WASHINGTON - People in sunny, outdoorsy states - Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida - say they are the happiest Americans, and researchers think they know why.
A new study comparing self-described pleasant feelings with objective measures of good living found these folks generally have reason to feel fine.
The places where people are most likely to report happiness also tend to rate high on studies comparing things such as climate, crime rates, air quality, and schools.
The happiness ratings were based on a survey of 1.3 million people across the country by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It used data collected over four years that included a question asking people how satisfied they are with their lives.
Economists Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and Stephen Wu of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., compared the happiness ranking with studies that rated states on a variety of criteria ranging from availability of public land to commuting time to local taxes.
Their report in today's journal Science found the happiest people tend to live in the states that do well in quality-of-life studies.
Ranking No. 1 in happiness was Louisiana. Oswald urged a bit of caution in that ranking, noting that part of the happiness survey occurred before Hurricane Katrina struck the state in 2005. Nevertheless, he said, "We have no explicit reason to think there is a problem" with the ranking.
Rounding out the happy five were Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arizona.
Last in happiness is New York state. As if to illustrate the problem, residents attending a meeting Wednesday in rural Queensbury unleashed their anger at a state government they described as corrupt, self-dealing, and too quick to increase taxes. One lifelong resident said he was ready to flee "this stinkin' state."
Oswald suggested the long commutes, congestion, and high prices around New York City account for some of the unhappiness.
Delaware ranked 22d; Pennsylvania, 41st; and New Jersey, 47th.
Oswald said he has been asked if the researchers expected that states like New York and California, which ranked 46th, would do so badly.
"Many people think these states would be marvelous places to live in," he said. "The problem is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a nonfulfilling prophecy."