Boulder, Colo. may overtake Disneyland as the “Happiest Place on Earth” – at least in the United States. A groundbreaking study ranks U.S. cities according to their residents’ well-being, and Boulder is at the top of the list.
Sacramento is in the top third, ranking higher than other California cities such as Bakersfield and Modesto. Finishing last is Huntington, West Virginia.
The west coast did better in general than any other part of the country. The top 10 cities include four in California: Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, San Jose and Oxnard. There are also two in Utah, one in Colorado and one in Hawaii. Of the top 10, the Holland, Mich., and Washington, D.C., metro areas are located in the eastern or central time zones.
The study, conducted by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, is based on more than 350,000 surveys completed in 2009. Over 725,000 surveys have been collected since polling began in Jan. 2008.
“This is the largest survey of health and well-being ever undertaken in terms of scope and breadth,” said Todd Hastings, representative for Healthways. “Many surveys you see in the news are based on only about 3,000-5,000 responses.”
The survey questions were put together by leading experts in health, well-being and economics. They addressed various aspects of people’s lives, including professional and personal happiness and physical fitness.
“This survey is very comprehensive,” Hastings said. “We took into account things like physical, emotional, social and financial health. Well-being isn’t just about ‘happiness.'”
Nancy Miller, a Sacramento resident for 23 years and a family and marriage counselor, believes there are many factors that contribute to a person’s well-being.
“The thing I find interesting is how very differently people measure their happiness,” Miller said. “There doesn’t seem to me to be a universal single thing. For many it’s about deep, warm interpersonal connections; for others it’s about career and sense of contribution to society and the world; for some it’s about weather.”
It is somewhat unclear why some cities did better than others. For example, Holland, Mich., known for its bad weather and economic struggles, is second on the list. A major factor in a city’s rank, however, was the healthy behavior of residents. Sacramento ranked 59th out of 162 large and medium-sized cities for healthy behavior.
“Higher healthy behavior scores usually meant higher emotional health scores,” Hastings said.
The index, in addition to forming an accurate picture of the country’s well-being, aims to provide a basis for lawmakers to address areas needing change.
“If we truly want to make progress with healthcare in this nation – to promote a healthier and longer-lived citizenry, bring down costs and make our businesses more competitive – it’s imperative that we broaden the scope of the discussion beyond the quality of medical outcomes and the number of uninsured,” said Healthways Chief Executive Officer Ben R. Leedle, Jr. in a press release.
The Well-Being Index will continue to conduct surveys in the U.S. for the next 25 years and will ultimately generate more than 9 million responses.
“For most people, ‘health’ means the absence of disease or injury,” Hastings said. “We’re trying to change that argument.”
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at email@example.com.