September 22, 2023

A short but interesting article appeared in our local newspaper recently: “Idaho ranks as 34th ‘happiest’ state.” As a resident of rural North Idaho, this was startling news; because let me tell you, we’ve lived here since 2003 and we’re as happy as clams to be in this state.

So how did this piece define “happy”? And how do states get ranked on the happiness scale?

It seems an organization called Top Data is responsible for the comparison. The article begins: “This first holistic study identifies happiness levels in the country by analyzing 54 metrics organized into seven key indicators – personal finance, leisure activities, mental health, physical health, employment, personal relationships and social policies.”

Idaho ranked really, really low, so apparently we live in a miserably unhappy state. Interestingly, Texas ranks even below us, at No. 37. So which states are happiest? According to this organization, the top10 happiest states are: Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Minnesota, California, Hawaii and Vermont.

Since we fled California over 30 years ago and never looked back, this tells you something about the criteria by which “happiness” is being measured.

So I got on the website for Top Data to dig a little deeper. The methodology is laid out quite clearly: “In order to determine what are the Happiest States in the USA, TOP Data compared the 50 states across seven key dimensions:

1. Employment
2. Leisure Activities
3. Mental Health
4. Personal Finance
5. Personal Relationships
6. Physical Health
7. Social Policies

“We evaluated those dimensions using 54 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 being the max. Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.”

This is where things get interesting. Under Leisure Activities, for example, the metrics include the following: movie theater visits, hotel/motel stays, air transportation, book store visits, hobby store visits, musical instrument store visits, sporting goods store visits, sporting fixture attendance, exercise enthusiasts, entertainment venue visits, restaurant visits, beauty salon visits and cosmetic/perfume store visits.

What a strange selection of metrics. I mean, really strange. Almost random. Let’s face it, the state of Idaho is not known for its perfume stores or musical instrument stores. Instead, it’s known for its thousands of square miles of wilderness, wild rivers, majestic beauty, wildlife, clean air and other bracing amenities. It’s also known for its enormous personal and constitutional freedoms compared to other states.

In fact, we were one of the top destinations during the Great Relocation of the last couple of years. According to this article, “An analysis from the United States Postal Service found that 8.93 million people moved since the pandemic began in March 2020. That’s about 94,000 more than the same time in 2019. Idaho topped a recent list from Atlas that showed the states with the most inbound moves, too. In fact, 66.4% of inbound moves are to Idaho, which topped the nation, according to Atlas. Idaho featured more inbound moves [compared to outbound] than North Carolina (64.6%), Maine (62.4%) and New Hampshire (61.6%), among other states.”

Those are some remarkable statistics, considering Idaho is – according to Top Data’s metrics – a backwards hellhole. Oh, and one more statistic: “In fact, KGO reports that Californians specifically are moving to Idaho in droves.”

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Ironically, just about the time I saw this article in the newspaper, my husband found a video interview with Victor Davis Hanson, historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, entitled “Why Most Californians Aren’t Happy with the State.” Over the 45-minute interview, Dr. Hanson went into great detail about why the Golden State is seeing such a massive exodus of people who are pouring into low-ranking states (on the happiness scale) such as Idaho and Texas.

But of course, the single most telling metric for this Top Data study is the category of Social Policies. Here are the criteria for which the states are graded: LGBT rights, LGBTQI+ youth protection, state status on hiring based on salary history, workplace pregnancy protection and cannabis legality status. Yowza. No wonder Idaho got dinged so hard.

Similarly, a recent article entitled “Emigration from Massachusetts is at a Decade High, Despite Booming Economy and High Standard of Living” details that despite this state’s No. 1 ranking on the “happiness” scale, a lot of people simply can’t wait to leave it. In fact, you can search for each of the top 10 “happy” states and find statistics about how people are leaving them in droves. (Sample links: Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Vermont.)

I wonder why?

It’s interesting how the very metrics Top Data uses to measure happiness often result in conditions that drive people away from these “happy” states: excessive taxation, regulation, cost of living, crime, school indoctrination, housing costs, etc. It’s very clear the metrics chosen by this organization are solely reflective of progressive values (meaning, how well a state fulfills communist ideals). Places like Idaho are understandably low on the list, which is also what makes it a top destination state.

Just a small hint to the Top Data folks: People don’t move away from “happy” states in droves unless they’re unhappy.

As for Idaho – well, those that find themselves very happy in Top Data’s top 10 happiest states are more than welcome to stay there. In fact, we beg you to please stay where you are. Don’t come to Idaho. You’ll hate it here. It’s a very unhappy state. Trust me.

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