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 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. The analysis used 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. Santa Clarita, California
Total score: 64.44 out of 100 points
Get used to seeing California on this list: Eight of the 15 happiest cities are in the Golden State.
Santa Clarita, located about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, is close to the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. Roller coasters offer a lot of ups and downs, but if you’d rather have smooth sailing in life, know that Santa Clarita ranks high as one of the top cities in which to get and stay married, based on a 2021 analysis.
14. Santa Rosa, California
Total score: 64.52 out of 100 points
Cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, famously wrote, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Schulz lived and worked in Santa Rosa, in Northern California’s vaunted wine country, for decades, and a museum honoring his characters and work is now housed there.
Santa Rosa, however, didn’t make the list due to any Snoopy connection, but instead ranked high for the emotional and physical well-being of its residents, according to the WalletHub analysis. That metric looks at such elements as life satisfaction, physical health, and sports participation.
13. Bismarck, North Dakota
Total score: 64.65 out of 100 points
North Dakota’s capital city of Bismarck not only scored high on the happiness list, it also came in at No. 4 among all the cities studied as far as its community and environment rating. That’s where WalletHub considers such elements as parkland, leisure time, and divorce rate. Bismarck also made the top 10 in another WalletHub analysis, showing up as one of the least-stressed cities in the U.S.
Total score: 65.09 out of 100 points
Does water make you happy? Minneapolis is nicknamed the City of Lakes, boasting over 22 city lakes. Five of them make up the city’s Chain of Lakes, and you can canoe and kayak on them in summer or skate there in winter.
As part of its analysis, WalletHub also found Minneapolis to be No. 2 on the list of cities where residents get adequate sleep. Maybe they need it to refresh after all that outdoor activity.
11. Fargo, North Dakota
Total score: 65.46 out of 100 points
Wipe those Coen brothers’ movie-inspired woodchipper images out of your head. Fargo ranked high on the happiness analysis, but that’s not all. WalletHub also named the community the sixth-least-stressed city in America, when considering such factors as job security, average weekly work hours, and affordable housing.
10. San Diego
Total score: 65.82 out of 100 points
San Diego is famous for its sunny weather and its world-class zoo, so it seems a natural fit on the happiness list. And what goes hand-in-hand with happiness? Fun! So it’s no surprise that U.S. News & World Report named San Diego the most fun place to live in the U.S., citing its restaurants, beaches, and parks.
9. Huntington Beach, California
Total score: 66.43 out of 100 points
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.” No wonder it ranked at No. 9 in the happiness analysis category for emotional and physical well-being.
But bring a fat wallet: More than 26% of Huntington Beach homes cost more than $1 million.
8. Overland Park, Kansas
Total score: 67.46 out of 100 points
Not only does Overland Park, located in the Kansas City metro area, rank high on the happiness meter, but it took the top spot in WalletHub’s 2021 list of best cities for families. And your family might indeed be happier with more money in the bank: That list ranked Overland Park as the No. 1 most affordable place for families to live out of more than 180 cities.
Total score: 67.67 out of 100 points
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.)
This famed tech town surely soared up the list by ranking No. 2 in WalletHub’s income and employment category, which considers such elements as job security, job satisfaction, unemployment rate, and income-growth rate. But Seattleites aren’t just sitting at their desks: No other city in the analysis scored higher for sports participation.
6. Madison, Wisconsin
Total score: 68.10 out of 100 points
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. And while those Badger students might be stressing about their exams, Madison as a whole was ranked the third-least-stressed city in another WalletHub analysis.
5. Irvine, California
Total score: 70.38 out of 100 points
Not only did it score high as one of the happiest cities in the country, but it’s also earned other accolades as well. WalletHub found Irvine to be the fourth-greenest city in America, using such key indicators as greenhouse-gas emissions per capita, smart-energy policies and initiatives, and green job opportunities.
4. San Jose, California
Total score: 71.00 out of 100 points
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.
You’d expect it to rank high in the income and employment category (it’s No. 6), but the city actually scores even higher for emotional and physical well-being, coming in at No. 2 for that metric. Plus, if sunshine on your shoulders makes you happy (thanks, John Denver), you should know that San Jose boasts an average of 300 sunny days per year.
3. San Francisco
Total score: 71.15 out of 100 points
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.
The City by the Bay ranked No. 1 in the income and employment category, which considers such elements as job security, job satisfaction, unemployment rate, and income-growth rate. But it also came in at No. 4 in the emotional and physical well-being category, which considers such factors as sports participation, adequate sleep, life expectancy, and life satisfaction.
2. Columbia, Maryland
Total score: 71.64 out of 100 points
Columbia, in the Baltimore metro area, has a lot going for it. Not only did it snatch the second spot on the happiness list, but it also was No. 3 on the list in the emotional and physical well-being category and No. 5 for community and environment.
And it’s easier to be happy if you’re not stressed, so it makes sense that Columbia was listed as the fifth-least-stressed city in America in another WalletHub analysis.
1. Fremont, California
Total score: 77.13 out of 100 points
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 second-best city to raise a family in 2021, as well as the second-least-stressed city in America.
Happiness, low stress, and good for a family? Fremont’s living the dream.
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