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And the happiest state is. . .Louisiana?

December 17, 2009 | 11:00 am

Measures of the quality of life in various states are closely tied to the individual levels of happiness of the people who live in those states, according to a ponderous publication on the science of happiness appearing today in the journal Science.

The careful, mathematical analysis by British researchers showed that Louisiana was the happiest state, followed by Hawaii and Florida. California ranked a distant 46th. Ouch. New York is the most miserable, er, uh, least-happy state.

The researchers, led by professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick, examined data from a random sample of 1.3 million U.S. citizens on life satisfaction. They compared those findings to a 2003 study that considered objective indicators for each individual state, such as weather, coastal land, public land, parks, hazardous waste sites, commute time, crime, air quality, teacher-student ratios, local taxes, cost of living and other factors. When comparing the two tables, they found a very close match between how happy people say they are and the estimated quality-of-life in their state.

"The beauty of our statistical method is that we are able to look below the surface of American life -- to identify the deep patterns in people's underlying happiness from Alabama to Wyoming," Oswald said in a news release.

Of Louisiana's top ranking, he noted that some of the data collection preceded Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But Oswald stills believes the state is happy because of, well, low expectations. "Bargains in life are usually found outside the spotlight," he noted.

But we wanted to know, what about California? Is life really so bad here?

Yes, Oswald replied in an e-mail.

"California does poorly because of its congestion, high property prices, and in parts, its air quality. It does well on sunshine hours, of course, but not well enough to outweigh other things like the long commutes. It may also be that Californians spend a lot of time comparing themselves with the rich citizens around them -- usually a recipe for human unhappiness."

Happy holidays!

-- Shari Roan

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