Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
Quote attributed to Aristotle
What is happiness?
Researchers tend to think of it as being satisfied with and having meaning in your life. It is a measure of personal positivity. There are a number of studies that confirm the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness”. In fairness, money is an important enabler of happiness when there is a gap between what you have and what is needed to address your basic needs. But, the studies show the incremental impact of money fades after that point and concepts like connectivity become more important.
Harvard University reported on a 75-year longitudinal study (study started in 1938) looking at different aspects of people’s lives. The big conclusion of the study was to not underestimate the power of love in your life. The study authors claim “Happiness is love. Full stop.”.
In the literature, there are a number of surveys intended to get a handle on how happy people are. These surveys get a lot of media attention when results are published. They all define happiness a little differently so comparing studies is a challenge. As an example, Oxford University has a “happiness questionnaire” designed to generate insights on the subject. There is even a world happiness report that compares countries on the basis of how happy residents are. To address your curiosity, the happiest countries in the 2017 report were Norway, Denmark and Iceland in that order. The U.S. ranked 14th.
Why is everybody so obsessed with happiness?
There are a lot of personal benefits to happiness. But, in economic development it is worth paying attention to some of the business benefits. Here are a couple I found from a Google search:
Happy people are healthier. Studies have linked increased happiness levels to things like fewer incidents of cardiac issues, cancer and age related degeneration. This finding suggests locating a business in a location where residents are generally happy could help keep the cost of health care low and reduce the number of lost employee work days due to illness.
Happiness increases productivity. It helps employees work better together. They worry less about making mistakes and more about fixing problems. They learn faster and make better decisions overall.
Happiness helps establish a sense of purpose at work. Employees feel they are making a difference and are more engaged. It helps them see past the challenges of the day and increases the willingness to persevere.
Of particular importance to this post, is Xavier University has found happiness is actually one of 35 important dimensions found to statistically define the American Dream. The ADCI study defines happiness as satisfaction and contentment with your life.
The American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) is a unique and robust measure of the American Dream. The national study is conducted monthly. Xavier University has provided me a three-year calendar database (2013 – 2015) to conduct secondary analyses on both a state and major MSA level.
For the purposes of this post, I have only provided states and MSAs where residents have a perception for the dimension that is statistically significantly above or below national average.
Note, with all perceptual data the next step (particularly for below national average situations) is to assess whether the perception is based in reality or it is a misunderstanding. This often requires the use of secondary data or supplemental market research to determine the answer. But, knowing the answer is important before action planning because if the low score is due to misperception the solution is education not a new policy or program.
Remember, the data represents how residents in the specific state perceive dimension performance. It is not somebody on the outside offering an opinion. Consequently, even if you do not like the results it is important to understand why your residents perceive dimension performance as they do.
Above National Average
Oregon (index 108)
New Jersey (index 106)
Nevada (index 105)
Arizona (index 105)
Louisiana (index 105)
Minnesota (index 104)
Texas (index 104)
California (index 103)
Washington (index 103)
Below National Average
Virginia (index 97)
Wisconsin (index 97)
Pennsylvania (index 95)
IA (index 93)
RI (index 93)
MA (index 92)
West Virginia (index 92)
New York (index 91)
Above National Average
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA (index 117)
Port St. Lucie, FL (index 111)
Trenton-Ewing, NJ (index 109)
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV (index 108)
Toledo, OH (index 107)
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (index 106)
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (index 105)
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX (index 105)
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR/WA (index 104)
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (index 104)
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN/WI (index104)
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (index 104)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA (index 103)
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL/IN/WI (index 102)
Below National Average
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY/NJ/PA (index 98)
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI/MA (index 94)
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY (index 94)
Denver-Aurora, CO (index 94)
Boise City-Nampa, ID (index 92)
Knoxville, TN (index 92)
Rochester, NY (index 92)
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA/NH (index 91)
Pittsburgh, PA (index 91)
Worchester, MA (index 91)
Syracuse, NY (index 90)
Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY (index 90)
Fresno, CA (index 90)
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY (index 88)
If you are looking to live in a state where you can have confidence you might enjoy happiness in your life, then you could check out one of the states (or MSAs) from the above national average list.
If you are a business owner or CEO trying to decide between site locations in multiple states (or MSAs), you know how important it is to have happy employees. You might want to factor these data into your consideration.
If you are an elected official (particularly Governor or Mayor) or economic development professional from a state or MSA on the below average list, you may want to run supplemental research to try and determine the barriers might be to your resident’s happiness.
Where is it easiest to achieve the American Dream?
Check out the Site Selection article that ranks all states and major MSAs based on the degree to which their residents perceive they are achieving their American Dream. You will be able to see the performing states/MSAs for each dimension of the American Dream and overall. Special thanks to Site Selection Magazine for their continuing support in helping bring these data to economic development professionals, elected officials and anybody else with an interest in better understanding the American Dream.
Please leave your thoughts.
I am genuinely interested in what you think. If the live in one of the states or MSAs above, let me know if the data are consistent with your personal perspective.