People who live in Hawaii enjoy a greater sense of well-being than the rest of the country – no surprise there – but Nebraska isn't far behind. The Cornhusker State ranked 8th in Gallup's 2011 national well-being index. Iowa ranked 16th.
“Economics and socioeconomic status would explain a lot of this,” said Richard Stacy, a professor of public health education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Nebraska hasn't fared especially well in other physical health surveys but has avoided the economic crisis that has plagued other states. A sense of well-being often stems from financial security, Stacy said.
“We have some of the lowest unemployment in the nation. People in Nebraska are working. They may not be millionaires,” he said, “but they're working.”
“People who have higher levels of income, education and job status typically score better in health surveys.”
Southern states, for example, are typically the poorest in the U.S., Stacy said, and their well-being suffers as a result. They accounted for half of the 10 lowest scores. West Virginia claimed the bottom spot.
For the survey, Gallup polled more than 350,000 adults in the U.S. by phone.
Most high scores were concentrated in the middle of the country and a pocket in the Northeast.
This geographic pattern is consistent since Gallup first conducted the daily poll in 2008. No state's well-being score has changed dramatically over the past four years. All scores fell between 60 and 75 points of a possible 100, which means there aren't dramatic differences from the top of the list to the bottom. Nebraska scored 68.3, which is slightly higher than the national average.
“It makes you feel good, but if I lived somewhere else, I probably wouldn't pack up and move to Nebraska,” Stacy said.