Gallup just released its annual ranking of the happiest states in the U.S., and the winner may make you blink. While Hawaii, last year's top spot, seemed a natural fit, this year's -- North Dakota -- is perhaps a harder guess, what with its lack of beaches and sunny tropical weather.
On closer inspection, however, it's clear North Dakota has earned its top overall wellbeing score, boosting a ridiculously low unemployment rate of 2.7 percent. (The national average is 6.6 percent.) The state also took first place in employee perceptions of job creation at their workplaces, as measured by the Gallup Job Creation Index. In general, a state's job-creation score is a good measure of the overall strength of its economy; a strong score also usually translates to a high well-being score.
Gallup's well-being index is based on more than 178,000 interviews with American adults in all 50 states and is measured on a set of six-sub indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities.
In addition to having the highest overall wellbeing score, North Dakota was the top state in two of the six sub-categories: work environment and physical health.
The Midwest in general is a pocket of happiness; the top five happiest states are all in that region: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Montana. On the other side of the spectrum, the South is struggling, with eight of the 10 lowest well-being scores going to southern states, as trend that has persisted for the past few years.
The unhappiest state was, by a wide margin, West Virginia (the fourth time in a row it's come in last).
Gallup calculated its well-being index on a scale of zero to 100. West Virginia, with a score of 61.4, was an even nine points behind North Dakota, and 4.8 below the wellbeing score for the nation as a whole.
While West Virginia's unemployment rate (6.2 percent) is actually above the national average -- and much lower than neighboring Kentucky's, at 8.4 percent –it came in dead last on all sub-categories except work environment.