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This California city is the No. 1 happiest place to live in the U.S.—and it's not LA, San Diego or San Francisco

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While money can't always buy happiness, a move to a new city might lead to a higher quality of life, recent data finds. Cities across the United States vary greatly in their environment, income, citizens' overall well-being and community.

For 2023, California dominated the list of the happiest cities in America, while Fremont, California, topped the list for the second year in a row.

That's according to a recent WalletHub study, which analyzed happiness-related data metrics to determine which American cities are home to the happiest residents. While the U.S. ranks only 16th on the World Happiness Report, the study asserts that some American cities still provide residents with a very positive quality of life.

The study draws on psychological research findings that indicate there is a clear connection between location and happiness. Put simply, where you live can have a large effect on your overall wellbeing, Dr. Sherry Hamby, distinguished research professor of psychology at the University of the South, said in the study. 

"Places with more resources — whether these are natural resources like beaches and mountains, cultural resources like museums and theaters, or essential resources like health care and transportation — tend to have happier people than other places," Hamby said.

Some areas — deemed Blue Zones of Happiness by author Dan Buettner — are home to happier residents than others, University at Albany associate professor of psychology Dev Dalal said in the study. These places feature residents with greater overall purpose, pride and pleasure.

A city's economy can contribute to its residents' happiness. "One factor in making a location related to increased happiness is the economy of the area. Specifically, it is the amount of economic equality among the residents," Dalal said. "The more equality there is among the residents, the happier the residents tend to be."

Here are the 10 happiest cities in the U.S.: 

1. Fremont, California 

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 1
  • Community and environment rank: 1 
  • Income and employment rank: 34

2. San Jose, California

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 2
  • Community and environment rank: 64
  • Income and employment rank: 3

3. Madison, Wisconsin

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 5
  • Community and environment rank: 8
  • Income and employment rank: 41

4. Overland Park, Kansas

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 6
  • Community and environment rank: 6
  • Income and employment rank: 87

5. San Francisco 

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 4
  • Community and environment rank: 69 
  • Income and employment rank: 8

6. Irvine, California

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 8
  • Community and environment rank: 18 
  • Income and employment rank: 40

7. Columbia, Maryland 

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 3
  • Community and environment rank: 28 
  • Income and employment rank: 176

8. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 10
  • Community and environment rank: 21
  • Income and employment rank: 72

9. South Burlington, Vermont 

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 11
  • Community and environment rank: 47
  • Income and employment rank: 25

10. Burlington, Vermont 

  • Emotional and physical wellbeing rank: 28
  • Community and environment rank: 11
  • Income and employment rank: 1

For the ranking, WalletHub analyzed 182 of the largest cities in the U.S., including the top 150 most populated U.S. cities and at least two of the most populated cities in each U.S. state. Cities were assessed based on three categories:

  1. Emotional and physical wellbeing
  2. Community and environment
  3. Income and employment

Within these categories, the study looked at 30 relevant metrics, including life-satisfaction index, depression rate, food insecurity rate, poverty rate, income-growth rate, ideal weather and hate-crime incidents per capita.

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