A new WalletHub study ranked the happiest cities across the United States. In order to determine these findings, a panel of psychology and career professors received data from a number of organizations (including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feeding America, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that focus on at least one of three key aspects of life — emotional and physical health, income and employment, or community and environment.
After comparing the statistics from 182 of the largest cities in the nation and grading the results on a 100-point scale, the study authors concluded that the following 10 cities have the most gleeful residents in the nation:
Fremont, Calif. (Total score: 79.89)
Bismarck, N.D. (Total score: 78.37)
San Jose, Calif. (Total score: 76.44)
Pearl City, Hawaii (Total score: 75.19)
Plano, Texas (Total score: 73.62)
Fargo, N.D. (Total score: 73.46)
Sioux Falls, S.D. (Total score: 71.96)
Irvine, Calif. (Total score: 71.17)
Huntington Beach, Calif. (Total score: 70.69)
Grand Prairie, Texas (Total score: 70.54)
Interestingly, the study found that a few cities that didn’t make the top 10 list ranked No. 1 in specific categories, such as Burlington, Vt. (which received the top spot for fewest working hours), and Overland Park, Kan. (which won the top prize for highest adequate-sleep rate).
While the definition of happiness may differ from person to person, Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that there are three common traits among the happiest of individuals: gratitude, social connections, and meaning.
“Gratitude refers to focusing on what is going well as opposed to what is not [working in your favor], social connections refers to the relationships in your life, and meaning [refers to] fulfillment,” she explains. “True happiness goes beyond hedonic pleasures, such as eating chocolate, to include true meaning and purpose in your life.”
And yes, your zip code may be a factor in your emotional well-being. “The city you reside in can affect your happiness because there is a different vibe and energy in different cities,” continues Lombardo. “Some tend to be more relaxed and open, while others are more stressed and overwhelming. The environment of the city and the overall energy of its inhabitants can play a key role here.”
Also, a person’s level of contentment is tied to money — well, sort of.
“While money cannot buy you happiness per se, the research shows that it’s important to have a minimum to address your basic needs,” she states. In fact, Lombardo refers to a 2010 study from Princeton University that found that living on more than approximately $75,000 a year did not improve one’s quality of life experiences. And research published in a January 2018 edition of the journal Nature Human Behaviour — an international survey that comprised more than 1.7 million people from 164 countries — concluded that the annual price of emotional satisfaction fell between $60,000 and $75,000, while an income of $95,000 was the tipping point for “life evaluation” (such as long-term goals).
However, your spending habits may be linked to happiness, as well. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School discovered that purchasing more free time — for example, hiring a housecleaner — could result in less stress and greater life satisfaction. “Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences,” stated the senior study author in a press release.
“Buying more ‘stuff’ does not make you happy,” adds Lombardo. “Instead, it can lead to constantly wanting more and more without ever feeling satisfied or grateful for what you have.”
Yet keep in mind that it’s not necessary to pack up your belongings and move to a new city in order to find more enjoyment in your everyday life. “It is important to realize that happiness is a skill,” emphasizes Lombardo. “It’s just like playing golf or playing the piano — in order to be happy, you need to learn the right skills and then practice them.”
The first happiness strategy she offers is starting a gratitude journal. “Focus on at least one thing every day that you feel grateful for, like a relationship, your job, or your home,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how big or small, as long as you experience gratitude.”
Another suggestion is to chat with people who make you smile. “Our society tends to be very busy with work and getting ‘stuff done,’” explains Lombardo. “The key is to have quality relationships — not ‘likes’ on Facebook. Even if it’s just grabbing coffee with a friend for 15 minutes, this connection can really boost your happiness.”
And lastly, do something that aligns with your moral compass. After all, researchers from the University of Zurich found that simply making the promise to be more generous can evoke feelings of happiness. “Identify the values that are most important to you, and look for ways to apply them in your life,” concludes Lombardo.
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