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Is This the Happiest Place in America?

For the second time in a row, Gallup-Healthways ranked this Florida city first for overall well-being

The beach at Naples, Florida. (Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons)
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Switzerland may be the best country in the world (or so says U.S. News & World Report), but there is plenty of happiness to be found here in the USA—and particularly in Florida, according to the latest data from Gallup-Healthways.  For the second year in a row, Naples and the nearby communities of Immokalee and Marco Island have ranked first in their “American well-being” Index, A. Pawlowski reports for Today.

The 2016 Community Well-Being Index is based on Gallup interviews with more than 350,000 people. Researchers analyzed these conversations to measure how residents feel about their physical, emotional, financial, community and social health.

Naples performed well in all categories. The city “had the country’s highest number of residents thriving in community well-being, highest rates of healthy eating, lowest rates of daily stress, and lowest lifetimes diagnoses of depression,” the authors of the report write. 

As David Johnson points out in TIME, several of the highest-ranking communities boast temperate climates and locations near the ocean: two communities in Florida, two in California, and one in Hawaii were ranked among the top ten happiest places in America. But “[h]olistic well-being is about more than good climate,” lead researcher Dan Witters tells Johnson. The inland city of Boulder, Colorado, for instance, ranked high on the Index because residents reported feeling a strong sense of purpose in their jobs, and a sense of pride in their communities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, financial stability played an important part in determining respondents’ happiness. As Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich write in Yahoo Finance, the median household income in a majority of the 25 highest-ranked communities is "well above" the national median income of $55,775, while the majority of low-ranking areas reported household incomes lower than the national average. 

Health—or the lack thereof—was also a crucial factor. Fort Smith, which straddles the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma, was ranked last in the survey. According to Pawlowski, the area’s obesity rate is almost 40 percent, and few residents there reported having “someone in their life who encourages them to be healthy.”

The survey also revealed a complicated relationship between well-being and stress. Residents of Chico, California, reported the highest levels of anxiety in the nation, and the area was accordingly among the Index’s lowest-ranking communities. But Boulder, Colorado, which had the third-highest stress levels, ranked within top tier. The discrepancy between the two areas, it seems, can be chalked up to different types of stress.

“In places that have high percentages of professionals, you’ll have a lot more of what’s sometimes called productive stress, where people will carry out otherwise high well-being lives, but will feel the stress most days,” Witters explains in his interview with Pawlowski.

And through it all, the people of Naples were persistently mellow. The city is home to the least-stressed residents of the country—and this despite the persistent antics of the Florida man.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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