The Happiest US City Is ...

If you were thinking of a move, or even a weekend jaunt, perhaps a visit to Lincoln, Neb., would do the body and mind some good. The Star City scored highest in well-being in a newly released Gallup poll.

The results of the 2012 Gallup-Healthways poll, released today (March 26), were consistent with a state-level poll, which found the happiest U.S. states tended to be nestled in the Western and Midwestern parts of the country; the lowest well-being scores clustered in Southern states.

The poll was conducted through telephone interviews of more than 350,000 adults in 189 metropolitan areas, from Jan 2 until Dec. 29, 2012. To measure well-being, Gallup calculated an average of six measures: life evaluation (self-evaluation about present and future life situation); emotional health; work environment (such as job satisfaction); physical health; healthy behavior (such as frequent exercise and less smoking); and basic access (access to health care, a doctor, a safe place to exercise and walk, and community satisfaction). The same measures are used for state well-being.

Here are the top 10 cities and their average well-being scores (out of a possible 100 points):

  1. Lincoln, Neb.: 72.8
  2. Boulder, Colo.: 72.7
  3. Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.: 72.4
  4. Provo-Orem, Utah: 71.7
  5. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.: 71.6
  6. Barnstable Town, Mass.: 71.5
  7. Honolulu, Hawaii: 71.5
  8. Ann Arbor, Mich.: 71.4
  9. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, (D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V.): 71.3
  10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.: 71.2

And here are the bottom 10 cities:

  1. Charleston, W.Va.: 60.8
  2. Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio: 61.2
  3. Mobile, Ala.: 62.4
  4. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas: 62.5
  5. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.: 62.7
  6. Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.: 62.9
  7. Bakersfield, Calif.: 63.1
  8. Rockford, Ill.: 63.1
  9. Spartanburg, S.C.: 63.4
  10. Utica-Rome, N.Y.: 63.4

[See Larger List of Happiest U.S. Cities]

While Lincoln, Neb., led the nation overall and in the work environment category, Honolulu came out on top for emotional health, Charlottesville, Va., was No. 1 for physical health, and Salinas, Calif., had the healthiest behaviors.

Meanwhile, the Huntington-Ashland region (where West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio meet) held its ignominious title as the metro area with the worst physical health. And it ranked second worst in terms of emotional health, only ahead of the country's least happy city, just a stone's throw away in Charleston, W.Va.

For the second year in a row, residents of Ann Arbor, Mich., had the most positive outlook for their current and future lives, while people living in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton region in North Carolina had a rather bleak attitude, rating their lives about half as well as those in Ann Arbor. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind

On the other side of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, in the Holland-Grand Haven area, residents had the best access to basic necessities in 2012, as they did in 2008-2010. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area in the southern tip of Texas — where 50 percent of residents didn't have health insurance in 2012 — ranked last in access to basic necessities for the fourth year in a row.

Among the 52 largest metro regions in the survey (those with over 1 million residents), the nation's capital and its surrounding area ranked highest for well-being, followed by the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., had the lowest well-being score of the nation's biggest cities (due mostly to low life evaluations and low happiness scores), displacing Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., which ranked second worst for well-being in 2012.

Residents in cities with the best well-being scores tend to enjoy health benefits, such as lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and physical pain. They also are less likely to be depressed and more likely to have enough money for food, medicine and shelter, according to Gallup. Both public and private sectors can take part in improving well-being, for example, by providing access to healthy food, places where people feel safe working out, and health insurance — or at least enough money to buy health insurance.

Whereas factors like health and access to basic necessities seem to have more obvious fixes, the happiness equation might be more elusive.

A study published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Research in Personality found that states with higher gross regional product (GRP) per capita (level of productivity and standard of living), higher income levels and higher median housing value were significantly happier than poorer areas. The study looked at Gallup's 2008 well-being scores, finding that the happiest states that year also tended to have more residents with advanced educations and jobs that were considered "super-creative," such as architecture, engineering, computer and math occupations, library positions, arts and design work, as well as entertainment, sports and media occupations. But then again, other studies have shown being happy means being old, male and Republican. Others yet have said the key is being religious or having kids.

The new Gallup results are based on telephone interviews conducted between Jan. 2 and Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 353,563 adults, ages 18 and older, in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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