Top 10 Least Happy U.S. States

Try to name the least happy states in the United States of America, based on how people answered the question "How happy do you feel on a scale from 1 to 4?".
Data from 1.3 million Americans from 2005–2008. Source.
Quiz by davidalejc
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Last updated: October 16, 2020
First submittedApril 2, 2020
Times taken10,056
Rating4.39
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Rank
Unhappy State
50
New York
49
Connecticut
48
New Jersey
47
Michigan
46
Indiana
Rank
Unhappy State
45
California
44
Illinois
43
Ohio
42
Massachusetts
41
Rhode Island
+19
Level ∞
Oct 16, 2020
The data is old but it's very good. It's based on an absolutely massive survey. It also directly asks people how happy they are instead of trying to infer happiness based on various government spending programs.
+14
Level 81
Oct 17, 2020
I'd say that self-reporting of happiness is even more problematic. People are deluded and they also answer questions like this in ways that they know they are supposed to answer based on the culture they've been socialized into. This is a well-known phenomenon in psychology, and the only surveys on people's happiness or emotional well being that are usually considered accurate are when they ask the same group of people how they are feeling over an extended period of time with changing variables, but the people surveyed cannot be aware of what those variables being looked at are or it will also affect their answers.

For example, if you ask random people if having a child made them happy or sad, an overwhelming majority will answer happy. On the other hand if you follow random couples, some of whom have kids and some who don't, and check at standard intervals how they are feeling, you can see that having kids is just about the worst thing that can happen to a person.

+37
Level 62
Oct 18, 2020
Kal, while I think your thoughts on surveys are true, I don't really agree about the kids part. I'm sure people who have young children are more stressed sometimes because of the burdens that raising children can bring, but calling it the worst thing that can happen to a person seems a "little" exaggerated.
+20
Level 78
Oct 18, 2020
Happiness is subjective, but for me family and country living mean happiness. It's seeing the grandkids, or dropping a line in the pond for supper, or knowing all my neighbors and knowing they would come if I needed help. It's sitting on the patio watching the first lightning bugs of summer, and watching new calves frolicking in the pasture. It's canning and freezing garden produce that we couldn't give away. It's having a church family who brings soup when we're sick and prays for us when comfort is needed. It's seeing the stars in a dark sky. It's also slow internet, lousy cellphone service, mosquitoes, bad roads, few decent restaurants, lack of diversity, and dust that rolls in waves from the gravel road. Dusting never ends in my house. Yet, I would have answered yes. I feel contented, peaceful, and happy with my life despite its imperfection. I think we're as happy as we decide to be, and I hope you all can find happiness in your own places, wherever and whatever that means to you.
+2
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
nicolas: I just mean the worst thing for one's mental well-being. In a study they conducted over many years in Germany, the birth of a child had a more significant negative impact on this than the death of a family member, divorce, or losing one's job. None of the participants in the study had to live through civil war or anything, though; I'm sure there are worse things.

My own personal theory on this is that we are all taught by society that having kids is something that is supposed to make us happy. We are fed a lot of fairytale nonsense about what this will mean for our lives. When we have them, we know that it's supposed to make us euphoric and give our lives meaning, and so often we report these things to others. But, raising kids is not like what you'd read on a Hallmark card. It's enormously stressful, exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive. You will likely have to give up hobbies and passions and most of your old life. And then they may grow up to hate you for it.

