Previous research has found that economic security along with emotional stability, good health and strong social ties are all major contributors to one’s happiness, according to WalletHub, which recently ranked each state in 31 metrics across these four areas.
Of course, happiness has been elusive to many Americans in 2021, as the nation continues to grapple with the health, social and economic impacts of an ongoing pandemic. To address COVID-19, WalletHub examined each state’s COVID-19 positivity rate as well as related factors, including physical health, unemployment, job security and mental illness.
In 2021, WalletHub found that the general population is happiest in Utah, Minnesota and Hawaii, and least happy in West Virginia, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The happiest states in 2021
Below is each state’s WalletHub ranking for happiness in 2021, 1 being happiest and 50 being least happy.
5. North Dakota
6. South Dakota
9. New Jersey
18. New York
19. New Hampshire
21. Rhode Island
28. North Carolina
36. South Carolina
41. New Mexico
50. West Virginia
- New Jersey and Hawaii have the lowest rates of adult depression, while depression rates are highest in West Virginia and Kentucky.
- People work the fewest hours, on average, in Utah and Oregon, and they work the longest hours in Alaska and North Dakota.
- Utah and North Dakota have the lowest divorce rates, while Nevada and New Mexico have the highest.
- The suicide rate is lowest in New Jersey and New York, and highest in Wyoming and Alaska.
- Minnesota and South Dakota ranked the highest for adequate sleep, while Hawaii and West Virginia ranked the lowest.
Location is just one factor that can influence happiness, notes Max E. Butterfield, PhD, psychology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, in the report.
“It is fun to dream of living in our favorite places, but many people find themselves trying to balance competing realities like cost of living, limited local career opportunities and family and relationship considerations,” he says. “If you do not end up moving to your dream destination, that is OK! Surveys show there are happy people in every location!”
When asked about the long-term effects of the pandemic on happiness, Lorraine Besser, PhD, philosophy professor at Middlebury College, said in the report that the past year and a half taught many of us about the importance of having close relationships, and about the dangers of social isolation.
“We should all take steps to ensure we have close contacts, and that these relationships are positive and fulfilling ones,” she said. “But to thrive we need more than our close contacts. I worry about the long-term effect of social distancing, wherein we must train ourselves to move away from people, and of mask-wearing, which inhibit the empathetic connections made through our facial expressions.”
We must strive to connect with others in ways that are less physical but still meaningful and fulfilling, she noted.