WASHINGTON — Looking for happiness — it's family-friendly communities for some, tropical paradise or the rugged West for others. A survey of Americans' well-being, conducted by Gallup in partnership with Healthways and America's Health Insurance Plans, gives high marks to Utah, which boasts lots of outdoor recreation for its youthful population.
Speaking of outdoor recreation, the islands of Hawaii took second place and Wyoming was third in the poll that rated such variables as mental, physical and economic health.
But fun outdoors obviously wasn't the only criteria — "wild, wonderful" West Virginia was ranked last among the states.
And the bluegrass state of Kentucky was 49th, with Mississippi 48th on the list.
In general, highest well-being scores came from states in the West while the lowest were concentrated in the South. The happiest congressional districts were some of the wealthiest, while the lowest scores came in some of the poorest.
Income a factor?
Jim Harter, a researcher at Gallup, said he was reluctant to explain regional differences without more study, but he suspected that some of the variations are explained by income. For example, when people were asked to examine their status in life now and five years from now, wealthier people tended to score higher.
The survey attempts to measure people's well-being. It examines their eating and exercise habits, work environment and access to basic necessities, just to name some of the criteria.
"It's not just about physical health," said Eric Nielsen, a spokesman for Gallup. "It's about their ability to contribute at work and be more productive, and it's about feeling engaged in a community and wanting to improve that community."
The massive survey involved more than 350,000 interviews. Examples of the questions include: Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your job or the work you do? Did you eat healthy all day yesterday? Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?
The survey, which takes about 15 minutes, involved 42 core questions. Those taking the survey could get a score of up to 100. The actual difference between states wasn't great: The average score for the highest-ranking state, Utah, was 69.2 points, while the average for the lowest-ranking state, West Virginia, was 61.2 points.
Happiest congressional districts?
But Harter said that he believed geographic divides could be overstated and even the states with the highest scores had significant work to do to improve certain aspects of their residents' health and happiness.
Researchers hope the findings will help employers better understand what they can do to create more productive workers. Eventually, the data could even be used to compare health and happiness by ZIP code. The survey is going to be generated for 25 years, according to current plans.
To that end, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index also ranked congressional districts. Residents in California Rep. Anna Eshoo's coastal district south of San Francisco generated the top well-being score, followed closely behind by residents of Georgia Rep. Tom Price's district, on the northern edge of Atlanta. Both districts rank in the top 10 in median household income.
On the opposite end, Rep. Harold Rogers' district in eastern Kentucky's coal country and New York Rep. Jose Serrano's district, which includes the distressed neighborhood of the South Bronx, had the lowest well-being scores.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.