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Best cities for health and happiness? 350,000 people in Gallup poll say, “Go West”

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If you wanted to create a city full of healthy, happy people, you would need to start by locating it in the West, according to a huge new study.

Boulder, Colo., came out at the top of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which interviewed more than 350,000 people during 2009 and asked them about their jobs, their health, their general sense of well-being, their financial situation and their communities.

Other cities in the top 10 were Holland-Grand Haven, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii’; Provo-Orum, Utah; Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif.; Santa Barbara-Santa Maria Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; the Washington, D.C. area; Ogden, Utah and Thousand Oaks., Calif.

"Most of our highest-scoring cities are found out West and most of our lowest-scoring cities are in the South," research director Dan Witters told USA Today. From the story:

“Residents of large cities — those with a population of 1 million or more — generally report higher levels of well-being and more optimism about the future than those in small or medium-sized cities. In small cities, at 250,000 or less, people are more likely to feel safe walking alone at night and have enough money for housing.

“The study provides a city-by-city portrait of the nation's mood and a potential tool for policymakers.

“Nine of the 10 cities that fare best on "life evaluation," assessments of life now and expectations in five years, boast a major university, a big military installation or a state Capitol — institutions that presumably provide some insulation from recession.”

The study ranked 162 cities. Those at the bottom were Bakersfield, Calif.; Pensacola, Fla.; Morgantan, N.C.; Shreveport, La., Evansville, Ky.; Bristol, Tenn-Va., Youngstown, Ohio; Flint, Mich.; Charleston, W. Va.; Modesto, Calif. and the Huntington, W. Va area.

"Boulder is a place where a lot of like-minded people are attracted to living in a community with like-minded others," John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa, an Ayurvedic retreat in Boulder, told the Denver Post.

"Even if you're not health conscious, you're seeing cyclists by the side of the road with their work stuff on their back, or health-food stores on every corner, or everyone driving a Prius," he said.

“It rubs off.

"We've all become who we hang out with, because it's part of our community culture," said Douillard, author of "Body, Mind and Sport." More from the story:

Over a two-year period, Gallup took the pulse of the American public, quizzing 1,000 random people per day across the country about key elements of their lives: physical, emotional, social and professional, as well as their perceptions about
present and future possibilities.

The Well-Being Index asked questions about health habits — Did you smoke today? — and work environment — Do you like your job? The poll also asked respondents to evaluate their lives — Do you feel as though you are struggling? — and whether respondents had access to basic things, such as food, shelter and health care.

Though the American public started 2009 a bit in the dumps, logging a composite score of 64.1 out of a possible 100, by the end of December, the outlook was improved, at 66.1. A perfect score indicates "fully realized well-being."
Trouble spots for the nation include work environment (48.4) and life in general (49.3). Attitudes were buoyed by emotional health (78.7) and physical health (76.5) as well as basic access (82.3).

WHERE DO YOU LIVE? AND HOW DOES IT RANK? If you’d like to see where your city ranks in this massive study, click on the first link below and scroll down until you see the list of cities. Do you agree? Why or why not?

The USA Today story and the city rankings:

The Denver Post story:

Add a Comment3 Comments

I have lived in Boulder, Santa Barbara and Orem. I don't know that those were the happiest times of my life. Boulder is economically thriving . . . so much so that not to have a large trust-fund is not fitting in with much that goes on there (plus being middle of the road). I am reading Thrive: Finding Happiness in the Blue Zones Way by Buettner. I think it is more about using places to understand happiness (like economic flourishing is great if you are part of it, not so much if you are underemployed). I am excited about the new book - anyone else reading this?

November 2, 2011 - 9:25am

In the west I have only lived in one place, San Diego, and I can say that I was not happy there and in spite of their strong economy and the moderate weather, I found that the quality of life was exceedingly poor. What really ruined it for me is that the whole city and culture is based around cars. There was hardly a day when I didn't spend at least an hour in the car, and on a typical day I'd spend much more. In spite of the fact that I was getting outdoors more because of the nice weather, and exercising more, I quickly gained about 15 pounds--and I'm almost positive this is because of the time spent in the car; there's no other logical explanation. When moving back to my hometown of Lancaster, PA, within a month I lost the weight.

I also find that this greatly affects the sense of community. Living in cities in the east, such as Lancaster, PA, Cleveland, Ohio (actually two of its suburbs, Cleveland Heights and Lakewood), New Haven, Connecticut, and also, the small college town of Newark, Delaware, I was always able to walk to everything that I need. You can walk to the bar and not worry about having to have a designated driver. If there's a snowstorm and your car gets snowed in, you can still walk to the store and buy food. You can walk to a neighborhood coffee shop and run into people you know.

There are "communities" in places like San Diego but they're so spread out. You might find a group of people but one friend will live a 20-minute drive away and one a 40-minute drive. And even though some neighborhoods are locally walkable, the way people choose to live their lives and build their communities does not lend itself to meeting people that live close by...people will drive long distances just to do something simple like going out to eat.

Not all cities in the west are car-oriented, however...San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, and even some of the small cities like Prescott and Flagstaff, AZ have walkable areas.

Maybe there's some truth in this article, but...if you're going to move to the west, heed my advice and stay away from Southern California, Phoenix, and other sprawling cities built around the car.

February 17, 2010 - 9:11am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Diane - I've lived in all sections of the US, which has included living in two of the top 10 on this list, and agree with the study. The level of optimism and health-oriented activities is far higher in the Western states. Three key things struck me when I was living in a snowbelt state and first visited the West - Western people look much younger, live much longer and have a far more relaxed lifestyle. I can't imagine leaving or living anywhere else. Pat

February 16, 2010 - 5:26pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.