How do you spend time with your family, fish, read mystery novels, or do anything other than study, work, or look for work when you're basically one step away from homelessness?

The answer is obvious -- all you have is time on your hands, and that time is easily filled reading mystery novels at the local lending library while waiting for your welfare check.

> ... when you're basically one step away from homelessness?

American society is so immersed in conventional signs of status that it's possible to shamelessly define people in terms of what they lack. Homeless. Jobless. Degree-less. Car-less. People who live in hotels are homeless, strictly speaking. Many New Yorkers are car-less because there's good public transport. I lived in New York City for about five years in the 1960s and it would never have occurred to me that not having a car made me a second-class person.

In the U.S., the view of rich people as seen by poor people is wildly distorted -- the rich are jetting around, wrecking their exotic cars, throwing wild expensive parties. And the view of poor people as seen by rich people is wildly distorted -- the poor live in cardboard boxes, do drugs, drink cheap wine, and so forth. Both equally inaccurate.

The 2008 financial crisis had a number of causes, but one of them was a federal program to get people into houses they actually couldn't afford. The mortgage meltdown was partly the result of this program that created an artificial scarcity (and price rise) of real estate and a widespread disregard of people's inability to pay their mortgages.

My point? Being homeless isn't the worst thing that could happen to someone.

Because you have a support network, so accumulating treasure matters less.

My extended family had a pretty happy life in NYC when they all lived a few blocks from each other. Proximity, shared community through the church parish and schools all reinforced those bonds. Their friendships extended to their neighbors and some even endure today -- 20-30 years later.

Today, we're all scattered and distance relationships require a lot more work for a lot less benefit.

You can't have a negative net worth unless you have credit so in many ways those with negative net worth are not the poorest and will often tend to have available cash/credit and an income. Many may be graduates with good jobs and prospects but who have not paid off their loans.

In the US, anyway. I would like to see the effects of the better functioning society in Canada and the cultural differences in Mexico on the map as well.

> better functioning society in Canada

I would love if you expanded on this point rather than just throwing it out there. I live in Canada, tell me why my society is better functioning.

We changed the title to say "U.S.".

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