South Dakota, Flickr
Do you have a good career going, but find that you are still unhappy? Was that jump from your college internship paying $8/hr to a full-time job at the same company really what made it for you in terms of happiness?
Studies from Purdue have shown that money can help people become happier, but only to a certain extent. In fact, the happiest people in America, in terms of income, are actually those in middle and upper-middle class – not the millionaires living in Silicon Valley.
So what is the magical combination of life experiences and assets that make people the happiest and more importantly, where do they live?
Here is a brief glimpse of the Top 10 happiest cities in America:
- Sioux Falls, SD
- Lincoln, NE
- Olathe, KS
- Overland Park, KS
- Omaha, NE
- Boise City, ID
- Lexington, KY
- Cary, NC
- Madison, WI
- Wichita, KS
Obviously, there must be something more to Kansas and Nebraska than meets the eye. In fact, none of the Top 10 happiest cities are very large metropolitan areas like D.C., New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Curious about how the top 10 made the list? Wondering how you can capitalize on the factors that make those cities so happy? Read on for a more detailed look at the cities that made our list.
How we came up with this list
We didn’t just pull this list of happy cities out of our hats — we looked at the following criteria to determine where people are the happiest:
- Being well educated (Population with at least a bachelor’s degree)
- Having a job (As measured by the unemployment rate)
- A short commute to work (God do people hate traffic)
- Low cost of living
- Having a family (Getting, and staying married, has a ton of happiness benefits, on average)
That’s a ton of fun — and happiness — for the whole family, backed by science. The data all comes from the most recent 2012-2016 American Community Survey.
After we decided on the criteria, we gathered the data for the 200 largest cities in the country.
We then ranked each place from one to 200 for each of the seven criteria with a score of one being the happiest. (Any ties were given to the larger place!)
Next, we averaged the seven rankings into a Happiness Index for each place, with the lowest overall Index winning the title “Happiest Big City in America.”
Keep reading for more on why each of these 10 places made the cut — or just hop to the bottom for a more detailed look at these happy cities.
1. SIOUX FALLS, SD
Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota comes in at number 1 in our ranking. So what makes this city burst with happiness?
A very short commute and the extremely low unemployment rate would make anyone sing with joy. In addition, their incredible arts and culture atmosphere and beautiful parks make this city one of the best.
2. LINCOLN, NE
People often wonder if anything really happens in the Midwest other than farming. Obviously, something good, because Nebraska and Kansas offer some of the happiest cities in America!
Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska and is known for their Sunken Gardens. Lincoln also offers cheap rent, lots of jobs, and short commutes – what more could you ask for?
3. OLATHE, KS
Olathe – coming in at number three in our top 10 list was actually first in last year’s ranking. This sunflower state city is bustling with job opportunity.
Olathe is also a married-couples center, with over 60% of the residents in this city are married. So if you are serious about getting hitched, perhaps checking out Olathe will bring you some happiness.
4. OVERLAND PARK, KS
Moving back to Nebraska comes another go-happy city, Omaha. Omaha and Overland Park actually tie for fourth and fifth on our ranking, but what about these cities makes them so happy?
Omaha’s great zoo, parks, and museums are not the only things that make residents happy. Omaha’s short commute and low unemployment rate also help make this city full of smiles.
5. OMAHA, NE
Like Omaha, Overland Park is yet another Midwestern city that makes it to the top of our lists. It ranks 6th in unemployment and 10th in higher education for residents.
Overland Park is the second largest city in Kansas and is full of great things to do, like heritage centers and Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
6. BOISE CITY, ID
Next in our ranking, we move to Boise City, Idaho, a city in a state known for their potatoes. Who wouldn’t love being surrounded by an agricultural industry that can surround you with fries, hash browns, and mashed potatoes?
In addition to the delicious tubers, Boise City ranks 8th for the commute. Idaho is also known for its ranching and connection to the infamous historical Oregon Trail.
7. LEXINGTON, KY
Lexington comes next in our top 10 with over 41% of the residents having degrees. The average rent here is less than $800/month – who wouldn’t jump with joy at those rates?
Lexington is the second largest city in Kentucky and is known as the horse capital of the world. So if you are a horse lover looking for a happy place to live, check out Lexington.
8. CARY, NC
Cary is known for their low crime rates, low unemployment, and diverse suburbs. It is also located in the Research Triangle Park area, meaning residents of Cary are close to a cornucopia of healthcare and tech jobs.
Cary ranks high on many of our criteria: 4th in higher education, 6th in unemployment, and 7th in married households. While Cary is one large suburbia, there is much nightlife and things to do in the surrounding areas including Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill.
9. MADISON, WI
While Madison comes in 9th on our top 10 list, don’t think it’s residents are unhappy. Like Cary, Madison has low unemployment and a high percentage of residents with higher education degrees, thanks to the University of Wisconsin.
Madison is known for their vibrant music and culture scene. From music festivals to performing arts, you will be sure to find something that’ll make you happy here.
10. WICHITA, KS
Last but not least comes Wichita … another Kansas city! Wichita ranks 9th for commute and 12th for rent costs, making this a convenient and affordable city for anyone.
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas and is the cultural center for Kansas. The city boasts the Wichita Art Museum, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and the Wichita River Festival, which brings over 370k visitors every year to the city.
Feeling happy that your city made it on our Top 10 ranking? If you don’t see your city on the list, but live in a large U.S. city? Check out our full list below to see where you stack up. Perhaps all we need to do is move to Kansas. Who would have known the Midwest is a happiness hub?
If you are looking to improve your own happiness, check out how you can help improve your personal factors: housing costs, job satisfaction, income, and education. Zippia can help you find a career that will help optimize all those factors in your life.