Leadership

The top 10 happiest and healthiest states in the US

The well-being of people in the United States took a hit in 2017, according to the annual Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index results released this month.

Last year, America saw the greatest year-over-year decline in well-being, with 21 states receiving a lower well-being score than in 2016. Not only did 2017 mark the worst decline in the survey's 10-year history, but it also marked the first year in which not a single state improved in well-being, Dan Witters, the research director of the Well-being Index, explains. These were the worst lows since the Great Recession.

Each state's well-being was calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 marking the lowest score and 100 the highest. The well-being scores comprised the following five elements:

  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

A nationally representative sample of 160,498 adults were interviewed for the 2017 rankings, adding to the Well-Being Index's dataset of more than 2.5 million surveys since its inception in 2008.

Here are the 10 U.S. states with the highest well-being scores:

  1. South Dakota (64.10)
  2. Vermont (64.09)
  3. Hawaii (63.39)
  4. Minnesota (63.12)
  5. North Dakota (63.06)
  6. Colorado (62.87)
  7. New Hampshire (62.80)
  8. Idaho (62.79)
  9. Utah (62.75)
  10. Montana (62.56)

Witters tells CNBC Make It that millennials led the way in reducing smoking among Americans, improving exercise rates and eating more well-balanced diets than other generations. "Millennials have the chance to move America into a better, healthier future," he says.

While over 56 percent of Americans said they exercised for 30 minutes or more for at least three days a week, the percentage of Americans who smoke declined to 17.8 percent, its lowest percentage ever measured by Gallup. For comparison, Gallup polls in the 1950s showed that 45 percent of American adults reported they were smokers.

Obesity rates decreased as well, although the number of Americans with diabetes remained the same as 2016.

People in the top well-being states are more likely to feel a greater sense of satisfaction with where they live, get involved with impactful volunteering, manage their wealth well and feel able to live within their means, Witters says.

"Those in the top states are more likely to carve a spot in their lives where they get to do what they like to do versus just working to put food on the plate," he says. These folks also have a better time setting and reaching goals as they surround themselves with family and friends who keep them accountable and encourage them to be better.

But with even the highest states reaching Well-Being Index scores of only mid-60s out of 100, Witters says "there is plenty of work to be done from a well-being perspective everywhere."

For example, the percentage of people who said they frequently worry is up 32 percent, matching the previous high last experienced in 2009. Witters also saw a sharp uptick in people reporting little interest or pleasure in doing things up 7 percent or 17 million more people in 2017 than in 2016.

Diagnoses of clinical depression also reached the highest level in 10 years.

One of the main objectives of the Gallup-Sharecare partnership for the Well-Being Index, Witters says, is to identify and celebrate best practices across the nation for others to study and emulate.

Above all else, people who had a holistic sense of well-being — in which they equally have high rates of purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being — tend to live happier, healthier lives.

Witters says this is where American millennials can really make a change in the country. "If you keep doing what you're doing, that will be good for America," he says. "To take it to the next level, start focusing more on these other aspects of well-being too."

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