Opinion

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Like I Was Saying

Measuring Happiness

According to data released last month, the Treasure State had the fourth-highest wellbeing in the country

It’s difficult to measure happiness, but Gallup does it anyway, ranking U.S. states’ wellbeing and health for more than a decade. And in its latest findings, Montana, once again, outperformed most of its peers.

According to data released last month, the Treasure State had the fourth-highest wellbeing in the country, a familiar spot. Our state has traditionally landed near the top of the index, placing 10th in 2017 and eighth in 2016.

To gauge our happiness, Gallup surveys thousands of Americans and hundreds of Montanans, focusing on five areas: your career, health, relationships, financial situation and pride in your community. What’s interesting is that the index has consistently found large swaths of the country are happier than others and have remained that way ever since its first survey in 2008.

“As in prior years, wellbeing in the U.S. exhibits regional patterns,” the report states. “The Northern Plains and Mountain West are higher wellbeing areas, along with some Western states and pockets of the Northeast and Atlantic. The lowest wellbeing states are concentrated in the South and extend northward through the industrial Midwest.”

Hawaii, however, rules in happiness and was tops in the U.S. in wellbeing in 2018 for a record seventh time. Here are the top five:

  1. Hawaii
  2. Wyoming
  3. Alaska
  4. Montana
  5. Utah

And the bottom five:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Mississippi
  3. Kentucky
  4. Arkansas
  5. West Virginia (Residents here reported the lowest wellbeing for the 10th straight year.)

Montanans really shine in three areas of the index. Compared to other states, we like what we do for a living and report having relatively good health. But most of all, we really like where we live.

Despite our high ranking, overall reported wellbeing across the U.S. declined for the second straight year in 2018, and of the five categories measured, just physical wellbeing inched up. It seems we’re a little less happy lately and that can have profound effects.

“Improving and sustaining high wellbeing is vital to any population’s overall health and to its economy,” the report states. “Prior research has shown that high wellbeing closely relates to key health outcomes such as lower rates of healthcare utilization, workplace absenteeism and workplace performance, reduction in obesity status, and the new occurrence of chronic diseases.”

In other words, our contentment is vitally important and taking steps to improve it pays dividends in a number of ways. Instead, in an era when we are more connected than ever, recent studies have highlighted a “loneliness epidemic” sweeping America.

It turns out, it’s not the quantity of connections that matters most to one’s wellbeing; it’s the quality. And Montanans, at least compared to residents in most other states, share a tangible connection to their respective communities. And we can all be happy for that.