Happiness, of course, is relative. Health, financial comfort, career stability and secure relationships all help lift one’s happiness level. (Sorry, Bobby McFerrin, it’s not quite as easy as your song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” makes it sound.)
But your location can have a lot to do with your happiness — and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the sunniest weather makes for the sunniest people.
A recent WalletHub analysis drew upon positive-psychology research, examining more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities across three key categories: Emotional & Physical Well-Being, Income & Employment and Community & Environment. The analysis evaluated those categories by examining 30 key happiness indicators, ranging from depression rate to average leisure time to income-growth rate.
While moving to a city high on this list may not instantly make you happy, it’s a fascinating look at how we might be able to quantify one of our most elusive emotions.
Here are the happiest cities in the U.S., according to the analysis.
15. San Diego
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 63.98
San Diego is famous for its sunny weather and its world-class zoo, so it seems a natural fit on the happiness list. It’s easy to travel into and out of, too, with San Diego International Airport taking second-place on a recent best U.S. airports list from the Wall Street Journal.
14. Huntington Beach, California
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 64.04
If the thought of a stereotypical California surfer lifestyle appeals to you, you might be able to see why Huntington Beach ranks so high on the happiness list. The seaside city boasts 8.5 miles of beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches, which helped earn it the nickname “Surf City.”
Huntington Beach also came in at No. 21 on WalletHub’s list of the best-run cities in America, and was ranked No. 1 on that list for its quality of city services.
13. Oakland, California
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 64.08
San Francisco’s less-glamorous neighbor, Oakland, is a good place to consider if you want to see your bank balance rise. The city came in at No.1 for income growth in WalletHub’s analysis, with neighboring San Francisco right behind at No. 2.
12. Bismarck, North Dakota
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 64.12
North Dakota’s capital city of Bismarck not only scored high on the happiness list, but it’s a good place to get a job. As of early 2023, the unemployment rate is 2.7%.
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 65.59
Scenic Seattle’s reputation for rain might leave some assuming it wouldn’t score high on a happiness list. (Note: Seattle actually gets less annual precipitation than Boston, Houston, Miami, New York or Washington, D.C.)
But Seattleites aren’t just sitting at their desks: The city came in second on WalletHub’s list for sports participation, and it also landed on the list of 2023’s best cities to walk your dog. However, the Emerald City isn’t cheap. A recent analysis reported that the salary needed to afford a median-priced house in the metro area is just over $169,000.
10. Burlington, Vermont
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 65.83
Burlington, with a population of over 44,000, is the largest city in Vermont, though small compared with those in other states. Burlington topped the list for having the fewest weekly work hours, which may have contributed to its coming in fourth on the list of cities with the most people receiving adequate sleep. Burlington is also the first city in the U.S. to run entirely on renewable energy.
9. South Burlington, Vermont
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 66.51
Burlington’s neighbor, South Burlington, has about half the population of the bigger city. But it scores one notch higher on the happiest places list, perhaps in part due to it topping the analysis for highest adequate sleep rate as well as for sports-participation rate.
8. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 67.02
Sioux Falls is the most populous city in South Dakota, with a population of more than 196,000. And most of those citizens are working. As of early 2023, Sioux Falls had an unemployment rate of just 1.9%.
7. Columbia, Maryland
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 67.71
Columbia, in the Baltimore metro area, has a lot going for it. The city came in third when it comes to emotional and physical well-being. That ranking includes such elements as life expectancy, sports participation, and adequate sleep rate.
Maybe residents are sleeping well because they’re not worried about their safety. Another WalletHub survey ranked Columbia the safest city in the U.S.
6. Irvine, California
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 67.83
Sunny Irvine in the Los Angeles area is home to several colleges, including the University of California-Irvine and a graduate campus of Malibu’s Pepperdine University. And Irvine scored high on several factors of the happiness study. The city had the second-lowest divorce and separation rate, and the fifth-lowest depression rate.
5. San Francisco
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 68.73
Open up that Golden Gate. San Francisco is a dream city for many, and according to WalletHub, you’ve got a good chance of being happy there, too. San Francisco is famously expensive, but it also scored second for highest income-growth rate, just behind neighboring Oakland.
It also scored high on a list of U.S. cities where homeowners really stay put. The median homeowner tenure here is 16.3 years.
4. Overland Park, Kansas
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 68.93
Not only does Overland Park, located in the Kansas City metro area, rank high on the happiness meter, but it took the No. 2 spot in WalletHub’s 2022 list of best cities for families. Maybe part of that happiness comes from the fact that Overland Park’s Farmers Market took top honors at the 14th annual America’s Farmers Market Celebration in 2022.
3. Madison, Wisconsin
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 69.72
Midwestern Madison is not only Wisconsin’s capital city, but it is also a charming college town, home to the flagship University of Wisconsin campus. But those college-aged Badgers aren’t the only generation enjoying Madison. The city is also considered one of the most beautiful places to retire in America, as well as one of 15 places to retire where health care is good.
2. San Jose, California
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 70.35
Do you know the way to San Jose? Maybe you should. This technology haven, located on the southern shore of San Francisco Bay, is the third-largest city in California.
The city ranked second in the study for best emotional and physical well-being. That ranking was helped along by San Jose scoring the fourth-lowest depression rate, and fifth-lowest separation and divorce rate.
1. Fremont, California
Total happiness score from WalletHub: 76.10
And the winner is … Fremont, located on the southeast side of San Francisco Bay. Though not as well-known as some of the bigger cities on this list, Fremont is racking up the awards. In addition to happiest-city honors, WalletHub named Fremont the best city to raise a family in 2022, as well as the least-stressed city in America.
Happiness, low stress and good for a family? Fremont’s living the dream.