+1
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
I think that's probably what the German study was uncovering. This largely unspoken cost.
+1
Level 71
Oct 20, 2020
Whether having kids makes you happy really depends on how self centered you are. And more wealthy and educated cultures tend to be more self centered.
+2
Level 81
Oct 21, 2020
^ I think this is pretty much nonsense, too. I've heard it often said that wishing to not have kids means you are selfish. On the contrary, it seems to me like having kids is just about the most selfish thing a person can ever do. What act could you take that would have a more profound effect on someone else's life other than the act of conceiving them? And yet nobody is ever consulted about whether or not they would like to be born. Still people are willing to force this upon their children to fulfill their own selfish desires. As, after all, all desires are selfish if you deconstruct and analyze them.
+2
Level 71
Oct 21, 2020
I didn't say wishing to not have kids means you're selfish. I said being unhappy because you already have them is selfish. Two different things.
+2
Level 62
Dec 6, 2020
Curious about the German study. It would absolutely make sense for there to be a dip in happiness in the first years after a kid is born. It is very difficult and expensive to care for a young child in an individualistic culture without lots of help from family. I doubt there is a lasting negative impact on happiness. If there is a negative correlation it could be that childless people may have deliberately made that choice because they really like their lives as is.
+1
Level 49
Dec 7, 2020
^Apparently you haven't been the youngest child when your older brother is filling out College apps... yeah that was a Mother-Son relationship ruined.
+13
Level ∞
Oct 16, 2020
New York and California may surprise people. We see the glamorous lifestyles depicted on TV, but life for average people in those places can be pretty miserable due to high cost of living and long commutes.
+7
Level 71
Oct 17, 2020
So many people are leaving California right now. It's really sad.
+2
Level 51
Dec 9, 2020
Sad from a nostalgic romanticized point of view, yes. But good for many other reasons.
+9
Level 49
Oct 17, 2020
New York doesn't surprise me whatsoever. I would've been shocked if it weren't on there. NYC particularly has a reputation for being very dirty and gritty and full of rude people. And it's in the northeast, so less sunshine than the other states.
+15
Level 74
Oct 17, 2020
My guess out of the psychological kitchen sink: California and New York are places where massive wealth is concentrated. Ordinary people have all that luxury and success before their eyes but are shut out of it, and that makes them feel like losers. Studies suggest that social media have a similar effect because they make you believe that evereyone else has a much better life.
+8
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
I've read multiple studies that once your basic needs are being met, wealth only influences your level of happiness if you have more or less than your peers. So it depends on who you see as your peers. If you are an hourly wage slave working on Wall Street I guess it might have a negative impact. Most people only really consider their peer group to be their friends, their family, their co-workers, and the people who live on their street. other social groups they may be involved in. Though there are people who obsess about a life out of their reach but you can do that from anywhere watching Keeping up with the Kardashians. My friend was like that; he was obsessed with playing in the NBA, and was depressed his whole life because he didn't get to live that lifestyle. But he never lived anywhere other than Manassas Park.
+1
Level 67
Dec 6, 2020
I've read those too. You have a cap on happiness that doesn't go up when you make more money. The Easterlin Paradox.
+1
Level 74
Dec 9, 2020
I agree with you but I don't see a contradiction to my point. Wealth wouldn't make you happier if you actually had it, but to see more successful people around you can still make you feel like a loser.
+18
Level 67
Oct 17, 2020
I guessed Massachusetts and Connecticut because of their high level of education. Knowledge is often correlated with unhappiness.
+7
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
damn that tricky serpent...
+1
Level 26
Dec 6, 2020
That literally proves kids thoughts of not liking school...makes sense since they did ask most of the people there. School can be very unliked by children at times.
+4
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
I lived in California. It was lovely. Bit expensive, yes, but that didn't make me feel sad. I lived for a while in the Bay Area, which is gorgeous and a great place to spend time, even in the crappier areas that I was in (Richmond, San Pablo), then moved up to Davis which is a picturesque college town with regular farmer's markets and a car-free downtown area great for taking walks or biking. I worked multiple jobs there. The one on campus was just a 5 minute drive downtown and then a 5 minute walk through the pedestrian only zone. The job I had in Dixon was about a 15 minute drive down the highway; I worked night shifts and there was never any traffic. The job I had in Sacramento was just about a 15-20 minute ride on the bus which stopped on the corner next to my home and went straight to the place I worked. Rent on the apartment was slightly high, but the area was beautiful, the neighbors were friendly, and the weather was wonderful year round. I didn't even have a degree at the time
+13
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
My best guesses for the real reasons that these states show up are:

1. Big cities. City life tends to produce less happy people than country life. Though personally I don't relate; I like cities. NY, NJ, MI, CA, IL, OH, MA

2. The rust belt. High unemployment and economic stagnation in those places leading to higher rates of crime and less optimism about the future. NY, MI, IN, IL, OH

3. Less religiosity. Leading to people with a more realistic outlook on life who feel less pressure to falsely report that they are happy. CT, NJ, CA, RI

4. Transient populations. People moving around for work or school, leading to weaker communal ties et cetera. Pretty much the same thing as the big cities.

5. Seasonal affective disorder. Sunlight and weather matters a lot. Every state except California.

+6
Level 81
Oct 18, 2020
Also maybe a better educated populace, more engaged with the news and more aware of problems in the country and around the world. I'd have to cross-reference with the quiz on best-educated states to see if that holds any water. Just a guess. This probably applies in MA, RI, CA, CT, and NJ.

::goes to have a look:: ..yeah there might be some credence to that theory. MA, CT, NJ and NY show up on that quiz, with MA being ranked #1.

+9
Level 83
Oct 19, 2020
LOL @ #3.

Religious people can't actually be happy, so they must be lying?

