How Does Your State Rank for Well-being?

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The area that you live in can have a significant impact on your life. From weather variations to job opportunities and school locations, it would be difficult to argue that the quality of your life is completely separate from your surroundings. And, that concept may extend to the state you live in, as well.

Gallup and Healthways have gathered survey data suggesting that all states are not equal when it comes to their residents’ quality of life. The survey results were released in an annual well-being index, which ranks U.S. states on the level of well-being reported by their residents. The survey rankings are based on community, economic considerations, physical health, social relationships and sense of purpose.

What is well-being?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, well-being is the perception of how life is going, based on both mental and physical health. Well-being typically is dependent on factors related to living conditions, such as housing and employment, as well as quality of relationships and overall satisfaction with life.

The partnership between Gallup and Healthways has been tracking well-being in states since 2008. The survey’s ranking is based on five categories:

  • Social: having positive relationships and love
  • Purpose: experiencing a high level of satisfaction with and motivation for daily activities
  • Physical: being in good health and having the energy to accomplish daily tasks
  • Community: feeling safe and happy in the community and having pride in the area
  • Financial: having the ability to increase security and reduce stress in managing personal economics

The rankings in these categories were based on more than 177,000 interviews performed across the U.S. between January and December 2015. The calculated scores fall between zero and 100, with 100 being the best possible score. They were obtained by asking residents questions in phone interviews based on the five categories mentioned above.

The best states for well-being

Based on the survey findings, Hawaii was named the top state in the U.S. for well-being in 2015. With sunny days, warm temperatures and ocean waves well within reach, it probably is not a surprise that residents of the Aloha State reported a high level of satisfaction in their lives. Hawaii moved up one spot on the list after ranking No. 2 in 2014.

“It’s not ever a shock to see Hawaii high (on the list),” Dan Witters, the principal research director of the well-being index, said in an interview with TODAY. “Hawaiians rate their lives pretty high. … Things like enjoyment, smiling and laughter and happiness are all very high in Hawaii. And stress is very low.”

Before you assume that the only way to improve your well-being is to move to a tropical location, you should note that the second spot on the 2015 list was Alaska, the opposite of Hawaii.

The complete list of the Top 10 states for well-being — and their scores in the index — is as follows:

  • Hawaii (64.8)
  • Alaska (64.1)
  • Montana (63.8)
  • Colorado (63.6)
  • Wyoming (63.5)
  • South Dakota (63.5)
  • Minnesota (63.3)
  • Utah (63.1)
  • Arizona (63.0)
  • California (62.7)

Whereas the numbers may appear very similar at first glance, the company reported that a one or even half point difference can be significant. Consequently, the more than two point difference between No. 1 Hawaii and No. 10 California, for example, means that residents reported significantly higher levels of well-being in the island state.

Though the list has undergone changes over the years, Hawaii, Montana and Colorado have been in the Top 10 of the survey every year since 2012.

The worst states for well-being

For the seventh consecutive year, West Virginia ranked at the bottom for overall wellness. With a score of 58.5, it is nearly two full points below 49th ranked Kentucky and the only state with a score below 60 points.

The bottom 10 states in terms of overall well-being — in descending order — are:

  • West Virginia (58.5)
  • Kentucky (60.3)
  • Oklahoma (60.4)
  • Ohio (60.5)
  • Indiana (60.5)
  • Missouri (60.8)
  • Arkansas (60.9)
  • Mississippi (60.9)
  • Louisiana (61.1)
  • Georgia (61.2)

In addition to West Virginia placing in the bottom position for the seventh consecutive year, other states on the index also have had low well-being scores. Kentucky has been in the second-to-last spot for seven years as well, ever since Gallup-Healthways first started tracking the numbers.

The importance of well-being in counseling

Although well-being may vary by states, moving to Hawaii or one of the other top-ranked states alone probably will not make a significant difference in a person’s well-being on its own. As a counselor, you can have a more influential role by helping your clients find ways to address their life challenges and possibly increase their sense of well-being.

According to a research paper by the New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, there are five simple steps that can lead to improved well-being:

  1. Connect: Develop relationships and spend time connecting with the people in your life.
  2. Be active: Get moving, whether it is playing a sport, going to the gym or simply walking around your neighborhood.
  3. Take notice: Be mindful of what is going on in the moment, including your own thoughts and feelings, as well as what it happening in your surroundings.
  4. Keep learning: Build confidence by learning a new skill or activity.
  5. Give: Find ways to improve the lives of those around you.Even if you live in one of the states in the bottom 10 of the well-being index, encouraging strategies such as those suggested in the study can help your clients improve their overall satisfaction with their lives from the comfort of their own community.

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