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The 10 Happiest (and Saddest) Cities in the U.S.

Bigger isn't necessarily best when it comes to quality of life. In a Gallup survey released this week of the U.S. cities rated highest for overall well-being, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago all failed to crack the top 50. By contrast, nine of the top 10 spots in the survey went to mid-size cities, with the Boulder, Colorado metro area grabbing the top overall spot. The only big city that cracked the top 10 was the Washington, D.C. area.

Where to get your happy on:

The 10 Happiest Cities (Overall Ranking)
1. Boulder, CO
2. Lincoln, NE
3. Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
4. Provo-Orem, UT
5. Honolulu, HI
6. Madison, WI
7. Cedar Rapids, IA
8. Gainesville, FL
9. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
10. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

At the other end of the spectrum, among the 188 metropolitan areas Gallup focused on, these regions turned up the least-contented residents:

The 10 Saddest Cities in America
179. Utica-Rome, NY
180. Prescott, AZ
181. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ
182. Spartanburg, SC
183. Hickory-Lenoir- Morganton, NC
184. Fort Smith, AR-OK
185. Redding, CA
186.Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX
187. Youngstown-Warren- Boardman, OH-PA
188. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH

Here's how the rankings went among the largest cities in the country, defined as being those with one million or more residents (for the record, among the country's biggest metro areas, Los Angeles grabs bragging rights at 62nd overall, followed by Chicago at 80th, and the New York metro area at 90th).

The 10 Happiest Large Cities
1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
2. Austin-Round Rock, TX
3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
4. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
5. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
6. Minneapolis-St.Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
7. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH
8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
9. Raleigh-Cary, NC
10. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
And for good measure, here are the rankings for the smallest cities in the country, defined as those with less than 300,000 residents.

The 10 Happiest Small Cities
1. Burlington-South Burlington, VT
2. Olympia, WA
3. Bellingham, WA
4. Bremerton-Silverdale, WA
5. Topeka, KS
6. Barnstable Town, MA
7. Charlottesville, VA
8. Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA
9. Medford, OR
10. Amarillo, TX
How You Doin'?
To come up with its rankings, Gallup conducted daily interviews throughout 2010 with a total of 352,840 Americans (about 1,000 interviews a day), and asked them a series of questions grouped into six broad categories:

  • Life Evaluation. The big question here was to rate your current life on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the best) and then imagine your life five years out and give another rating. (Honolulu was #1 in this category.)
  • Physical Health: Respondents were asked to weigh in on whether they had any health issues that prevented them from doing any age-appropriate stuff and how many days over the past month had they been ill enough that it messed up their plans . They were also queried on current physical ailments -- such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart conditions -- and whether they had a cranky neck, back, knee, or leg in the past year that had caused chronic pain. (Boulder was #1 in this category)
  • Healthy Behavior: The usual suspects here: the survey asked about cigarette smoking, the number of weekly workouts (at least 30 minutes long), and how many days out of the week respondents managed to eat five or more servings of fruits and veggies. (Salinas, CA -- think Monterey/Carmel -- was #1 in this category)
  • Emotional. Questions included: Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? (the survey did not provide breakout data on respondents with teenage kids), did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?, and did you learn or do something interesting yesterday? (Honolulu was #1 in this category)
  • Work: Among the questions in this section: Are you satisfied/dissatisfied with your job?, do you get to use your strengths so you can do what you do best?, does your supervisor behave like a boss or a partner?, and does your supervisor create a trusting and open work environment? (Gainesville, Fla was #1 in this category.)
  • Basic Access. This section was a bit of the kitchen sink variety. Medical-related questions included whether respondents had been to a dentist in the past year, have a personal doctor, and have health insurance. It also included a series of questions about general satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the city/region, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, and how safe it feels to walk alone at night. (Holland-Grand Haven, Mich. was #1 in this category.)

Happiness Is Relative

All the data were massaged to produce scores between 0-100 (100 being best) in each of the six categories. And then those categories were mashed up to produce an overall score of 0-100. You can download data for the 188 metro areas at the Gallup Well-Being Index site.

Boulder took the #1 slot with a composite score of 73.7, carried by top 10 scores in 4 of the 6 broad categories. All props to Boulder, but it's a bit disheartening to realize the happiest city in America basically clocks in with a grade of C-. For the record, the saddest city in the country, the Huntington W.Va.-Ashland, KY metro area, had a score of 58.1.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Jessica.Tam

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