+10
Level 81
Oct 21, 2020
Not even close to what I said.
+2
Level 65
Nov 9, 2020
I feel like the single biggest factor is probably cities. Things like pollution, traffic, long commutes, etc. might make people unhappy. Not saying that city-living is a bad thing and there are definite benefits (more access to certain resources, better public transportation, more stuff to do/see, etc.), but there are clear downsides too. This further makes sense when you look at the happiest list, where most of the states are predominantly rural.
+2
Level 44
Nov 9, 2020
I totally understand what you mean by #3. I dunno what Jayrod's problem is.
+5
Level 66
Nov 14, 2020
His problem was most likely with the statement that non religious people "feel less pressure to falsely report that they are happy," as though none of the religious people interviewed could actually be happy.

Frankly, much of the discussion on these threads seems slightly offensive. Of course this is all very subjective but isn't that the whole point? If someone came up to me and told me that I must have been lying and couldn't possibly be happy because of *X* or *Y* factor, I think I would be extremely insulted.

+4
Level 40
Dec 6, 2020
Of course religious people can be happy, and I'm sure many are. I think the point is this: when it comes to people who are unhappy, religious people are for some reason or another more likely to say that they're happy anyways, whereas irreligious people are more likely to just bluntly say "nah I hate it here".

I don't know how much I buy this theory personally, but it's a far cry from claiming that religious people can't be happy or must be lying.

Edit: That said, I do agree that #3 was worded in a pretty offensive way. Maybe this is my California showing, but I have not found religious people to be less "realistic".

+1
Level 49
Dec 7, 2020
SouthwestChief, the entire subtext of this thread is that it's subjective, and so these won't apply to everyone, so don't take offense because you meet a criteria that sometimes increases the likelihood that you aren't sad. This isn't a personal attack on you, it's just saying that these are likely reasons these states are pretty high.
+1
Level 40
Dec 8, 2020
the religious aspect isn't so much about feeling pressured, it's more about a different perspective. I'm from a small poor, rural religious community and when things got bad no matter what the cause a lot of people prayed about it and went along with their day. They just trusted that God would help them and as long as they were doing their best things would work out. They didn't stay stressed or worried about it as much.

I do see the correlation but I don't think it's about lying (which would be irreverent anyways), it's more about the frame of mind creating an environment where happiness can still exist even in the face of sadness because other needs that are more important to the individual are still being met.

I remember reading a study about demographics of people and their level of happiness and the Amish scored super high compared to most everyone else. They were super happy because they felt free to do their own thing and felt they were doing God's work. To each their own!

+1
Level 58
Dec 15, 2020
Orrrr religious communities provide more rootedness and community and a sense of purpose that does make people happier? That's certainly what I've witnessed. Very close-minded of you to so broadly claim it's self-delusion.
+1
Level 61
Jan 4, 2021
Except it is self-delusion. Who needs to faces the existential crisis that is an eternity of nothingness upon death, if you can delude yourself into thinking there's something more beyond it?
+1
Level 71
Feb 23, 2021
Can you provide empirical evidence of this "eternity of nothingness"?
+4
Level 71
Oct 18, 2020
Neither surprised me. In fact, none of them surprised me since they make up a large part of the wealth so you have a large group of people who stupidly think money is going to make them happy and the more they achieve the less happy they are because they have no clue what happiness is. Look at the states that make up the happiest and people are surprised because they are less wealthy but they are beautiful states where people enjoy their land, their families, and the peace that comes with just living without stress.
+1
Level 71
Dec 6, 2020
I believe this is a first. I agree with kal. Wealth and materials things do not necessarily buy happiness.
+1
Level 65
Dec 6, 2020
...that isn't kal. It's kap (although, not to speak for the man, I suspect this is a sentiment with which kal would agree).
+2
Level 45
Nov 9, 2020
Unpopular Opinion: I love long commutes. Especially by mass transit.
+3
Level 57
Dec 6, 2020
I only like long commutes when they're by mass transit. If it's not too horribly crowded. You can bring a book to read and you don't have to deal with traffic.
+1
Level 56
Dec 6, 2020
Yeah, most of these states are losing people to interstate emigration, the only reason their population is growing is because of immigration from other countries.
+1
Level 67
Dec 6, 2020
New York was my first guess. I think happiness has more to do with your outlook on life than your circumstances.
+5
Level 81
Oct 16, 2020
Pretty heavy rust belt representation.
+7
Level 90
Oct 17, 2020
I found the answers to this quiz more intuitive than the answers to the 10 most happy states quiz for some reason.
+4
Level 81
Oct 17, 2020
Well, I guess big cities = bad
+1
Level 62
Oct 18, 2020
Maybe it's because I took the happiest states quiz first, but same for me!
+3
Level 79
Oct 17, 2020
aka the realistic states
+9
Level 65
Oct 19, 2020
I feel asking people about happiness can lead to some bias. Especially when it relies on people answering truly and not just what they've been 'conditioned' to say.

