Health Buzz: Survey Ranks Nation's Happiness

If you want to be happier, keep your focus; 5 ways to be more optimistic.

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Survey: Hawaii is Happiest State in Nation; West Virginia is Least Happiest

Warm weather, sunny skies, and palm trees: There must be something to island life, because Hawaii is the happiest state in the nation. So suggests a new Gallup survey that ranks Americans' well-being, based on their evaluation of different aspects of their lives. The poll probed people's physical and emotional health, eating habits, job satisfaction, and access to health care and safe places to exercise. It assessed respondents' physical health through their well-restedness, whether they battle daily headaches, and other measures; emotional health measures included, for example, how often a person laughs, and whether he's struggled with sadness, anger, stress, or depression. Researchers interviewed 350,000 adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and found that people who live in the South are often the least happy. Ten southern states fall into the lower range of the list, while five western states count among the 10 happiest. At the top of the list, following Hawaii, are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and Colorado. Meanwhile, the survey suggests that life is bleakest in West Virginia. Michigan, Delaware, Ohio, and Kentucky also rank among the most unhappy. But there could be ways to increase satisfaction in even the gloomiest states: "Finding ways to increase residents' access to good jobs and to basic necessities—including medical care—and decrease costly, chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes will be the most likely means to improve well-being," according to the report.

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  • Want to Be Happier? Keep Your Focus

    Nearly half the time we're awake, our thoughts drift to topics unrelated to whatever we're doing, U.S. News reports. We think about a fight with our spouse when we're driving, or replay events from a friend's wild party while brushing our teeth in the morning. We text incessantly while watching TV, and phone mom during laundry-folding time. And while our minds wander—even when we're having pleasant daydreams—we're not very happy, according to a new study published in November in the journal Science. "How often peoples' minds wander is definitely a big predictor of who's happy and who's not happy," says study author Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University, because the more often they take themselves out of the present moment, the less happy they are.

    The study found that happiness falls when folks aren't focused on the task at hand, even an unenjoyable one, like doing errands. The researchers used a novel approach to get real-time snapshots of what the 2,250 study participants were thinking and how they felt throughout the day. They developed a free iPhone app that buzzed volunteers, whose average age was 34, several times a day asking them how they were feeling right before they were contacted, what they were doing and whether they were thinking about something other than what they were doing. Except during sex, participants recorded their minds wandering during every activity; most frequently, minds drifted off during personal grooming like taking a shower, shaving, and putting on makeup. [Read more: Want to Be Happier? Keep Your Focus.]

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    • 5 Ways to Become an Optimist

      A study published last year in Psychological Science found that those with more optimistic attitudes had better-functioning immune systems which, in turn, helped them ward off illnesses. Yet far too many of us assume that optimism is an inborn trait bestowed on a lucky few, U.S. News reports. That's a completely wrong assumption, says James Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University. Can people learn to be optimists? "The answer is an indisputable yes," says Maddux. He recommends the following:

      Reframe "disasters." After witnessing a round of layoffs at your office, you may feel panicked that you'll soon be facing the loss of your own "dream job." Maddux says you need to disabuse yourself of the notion that there's only one job for you. "You may think that if you lose your job you may never find another that's as fulfilling, but that's probably not the case," he says. While you shouldn't deny that your current position might not last forever, you also need to acknowledge that there will probably be other professional opportunities that, after a period of adjustment, could potentially be as challenging and satisfying, he says.