We think that happiness, like beauty, is subjective. It's defined differently according to different people. For example, some people don't feel fulfilled without their fast-paced career, whereas others prefer the sentiments of a slower, more detail-oriented job. Some of us enjoy the quiet consistency of rural areas, whereas the rest of us love the bustling energy of a city. See? It all depends on whom you ask.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't certain markers of happiness, or that it can't be measured, at least according to National Geographic, that is. The publication partnered up with best-selling author Dan Buettner and Gallup's social scientists to determine which cities in the United States are the happiest on average. What they found was surprising. In fact, we would have never guessed half the cities that made the list. Keep scrolling to see the top 20 happiest cities in America, ranked according to quality of life and resident feedback.
The happiest cities were determined by using 15 different metrics including healthy eating, civic engagement, frequency of learning, vacation time, financial security, and even dental checkups. These things were all considered to be markers of happiness. This was then coupled with over 250,000 interviews taken from adults living in various metropolitan areas.
The result? Boulder, Colorado, ranks number one as the happiest city in America. The researchers say this is due to the city's access to nature, sense of community, and low rates of obesity and smoking, among other things. According to Buettner, who studies happiness—no, really, he's the author of The Blue Zones of Happiness, $26—in happier places, "locals smile and laugh more often, socialize several hours a day, have access to green spaces, and feel that they are making purposeful progress toward achieving life goals."
Other top cities included Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and San Jose in California; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Fort Collins, Colorado (clearly, Southern California is a pretty happy place). Next was Provo, Utah, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, made the list, as well as Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In examining why these specific cities made the cut, Buettner said, "There's a high correlation between bikeability and happiness in a city. In Boulder, you're more likely to hear the whoosh of a cyclist than the shrill of a siren compared to places like Dallas, Tallahassee, or Los Angeles. Cities like Boulder question the unquestioned virtues of development. This benefits visitors, who can experience an emphasis on greenery, a high-quality culinary community, limited marketing onslaught and no billboards."
While this data is interesting, we like to take it as a reminder to tune into your state of mental health and maybe practice some self-care if your environment calls for it. From our experience, simple habits like scheduling workout time, journaling, listening to music, and reading can make a big difference on our happiness. And if you're truly not happy in your environment, Buettner says that picking up and moving to a brand-new city isn't a crazy idea. "My findings indicate that if you want to get happy, don’t try to change your belief system. Change your environment."