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    Why are Californians so happy?

    By Gianna Melillo, The Hill

    California and its cities frequently top national happiness rankings.

    Story at a glance

    • Californians’ high quality of life helps push the state to the top of happiness rankings.
    • Greater wealth, good physical and mental health and interpersonal relationships play a role in residents’ overall happiness.
    • California boasts the highest life expectancy in the country and second lowest share of adult depression.

    California cities, and the state itself, consistently rank among the happiest in the nation.

    A recent recent SmartAsset analysis analysis deemed Sunnyvale, Calif., the happiest city in the country, while five other cities in the state also made the top 10.

    separate WalletHub list ranked California the seventh happiest state in the country, and the website also ranked six cities in the state among the top 10 happiest in its own analysis.

    So, what does the Golden State and its cities have that others lack when it comes to maximizing happiness?

    In many cases, the answer lies in the overall quality of life enjoyed by California residents.

    “It turns out that Sunnyvale frequently rates highly in these sorts of rankings,” said Jennifer Garnett, communications officer for the city, in an interview with Changing America. Over the years, Sunnyvale has been named the safest city in America, the best place to live and the most relaxed city, Garnett said.

    But a combination of factors drives the city’s overall happiness ratings, she added.

    “We deliver exceptional services as a city. I think that’s one of the many reasons Sunnyvale is so attractive. But we’re also at the heart of Silicon Valley. And people come here from all over the world because of the great jobs, the weather, all the things to do, low crime, and all of those things combine into a great quality of life.”

    Roseville, Calif., ranked seveth in SmartAsset’s list of happiest cities and also happens to be located near Silicon Valley — one of the largest technology hubs in the world.

    City Manager Dominick Casey cited similar reasons to Garnett’s when it comes to understanding the high levels of happiness.

    “It really is a great city. It’s a safe city. It was well planned. We have great parks and trails and outdoor opportunities, great shopping and dining. And so there’s really something for everybody,” Casey told Changing America, adding “We care deeply about the quality of life.”

    The median household income in California is around $10,000 higher than the U.S. median of $70,700, while the state has the largest economy in the country. Apart from Silicon Valley, California is a major hub for the film and television industries — all sectors that bring in high earnings.

    And despite high housing costs in parts of the state, Californians also have some of the highest levels of disposable income.

    Though not true in all cases, research shows that more money can lead to more happiness.

    2021 study on more than 30,000 Americans found higher incomes are associated with feeling better on a day-to-day basis and improved life satisfaction.

    Greater wealth can also lead to healthier living conditions, improved access to health care and protection against chronic diseases.

    California has been ranked the ninth healthiest state overall by NiceRX, has the highest life expectancy for residents at 80.9 years and boasts the second lowest share of adult depression in the country.

    “There is a correlation between financial resources and life satisfaction and well-being,” said Scott Glassman, director of the master of applied positive psychology program and clinical associate professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine — although this association can vary depending on how much an individual makes.

    Gross domestic product has also been correlated with overall levels of happiness, he said.

    Although whether a person considers themselves happy is partially based on genetics, “the environment determines on average, about 60 to 70 percent of whether we’re going to be happy or not,” Glassman told Changing America.

    In California, several environmental factors could help contribute to a sense of happieness. The state is home to nine national parks, more than any other state in the country, and its residents report high levels of physical activity.

    The most recent data from 2017 show around 70 percent of adults in California meet physical activity recommendations, compared with that number sitting at just 53 percent of all American adults.

    Physical activity has been linked with higher life satisfaction and happiness, while spending leisure time in green spaces is also linked with positive mental health impacts.

    “There is a connection between being outdoors, being connected to nature and happiness,” said Glassman.

    A 30-year analysis of daily sunlight data carried out by the CDC found Imperial County, Calif., is the sunniest place in the lower 48 states. California and the Southwest region as a whole get the most sun on an average day.

    “We have great weather. We have great amenities,” Casey said about Roseville, Calif. “We’re a two-hour drive from the coast and a two-hour drive from Lake Tahoe. So you can be on the beach in two hours or skiing in two hours. And I think those definitely add to the happiness of the general area.”

    The SmartAsset analysis also found the happiest California cities had lower percentages of people living in poverty, higher marriage rates and lower rates of violent crime.

    Notably, good social relationships — whether in the form of friendships or romantic relationships — are also key to a happy life.

    “The connection between marriage and subjective well-being is one of the most frequent associations appearing in positive psychology literature,” said Glassman. “Married people tend to be happier and enjoy greater life satisfaction than single people, regardless of age, income, education, and race.”


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