The Complete Happiest Cities List

Here’s how we did it. We know from the research cited in the previous articles in this section that certain factors are associated with happiness. Armed with this knowledge, we isolated 15 categories by which to measure 105 cities from all over the country.

Because healthier people are happier (and vice versa), we used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), which asked residents to rate whether they are in good (or not-so-good) health and if they are getting enough sleep. We know that in general married people are happier than singles, and research conducted by Richard Florida and Irene Tinagli at Carnegie Mellon found that married people are also happier with the places they live, so we factored in the percentage of married couples in each city.

When it comes to income, research has shown that wealth generally is associated with happiness only as far it meets people’s basic needs. When you look at a city where all the residents earn very little, that city may be surprisingly happy because no one feels deprived when comparing themselves to the Joneses next door. The way we can start to measure dissatisfaction is by how disparate the incomes in a city are, so we used the Gini index, a standard measure of income disparity from the U.S. Census Bureau, to gauge the chasm between the haves and have-nots in each town. And because research has shown that the economic climate of a city is highly associated with well-being, we took into account the gross domestic products of each locale and how they have changed over the last year.

As for education, the Florida/Tinagli research mentioned earlier also determined that people who never graduated high school were twice as likely to report being unsatisfied with their community, compared to those with university degrees. Therefore, the numbers of graduate degrees and high school dropouts were taken into account.

According to the Human Thriving Foundation, factors such as volunteering and exercise are highly connected to a person’s sense of happiness, so we included exercise activity, as reported by the BRFSS, and the percentage of residents who volunteered, courtesy of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

We would be remiss if we didn’t factor in the basic tenets of happy city living, such as low crime rates, ease of travel through the city and job availability. Crunching all this data together, we came up with this list of cities where happiness reigns.

The Good

1.   Arlington, Virginia A+

2.   Sioux Falls, South Dakota A

3.   Madison, Wisconsin A 

4.   Durham, North Carolina A

5.   St. Paul, Minnesota A

6.   Boulder, Colorado A

7.   Overland Park, Kansas A

8.   Stamford, Connecticut A

9.   Austin, Texas A

10. Lincoln, Nebraska A

11. Colorado Springs, Colorado A-

12. Salt Lake City, Utah B+

13. Ann Arbor, Michigan B+

14. Fremont, California B+

15. Boise , Idaho B+

16. Honolulu, Hawaii B+

17. Seattle, Washington B+

18. Scottsdale, Arizona B

19. Des Moines, Iowa B

20. Virginia Beach, Virginia B

21. Billings, Montana B

22. Washington, District of Columbia B

23. Anchorage, Alaska B

24. Aurora, Colorado B

25. Irving, Texas B

26. Omaha, Nebraska B

27. Hollywood, Florida B

28. Yonkers, New York B

29. Aurora, Illinois B

30. Lexington, Kentucky B

31. San Antonio, Texas B

32. Denver, Colorado B-

33. Berkeley, California B-

34. Wichita, Kansas B-

35. Winston-Salem, North Carolina B-

36. San Francisco, California B-

37. Portland, Oregon C+

38. Grand Rapids, Michigan C+

39. Montgomery, Alabama C+

40. San Diego, California C+

41. Boston, Massachusetts C+

42. Spokane, Washington C+

43. Little Rock, Arkansas C+

44. Athens, Georgia C+

45. Albuquerque, New Mexico C+

46. Charlotte, North Carolina C

47. Eugene, Oregon C

48. Bridgeport, Connecticut C

49. Fort Worth, Texas C

50. Green Bay, Wisconsin C

51. Tacoma, Washington C

52. Dallas, Texas C

53. Richmond, Virginia C

54. Nashville, Tennessee C

55. Kansas City, Missouri C

56. Worcester, Massachusetts C-

57. Savannah, Georgia C-

58. Norfolk, Virginia C-

59. Fort Wayne, Indiana C-

60. Phoenix, Arizona C-


The Bad

61. Tucson, Arizona D+

62. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania D

63. Knoxville, Tennessee D

64. Atlanta, Georgia D

65. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma D

66. Shreveport, Louisiana D

67. Augusta, Georgia D

68. Greensboro, North Carolina D

69. Erie, Pennsylvania D

70. Rochester, New York D

71. Columbus, Ohio D

72. Indianapolis, Indiana D

73. Chicago, Illinois D

74. Baton Rouge, Louisiana D

75. New Orleans, Louisiana D

76. Jacksonville, Florida D

77. Baltimore, Maryland D

78. Houston, Texas D

79. Chattanooga, Tennessee D-

80. St. Louis, Missouri D-

81. New York, New York D-

82. Milwaukee, Wisconsin D-

83. Fort Lauderdale, Florida D-

84. St. Petersburg, Florida D-

85. Cincinnati, Ohio D-

86. Los Angeles, California D-

87. Tulsa, Oklahoma D-

88. Buffalo, New York D-

89. Louisville, Kentucky D-

90. Providence, Rhode Island D-

91. Syracuse, New York D-


The Ones that Need Prozac

92. Tampa, Florida F

93. Jackson, Mississippi F

94. Birmingham, Alabama F

95. Cleveland, Ohio F

96. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania F

97. Memphis, Tennessee F

98. Las Vegas, Nevada F

99. Miami, Florida F

100. Detroit, Michigan F


Discover more about where happiness lives—plus what it is and how to achieve it—in The SUCCESS Guide to Happiness.



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