A couple of months ago the Gallup organization, together with Healthways, Inc., released a preliminary report from their upcoming 2011 Well-Being Index report. The annual Well-Being Index score, which I have written about before (see prior post HERE), is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The January through June 2011 aggregate, highlighted here, includes more than 177,000 interviews conducted among national adults, aged 18 and older.
The focus of this preliminary Well-Being Index report was to tell all of us which of the U.S. states’ citizens are feeling the best about themselves. In a time when the economy is putting financial and emotional pressure on the nation as a whole, there are still some places where people are still feeling pretty good. I am guessing these are places where it is hard to get the network news on TV.
As pretty much anyone with a brain could have surmised without a survey to prove it, the state with the highest Well-Being score, and the highest physical and mental health sub-scores, is Hawaii. Well, duh. Roll out of bed, hit the surf, suck down a shave ice, ride a dolphin, sunset cruise, umbrella drinks, go to bed to the sounds of a steel guitar gently breaking through the sounds of the waves, repeat. I mean seriously, what the hell is there to feel bad about? The waves aren’t gnarly enough? Lappert’s has run out of Kauai Pie? Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight savings time because, seriously, does it matter what time it is, brah?
What surprised me about the report, however, was the State that came in number 2 to Hawaii: North Dakota. North Dakota? Has anyone ever been there? Hardly anyone even lives there. There are more Occupy Wall Street protesters than there are North Dakota residents. North Dakota has more ground squirrels than people. Not a dolphin or shave ice in sight. When most of us think of the stereotypical happy American, I am guessing we don’t immediately think, “North Dakota!” In fact most foreigners would probably say, “California!” which didn’t even make the top 10 list (we’re at number 16). Apparently our sunshine, ocean, mountains and medical marijuana coops aren’t good enough to make the cut. With the travails of our state’s economy, we have gone from “I Wish They All Could be California Girls” to The North Dakota Hymn.
According to Gallup, North Dakota’s Well-Being Index composite score has moved up proportionally more than any other state since last year, to 70.5 from 68.4. Well-being in Wyoming has declined the most, dropping to 66.5 thus far in 2011 from 69.2 last year. I am guessing that the longer Dick Cheney lives in his home state of Wyoming, the worse the state’s overall well-being gets. Proximity to Dick Cheney has got to seriously compromise one’s positive attitude, particularly if you are one of his duck-hunting partners.
Interestingly Nebraska has had the biggest gains in well-being this year. They ranked 25th in 2009 but are up to 4th in 2011. I can only imagine that this is explained by the fact that Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska and they have all the citizens drink it. Or maybe it is because the only guy that actually lives in Nebraska is Warren Buffett and I’d feel pretty damn good too if I were him.
The rest of the top 10 states with the healthiest sense of well-being are: Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, New Hampshire, Iowa, Kansas, Vermont and Maryland. I am sure you love these places if you’re from there, but really? If I told my colleagues I was going on a road trip to these states, I am not sure they would be jealous. Maybe Colorado during ski season or Vermont on Ben & Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Day, but it is a surprising list in many ways. Given how much Texans prattle on about their awesomeness, I would have expected them to beat Kansas. Given the political crap that Iowa and New Hampshire are forced to endure every Presidential election season, I am not sure how they keep up the positive attitude.
What is most disturbing about this interim Well-Being Index report is that so far in 2011 our national overall score is 66.4 (out of 100), a decline from 66.8 for all of 2010. That is not good news. It is interesting to think about whether the overall score will trend up if the PPACA (health reform law) is put into full effect in 2014. If all Americans are given access to health insurance that covers physical and mental health conditions—two critical factors in the Well-Being Index—will we see an upward trend that year? Hawaii, the market leader in Well-Being, actually has near universal health insurance coverage (employers are required to provide insurance to anyone working more than 20 hours/week and more than 90% of Hawaiians have health insurance as a result) so it is entirely possible there is a correlation.
Another piece of data I’d like to see derives from a another recent report from Gallup which showed that more than 90 percent of Americans feel they have easy access to a safe place to exercise, but only 53.4 percent are actually exercising three or more days per week. Millions of Americans are now covered by health benefit programs that provide direct financial incentives to increase exercise. It would be very interesting to track whether these programs can create enough improvements in physical health, mental health and healthy behaviors to actually flow through to the Well-Being Index.
Despite the fact that this was an interim report of the Well-Being Index, I think it is possible to make some significant inferences about how to improve the overall well-being of all Americans. If our policy-makers truly care about life, liberty and especially pursuit of happiness, they should move everyone to Hawaii.