by James A. Bacon
One of the most intriguing disciplines of social scientific study in the 21st century explores the social and economic dimensions of happiness. Academics routinely rank the nations of the world and, less consistently, the fifty states. Our friends at WalletHub have taken a crack at devising their own state-by-state breakdown. But instead of polling people on how happy they are, the financial services website looks at a basket of 28 metrics measuring emotional and physical well being, the work environment and the community & environment. (To view the methodology click here.)
As the 21st happiest state, the glorious commonwealth of Virginia fares better than average, but it’s hardly a Shangri-la. The Old Dominion scores best (10th) in the “community & environment” cluster of metrics, which includes such measures as the volunteerism rate, leisure time, the divorce rate and safety. But it runs in the middle of the pack for emotional & physical well-being (22nd) and work environment (23rd).
We can take some comfort in being the happiest of the Southern states, but that’s setting a low bar.. We lag New England, the West Coast, and a vast bloc of states stretching in the northern plains and Inter-Mountain states. The happiest states are Utah (loaded with Mormons) and Minnesota and North Dakota (chock full of Scandinavian-Americans).
Is it coincidence that the happiest countries in the world — Denmark (#1), Norway (#4), Finland (#5) and Sweden (#8) — are Scandinavian while two of the three happiest states are inhabited mainly by Americans of Scandinavian descent?
I think not. My light, night-time reading at the moment, “Debunking Utopia,” takes a close-up look at the Scandinavian welfare states. One of several fascinating arguments advanced by the author (an Iranian immigrant to Sweden, incidentally) is that the Scandinavian countries are homogeneous societies marked by high degrees of social cohesion, shared values, personal responsibility and trust. As it happens, those traits are associated to a large degree with happiness. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the descendants of Scandinavians, who shared those ancestral traits, are among the happiest of all Americans.
(Both Scandinavians and Scandinavian Americans also are taciturn, as lamented in another book I’ve been reading, “Lab Girl,” but luckily for them gregariousness is not a big predictor of happiness.)
Likewise, Mormons are notable for their social cohesion, shared values, personal responsibility and trust, so it should come as no surprise that Utah and neighboring states with large Mormon populations also score high in the WalletHub rankings.
One of Virginia’s misfortunes, it appears, is to suffer a paucity of Mormons and Scandinavians. If we want to increase our share of happiness, we need to import more Mormons and Scandinavians. There may be more to it than that, but that’s my story right now, and I’m sticking to it.There are currently no comments highlighted.