The best states for well-being -- with a surprise at the top

·Yahoo! Homes Contributor
This graphic shows each state's relative rank in the Well-Being Index: The longer the segment, the higher the rank. The colors represent each grouping of 10 states, with dark blue denoting the top 10 and light green denoting the bottom 10.
This graphic shows each state's relative rank in the Well-Being Index: The longer the segment, the higher the rank. The colors represent each grouping of 10 states, with dark blue denoting the top 10 and light green denoting the bottom 10.

Hawaii almost managed to reclaim its spot at the top of the rankings for well-being, a year after tumbling to No. 8. Almost.

And of the dozens of states that could have been its rival, the winner is practically its polar opposite: Alaska.

Yes, in Gallup-Healthways' just-released 2014 index, it's snowy, frigid, isolated Alaska that ranks as the best state for overall well-being. It's a sharp rise from a year earlier, when Alaska was No. 16 -- and the first time Alaska has topped the list.

Hawaii rose from No. 8 in the 2013 index, released a year ago, to No. 2 now. 

Research from Gallup and Healthways, a company that champions health improvement programs, ties high well-being to health outcomes, such as lower rates of healthcare utilization, workplace absenteeism, obesity and newly onset disease, as well as crime and teen pregnancy. Better well-being also means better employee engagement, customer engagement, workplace safety and lower turnover.

(Related: Can your home make you healthier? These condos claim to -- with vitamin C showers, body-synced lights and posture-supporting floorboards)

The companies have been tracking state well-being since 2008. The ranking is determined annually through more than 176,000 interviews with adults across all 50 states, conducted throughout 2014. To determine overall well-being, interviewers asked questions in these five key categories:

Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.

Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life.

Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.

Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community.

Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

Not a single state from the East Coast or West Coast made the rest of the top 10. Nor did any Southern state, unless you count Texas.

And North Dakota, which claimed the No. 1 spot a year ago, tumbled to a pitiful 23rd, thanks to worsened health-related behaviors such as higher smoking rates, reduced exercise and less healthy eating.

The biggest movers compared with the rankings from a year ago. 2014 was just released.
The biggest movers compared with the rankings from a year ago. 2014 was just released.

As far as the worst states go, the Midwest and South are represented in droves.

West Virginia ranked the lowest, beating out Kentucky, which ranked 49th. The two states have occupied these bottom spots for six consecutive years. Rounding out the bottom 10 are Indiana, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan and Missouri.

But truth be told, all the states' scores fell between 59 and 65 on a scale of 0 to 100--so we're not talking massive differences in reported well-being here. The difference between the top 10 and the bottom 10 is only two points--Texas is 62.8 while Missouri is 60.8.

It would appear, from the poll, that we're all sort of doing OK.

Here are the top 10 states for well-being, with a map of all 50 states' rankings at the bottom:

10. Texas

The Rio Grande as viewed from Big Bend National Park, Texas
The Rio Grande as viewed from Big Bend National Park, Texas

Residents in Texas know what they want: The state ranked No. 2 in the purpose category, meaning residents like what they do each day and feel motivated to achieve their goals. Don't mess with Texas, indeed. The state ranked in the top 20 for social and community, which means Texans not only like what they're doing, they like the people they're doing it with. However, despite the state's economic gains, the residents' ranked their financial strength just about average.

9. New Mexico

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta over the Rio Grande
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta over the Rio Grande

The southwestern state's appearance in the top 10 is driven by the residents' strong sense of purpose and physical health, ranking No. 3 and No. 5 in those categories respectively. They were pretty mediocre on everything else, but it would appear the residents feel too good to care.

8. Utah

Salt Lake Valley, Utah
Salt Lake Valley, Utah

Residents of Utah reported high levels of satisfaction within their social circles and their communities. The state ranked No. 15 for physical fitness, though financially, they're No. 33.

7. Nebraska

Native prairie, Nebraska
Native prairie, Nebraska

Physical fitness may not be Nebraska's best quality, where residents rank No. 31 (there's a lot of red meat to eat out there), but it scored in the top 10 in every other category, so residents are clearly feeling purpose-driven, happy with their communities, families and friends, and financially secure.

6. Colorado

Maroon Lake, Colorado
Maroon Lake, Colorado

Colorado, along with Hawaii, has only ever appeared in the top 10. Although the state doesn't take the top spot in any one category this year, it's Colorado's healthy mix of high ranking on all five aspects of well-being that put it at No. 6.

5. Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park, Montana

Big Sky Country did pretty well for itself, ranking No. 2 in the community category and coming in the top 10 in the purpose, community and physical categories. However, the state is lagging behind on the social category, which measures supportive and loving relationships: It ranks No. 33.

4. Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Unlike Montana, Wyoming ranked No. 2 in the social category. The residents reported having low stress, highly stable financial lives, and enjoying their communities, ranking No. 4 in the financial and community categories. The state made big moves this year, moving 30 spaces up from 2013's list.

3. South Dakota

The Badlands, South Dakota
The Badlands, South Dakota

The Dakotas have ranked highly over the years, though this year it was just South Dakota that came in the Top 10. The state ranked No. 1 in both the social and community categories--so it's safe to say residents are feeling connected with their neighbors, friends and families. The state's only drawback was ranking No. 11 in the physical category, which still ain't too bad.

2. Hawaii

The Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii
The Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii, which has consistently ranked in the top 10 since Gallup began ranking states in 2008, was propelled to the second spot thanks to its residents reporting the best sense of financial security, lowest amount of fiscal stress, and the best physical health. However, the isolated state ranked No. 28 socially.

1. Alaska

Margerie Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Margerie Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

This is Alaska's first appearance as No. 1 on the list, driven by high rankings in each of the five categories. The state's residents reported having the highest sense of purpose, and the second-highest sense of satisfaction with their financial and physical lives. It ranked No. 3 in the community category and No. 7 in the social category, so Alaskans feel they want for nothing.

 
 

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