Well-being in America isn’t always where you expect it

by Ryan Streeter on February 27, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

As someone who has helped craft a global index that includes measures of well-being, I can say that playing with data on quality of life is always a bit tricky. But not only is it doable, it’s end result is often instructive and useful.

Gallup’s been at this awhile, so it’s alway worth paying attention to the results they generate. The well-being numbers for the United States that Gallup released today paint an interesting picture.

Contrary to received wisdom among elites, the hip-and-cool places are not leaders in well-being. Aside from Hawaii, which tops the list, the top ten states on the well-being index are dominated by the upper plains.

North Dakota comes in second and is followed by Minnesota, Utah, Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Montana.

As we recently noted, North Dakota is booming right now, creating jobs left and right and creating widespread opportunity through its energy policy and practices. Other plains states are similarly poised to offer what the majority of Americans want: job opportunities, a favorable cost of living, decent schools, and a quality of life generally free from the hassles of politicized interests expressed in tax and regulatory policy.

Well-being according to Gallup is driven by factors other than just these, but there’s still no denying that people are just happier in places that offer a decent quality of life with a healthy dose of personal liberty and reliable services (in the Northeast, New England fares well, for instance).

Here’s how well-being in America looks as a map: