Exactly where are the happiest places in America? The answer apparently has nothing to with Disney.
According to a working paper from researchers at Harvard University and the University of British Columbia, the five happiest cities in the U.S. all happen to be located in one state: Louisiana, which also ranks as the happiest state.
Specifically, the list-toppers are Lafayette, Houma, Shreveport-Bossier City, Baton Rouge and Alexandria.
Rounding out the top 10 happiest cities are Rochester, Minnesota; Corpus Christi, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Nashville, Tennessee; and Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
The paper, co-authored by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser, UBC Vancouver School of Economics professor Joshua Gottlieb and Harvard doctoral student Oren Ziv, used data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey titled the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
It was adjusted for age, sex, race, income and other factors, as women, for example, are happier than men, and married couples are happier than single or divorced respondents.
On the other end of the spectrum, the unhappiest cities had New York City topping the list, followed by St. Joseph, Missouri; South Bend, Indiana; Erie, Pennsylvania; Evansville, Indiana–Henderson, Kentucky; Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Jersey City, New Jersey; Gary, Indiana; and Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
“Nearly all of the unhappiest places in the nation lean heavily Democratic when it comes to voting,” noted Caroline Schaeffer of the Independent Journal Review.
Among the goals of the study was to explain why many “unhappy” cities were still seeing population growth. After all, why would people move there if it were such an awful place?
“Self-reported unhappiness is high in [many] declining cities, and this tendency persists even when we control for income, race and other personal characteristics,” the authors write. “Why are the residents of some cities persistently less happy? Given that they are, why do people choose to live in unhappy places?”
The report concludes many of the unhappy cities have always been so according to limited data. Higher wages play a role in enticing people to move to unhappy places, as does lower housing costs. The authors write:
“Differences in happiness and subjective well-being across space weakly support the view that the desires for happiness and life satisfaction do not uniquely drive human ambitions. If we choose only that which maximized our happiness, then individuals would presumably move to happier places until the point where rising rents and congestion eliminated the joys of that locale. An alternative view is that humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right. … Indeed, the residents of unhappier metropolitan areas today do receive higher real wages – presumably as compensation for their misery.”