Earlier this week, I wrote about the new rankings of happy cities based on the 2010 edition of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The map below shows how 185 of America's largest metros stack up on this happiness index.
In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes that there are three great decisions in life that affect your happiness: "Where to live, what to do, and with whom to do it." The second two have been examined in great depth; the third, up until now, not so much.
Happiness -- or what students of the subject refer to as "subjective well-being" -- is typically charted and studied at the national level. But we can use the detailed data and rankings provided by this new Well-Being Index to better understand the factors that make people happier in some cities than others. (I'd be remiss if I failed to point out that, as with everything else that is subjective, not everyone is happy with the same kind of city -- a point that I ruminate upon at some length in my book Who's Your City?).
So with the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander, I looked at some of the key characteristics of cities that are associated with greater happiness across these U.S. metros. A good deal of the research on happiness finds that income plays a crucial role. While there was some debate on this early on -- note the eponymous Easterlin Paradox, which says that income and happiness don't relate at the national level -- there is now a broad consensus that happiness and income are closely associated. We look at the effects of income, as well as other key variables -- such as education levels or human capital, and the nature of the job market and workforce (that is, the share of jobs in knowledge-based, professional and creative industries as opposed to blue-collar working class fields). As usual, our analysis points only to associations between variables. It does not specify causation or the causal direction of those associations, which are questions for future research. Still, the results are interesting across several dimensions.