Neighboring states happier than South Dakota

Eric Ariel Salas

Eric Ariel Salas

For those planning to live a “happy” life, relocating to Utah, Hawaii, or Wyoming may be the best options. Rethink if you wish to live in these states-Arkansas, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia. What about living in South Dakota?

According to the latest survey numbers released Wednesday last week by Gallup in partnership with Healthways and America’s Health Insurance Plans, South Dakota ranks as the 39th “happiest” state in the U.S.

The title of the “Happiest State of America” goes to Utah. Utah ranks high in almost all indices of well being: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access. On the list, Hawaii comes next, followed by Wyoming. South Dakota ranks very poor in “life evaluation”-the factor that measures a person’s present life and the anticipation of the next five years. Ranking 43 over 50, most South Dakotans are unhappy with their lives and are unoptimistic of what lies ahead of them in the State. In terms of “basic access” (food, shelter and healthcare) the state is way below the rankings.

South Dakota rates very low in “work environment” too. This factor answers questions like: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your job or the work you do? At work, do you get to use your strengths to do what you do best every day, or not? Does your supervisor at work treat you more like he or she is your boss or your partner? Does your supervisor always create an environment that is trusting and open, or not? The score of 41/50 tells me how negative the perceptions of people are about their work environment.

What is surprising about the survey results is that South Dakota is surrounded by states that rank way higher. Minnesota is 5th, Nebraska 16th, North Dakota 28th, Montana 12th, Iowa 27th, Wyoming 3rd. If you look at it as a map, South Dakota is the only state that is colored red while the rest surrounding it have blue tints.

Should this be a reason for South Dakotans to frown? I don’t think so. In fact, there is a bright side to this, which I find contradicting. Among all indices, the state of South Dakota rates higher (9/50) in “emotional health” compares to Utah (10/50). “Emotional Health” asks how people felt yesterday, from the morning until the end of the day -who they were with, what they did, and how they felt based on responses to these items: smiling or laughter, being treated with respect, enjoyment, happiness, worry, sadness, anger, stress, learning or doing something interesting. It is safe to say that South Dakota is home to some of America’s happiest people.

The West has the highest sense of well-being, while unhappy states are clustered more in the east than in the Midwest, the survey says. West Virginia is ranked last among the states, with Kentucky on the 49th and Mississippi 48th on the list.

The survey may have put South Dakota on the 39th place in its well-being index, but being on top or not, there are a few things that make the state attractive: the happy character of the South Dakotans is one saving grace. More info can be found at the Well-Being home page,