10 Happiest Cities in America

What does it take to be America’s happiest city? Images of frolicking dogs, chirping bluebirds, and pie on every window sill come to mind, but when the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index set out to determine this elusive answer they used measures other than those from a Norman Rockwell illustration.

Based on the results of telephone surveys with a random sample of 352,840 adults, compilers of the index asked numerous questions about six sub-indexes: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores were calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal.

To determine how to include which cities, they used the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. In many cases, more than one city is included in the same MSA. Areas in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia were included.

Here are the overall rankings for all cities in the country–number 1 being deemed the best for well being. (Ranking by large, medium, and small city follows.)

Next: The 10 Happiest Cities: Overall Ranking (cities of all sizes).

10. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
This MSA ranked well for Physical Health and Life Evaluation, but it’s overall ranking was hampered slightly by it’s poor performance in terms of Work Environment.

9. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
The Bridgeport area ranked well for Physical Health and Life Evaluation.

8. Gainesville, FL
Gainesville, Fla ranked number one in the category of Work Environment. Among the questions in this section: Are you satisfied/dissatisfied with your job?, do you get to use your strengths so you can do what you do best?, does your supervisor behave like a boss or a partner?, and does your supervisor create a trusting and open work environment?

7. Cedar Rapids, IA
The Cedar Rapids area ranked well for Emotional Health, Basic Access and Life Evaluation, although it didn’t do very well for Healthy Behavior.

6. Madison, WI
Madison did well across the board, but ranked especially well for Physical Health, Basic Access and Life Evaluation.

5. Honolulu, HI
Honolulu (surprise, surprise) was ranked number one in the Life Evaluation and Emotional Health categories. For the Life Evaluation measure, the big question was to rate your current life on a scale of 0-10 (10 being the best) and then imagine your life five years out and give another rating.

Emotional Health questions included: Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? (the survey did not provide breakout data on respondents with teenage kids), did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? and did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?

4. Provo-Orem, UT
Utah proved to keep its inhabitants happy by being a city well-suited for Physical Health, Basic Access and Life Evaluation

3. Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
This MSA scored well on all measures, with the lowest, Work Environment, still bringing in an overall ranking of 17th-best in the country.

2. Lincoln, NE
Lincoln is third in the nation for Work Environment, resulting in workplaces with supervisors who create high-trust environments, a characteristic of top management talent and a vanguard of a highly engaged and productive workforce.

1. Boulder, CO
Boulder is second in the nation in opportunities for its residents to “learn something new or interesting,” a common feature of the highest wellbeing metro areas in America. Book stores, museums, art exhibits, and non-traditional learning environments, such as topical community seminars at local colleges or Elderhostel programs, could all contribute to enhanced opportunities for residents to learn and grow, which can lead to higher well-being.

Boulder scored first in the nation for Physical Health: Respondents were asked to weigh in on whether they had any health issues that prevented them from doing any age-appropriate stuff and how many days over the past month had they been ill enough that it interfered with their plans. They were also questioned on current physical ailments — such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart conditions — and whether they had a cranky neck, back, knee, or leg in the past year that had caused chronic pain.

Next: Top 10 by Large, Mid-Sized and Small

The 10 Happiest Large Cities (Those with over 1 million residents.)

1. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
2. Austin-Round Rock, TX
3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
4. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
5. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
6. Minneapolis-St.Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
7. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH
8. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
9. Raleigh-Cary, NC
10. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT

The 10 Happiest Mid-Sized Cities (Those with between 300,000-1 million residents.)

1. Boulder, CO
2. Lincoln, NE
3. Fort Collins-Loveland, CO
4. Provo-Orem, UT
5. Honolulu, HI
6. Madison, WI
7. Cedar Rapids, IA
8. Gainesville, FL
9. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
10. Peoria, IL

The 10 Happiest Small Cities (Those with less than 300,000 residents.)

1. Burlington-South Burlington, VT
2. Olympia, WA
3. Bellingham, WA
4. Bremerton-Silverdale, WA
5. Topeka, KS
6. Barnstable Town, MA
7. Charlottesville, VA
8. Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA
9. Medford, OR
10. Amarillo, TX

10 Saddest Cities in America
10 Most Dog-Friendly U.S. Cities
America’s 10 Most Toxic Cities
10 Things Unhappy People Have in Common


Thomas Rockford
Thomas Rockford4 years ago

What is it with the east that makes people miserable? Hmmmm...
I love living in San Jose :) Weather is perfect, and it's not as expensive as other parts of Cali!
I pay $900/month for rent for a one bedroom in a nice area.
I pay $25/month to fill up my Prius (thanks Toyota! thanks GasBuddy app)
I pay $25/month for car insurance (from 4AutoInsuranceQuote)
I pay $50/month for cable/internet.
Apart from that.. food is pretty cheap too... much more so than when I lived in NYC.
San Jose can't be beat :)

Joe R.
Joe R6 years ago

A good friend living in Lincoln, NE was shocked - she didn't realize how happy she was!

Ellie Damann
.7 years ago


Svetlana B.
Svetlana B7 years ago

I visited Honolulu Hawaii, during my teens, I loved it. Brings back good memories. I actually had a chance to travel with my family across the whole U.S.A , I guess I was happy all the time. Beautiful landscapes, sightseeing. Lived in San Francisco, beautiful city with even more beautiful people; once went to a small city Carmel and I just fell in love with it. Good article, thank you.

Jessie Dijkstra
Jessie D7 years ago

i wanna move

Matilda H.
Past Member 7 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago


Molly F.
Molly S7 years ago

Why do I have to click through 14 pages to complete this article. Surely there has to be a better way to do do things.

Suzanne H.
Suzanne H7 years ago

Notice Los Angeles was not on the list................LOL

Liv Finch
Liv Finch7 years ago

Utah really? I can completely see any where in Hawaii being awesome.