Pollsters ask how Americans feel about their emotional and physical health, whether they like their work environment, if their behavior is healthy, and if they have access to the basic necessities of life. From this information they compile the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, which shows which states are the happiest.
This year, pollsters interviewed 175,000 Americans and determined that the happiest state in the United States is (drum roll please): North Dakota.
Images from the movie “Fargo” come to mind make that frozen wasteland anything but appealing — at least to warm-blooded Southerners. Yet, Gallup found residents of “The Peace Garden State” ranked first in happiness — just a couple of clicks above South Dakota. Nebraska came in third.
What makes this all the more impressive is that last year North Dakota ranked 19th and South Dakota ranked 12th.
Although both have ranked high in many categories, the region’s oil boom has brought jobs. For the fifth year in a row, North Dakota has ranked at the top in employee perception of job creation on the Gallup Job Creation Index.
In the Dakotas, people have jobs and are confident that they will have them for years to come. Prosperity and security influence the other areas surveyed. When all were combined, those states rose to the top.
Alabama, of which we are most interested, fell near the bottom.
In 2013, with unemployment high and under-employment common, Alabamians were not feeling good about themselves and their future, according to Gallup. So dismal was our outlook that the state’s well-being ranking fell from 45th in 2012 to 47th last year.
Tennessee and Arkansas moved ahead of us, while Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia remained at the bottom.
This isn’t frivolous data. Alabama’s elected leaders should wonder why Alabamians aren’t deemed as happy as states like the Dakotas. In a perfect world, the surprising answers would inspire them to stop political posturing and address the state’s real problems.