Generally, conservatives are probably more likely to say 'yes, i'm happy' because that is how they were raised, wheras more liberal people may be more likely to actually say when they are unhappy and why/what they could improve.

I think that's why your typical big democrat states like Illinois, New York and California are on here.

+5
Level 72
Oct 20, 2020
Religion plays a big part, too. Deeply religious people are generally very happy and able to weather hardship very well. Plus, they have a tight knit church community and strong social circle.

I'll admit that I'm often envious of my relatives in the Bible Belt.

+1
Level 51
Dec 9, 2020
I'm not sure about them being that "happy". The religious people that I know give me a sense that they're more acceptant of their problems, they cope better. They may present that they're grateful for everything that life brings, but the misery is still there. Not to mention that relying so much on faith and acceptance can impair them in realistically solving their problems.
+1
Level 79
Oct 19, 2020
All states that have winter. And California.
+4
Level 84
Oct 19, 2020
Yet Montana and Maine show up on the happiest states quiz, so it's not just weather.

I think it's less to do with winter and more with a general outlook and pace of life. All of these states are heavily urbanized, while the happiest states have a better balance of rural population, with the rural areas generally having a healthier and more optimistic outlook.

+1
Level 49
Dec 7, 2020
Well how do you explain Nordic and the Benelux being one of the happiest regions, and the developed regions of Africa being... one of the less happy regions.
+3
Level 71
Oct 19, 2020
New England seems generally unhappy (3 states on this list), except for Maine, which is in the top 10 happiest. Does LL Bean make people that happy?
+1
Level 56
Dec 6, 2020
I mean it kind of makes sense the more I think about it. I mean my family an many others certainly didn't leave New England cause they were happy.
+1
Level 86
Oct 23, 2020
Mo money, mo problems.
+4
Level 72
Oct 28, 2020
I really didn't want this to be political...but I just started by guessing traditionally blue states and rust belt states. That got me 9/10.
+1
Level 56
Dec 6, 2020
Yeah big cities. I think a simple life leads to the most happiness.
+1
Level 44
Dec 6, 2020
I'm surprised it's not the more impoverished states like AL, MS, WV, KY. Cost of living must be a big factor.
+4
Level 56
Dec 6, 2020
the rank column on this seems basically useless, considering we know it’s the bottom 10 of 50 states. perhaps it could be replaced with the average answer from 1 to 4 in each state? i think that would be more interesting
+3
Level 67
Dec 6, 2020
Dude, it's all because people have to work so damn much all the time just to earn a professional salary. What kind of sick culture says you need to work 80 hour weeks to make enough to have kids in a 2-bedroom apartment? Give people cheap space, and they'll be massively happier. THAT'S what the rest of the country has.
+3
Level 26
Dec 6, 2020
Agreed.
+2
Level 65
Dec 6, 2020
I think, outside of San Francisco and Manhattan, there isn't anywhere you need to work 80 hours a week to have a two-bedroom apartment. You can't always live in a plum neighborhood, but you can live in the city and find reasonable housing. In Chicago, where I live, there are lots of affordable places on the near south side and the far north side. The near west is gentrifying rapidly and the far west is where much of the violence occurs. But there are plenty of neighborhoods where a middle-class or working class family can live just fine. In New York, you just need to stay out of Manhattan and some parts of Brooklyn.
+1
Level 67
Dec 6, 2020
In Brooklyn you'd also need to work like an animal to be able to afford a family apartment in a neighborhood where you won't get shot or where you won't have an hour and a half commute. And honestly, once you have to move to the suburbs, what's the goddamn point?
+3
Level 55
Dec 6, 2020
States where Cuomo, Newsom and Whitmer force their draconian laws on everyone.
+7
Level 65
Dec 6, 2020
This has got to be the least relevant explanation offered yet, especially since the data is from 2005-2008.
+2
Level 38
Dec 9, 2020
Say what you want, but 8 of these 10 states are blue. The exceptions being Ohio and Indiana which are both red. Guess democrats aren’t really a happy group.
+1
Level 63
Feb 9, 2021
Correlation does not mean causation. Literally the first thing they teach you in any data analysis program.
+2
Level 55
Dec 7, 2020
I'm willing to bet this list coincides with cost of living.
+1
Level 74
Dec 7, 2020
As a lifelong CT resident I am not at all surprised to see my state as the second least happy state. I'm pretty content with my life here, but the constant misery you hear from people, many of whom live fairly decent lives, can help create a general sense of despair.
+1
Level 38
Dec 11, 2020
The first ones I guessed were New York and Jersey and of course they were the ones that were at the top. (this doesn't prove that new yorkers are rude stereotype wrong :D )
+1
Level 79
Dec 30, 2020
Wow.... even people in the state of Misery are happier than New Yorkers and Californians.