There are several lists of U. S. states where people are the happiest . . . and the unhappiest. According to one list, the most miserable people live in California and New Jersey. But another survey cites Alaska and Maine.

     Some of the happiest people live in states like Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington and Idaho. Everyone else, presumably, is normal — not depressed but not euphoric either.

     Of course, this assumes that where we live can make us happy. Do you think it does?

     Surely, people who hate the cold shouldn’t retire to Michigan or Minnesota. People who hate the heat should avoid Florida and Arizona. I wonder if these days another climate — the political climate — can make us happy or miserable. We do typically end up sorting ourselves into like-minded groups, don’t we?

     I have several liberal friends who live in liberal New York. Residing among their fellow liberals may make them feel comfortable. But I don’t know if that by itself makes them happy. But the reverse can be true. I have a liberal friend who moved to Florida. He lasted a couple of years, then moved back to New York. He got fed up with all the people who, in his opinion, were conservative, Trump-supporting cretins.

     I have a brother-in-law who is a religious conservative living in conservative central Pennsylvania. He seems very happy with his situation, with lots of friends through his church, his community, his family. He would be a fish out of water if he lived in a liberal mecca like Boston or Washington, DC.

     Of course, not all of us identify so closely as liberals or conservatives. Politics is not that important to everyone. I belong to a golf group. There are conservatives and liberals in the group and some independents as well. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone is happy to be outside playing golf and joking around with friends instead of sitting at home alone watching TV or doing chores.

     But I’m thinking that there’s a lot more to happiness than where we live or even who we hang out with . . . as outlined by my friend Jeremy Kisner in a post I did last year. It helps to be healthy, to have a circle of friends, to have something to do. Wealthier people are happier than poor people — but only up to a point. I’ve read that even something as simple as owning a pet can make us happier. And it may not be a coincidence that the things making us happy can also help us live longer.

     I’ve also read that each of us has our happiness “set point.” How happy we are depends more on how we look at things rather than what happens to us, or where we live. If something bad happens to a happy person — even the loss of a spouse — they grieve for a while, feel depressed, but eventually their happiness returns to their own natural level. Similarly, the curmudgeons among us might experience a burst of happiness if they win the lottery. But a year or two later? They’re still curmudgeons.

     What makes me happy? Having a nice home, a beautiful spouse (both inside and out), some friends to hang out with, a few activities that I find interesting. I do sometimes wonder about the actual purpose of my retired life. Is it bringing me real satisfaction? Am I making a difference?

     I don’t know. I used to have the same doubts when I was working, too. For the most part I enjoyed my job. I certainly liked getting paid. But was I really doing anything to improve the world?

     Maybe when we’re retired we have a smaller world, bounded by family and neighbors and limited activities. But we can still make a difference to our community, and to the people we love.

     So who are the absolute happiest people? You can check out the list at Digg.com. But according to them, it’s the people from Utah. I guess the clean-living Mormons have it all figured out. 

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Tom Lashnits Writer, Blogger
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