Does money buy happiness? Wealthy California towns top list of America’s happiest cities

WASHINGTON — Does money buy happiness? Not always, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. That’s the conclusion of a new study that finds some of America’s happiest cities are also the wealthiest and healthiest in the nation.

The WalletHub study of the country’s 182 largest cities finds Fremont, California tops the list as the happiest place in the United States. Researchers ranked each location based on residents’ emotional and physical well-being, income and employment, and the local community and environment — which includes the local divorce rate, the weather, and crime.

Fremont ranked number one among all U.S. cities when it comes to emotional and physical well-being, a measure which looked at local depression rates, life expectancy, food insecurity, drug use, and even local participation in sports. The city also ranked second in community and environment and finished in the top 50 in terms of income.

Health may be the key to happiness — not money

Rounding out the top five happiest cities are Columbia, Maryland, and California’s San Francisco, San Jose, and Irvine. What do all these cities have in common? They all ranked in the top five for emotional and physical well-being in WalletHub’s study.

That’s not to say making more money doesn’t make life easier for local residents, too. San Francisco also finished as the number one city when comparing incomes and employment rates. Specifically, this measure examined each city’s income growth, poverty rate, job satisfaction, and the number of people making more than $75,000.

Cities with a high-income workforce did well when it comes to their happiness scores, with cities like Seattle, Washington (#2 in income), Charleston, South Carolina (#3), and Austin, Texas (#4) all finishing within the top 30 happiest cities in America.

The less you need, the happier you are

When comparing the new study to a recent WalletHub report on the neediest cities in the U.S., it quickly becomes clear that when Americans have less problems, they’re happier more often. In that report, Detroit, Michigan finished as America’s neediest city. Unsurprisingly, Detroit ranked as the least happy city — finishing 182nd out of 182 cities.

Interestingly, Californians seem to “go with the flow” better than anyone. Despite nearly 30 California cities making the neediest cities list in 2021 — including Los Angeles and San Francisco finishing with some of the worst grades for homelessness and household facilities — the state is still home to 11 of top 20 happiest cities in the nation!

One of the biggest reasons may be the low depression scores around the state. In fact, California and Hawaii dominated the list of cities with the lowest depression rates in the U.S. — with Hawaii’s Pearl City leading the way, followed by Fremont, Honolulu, San Jose, and Irvine.

It turns out the expression “happy wife, happy life” also plays a major role in determining America’s happiest cities. Fremont enjoys the lowest separation and divorce rate of any city, with Pearl City (#32 in happiness), Irvine (#5), Glendale (#18), and San Jose (#4) rounding out the top five for most stable marriages.

Complete List: Happiest Cities in the U.S.

Overall Rank

City

Total Score

Emotional & Physical Well-Being

Income & Employment

Community & Environment

1 Fremont, CA 77.13 1 46 2
2 Columbia, MD 71.64 3 161 5
3 San Francisco, CA 71.15 4 1 44
4 San Jose, CA 71.00 2 6 55
5 Irvine, CA 70.38 5 16 12
6 Madison, WI 68.10 10 11 19
7 Seattle, WA 67.67 6 2 99
8 Overland Park, KS 67.46 12 54 13
9 Huntington Beach, CA 66.43 9 51 43
10 San Diego, CA 65.82 14 18 25
11 Fargo, ND 65.46 22 24 23
12 Minneapolis, MN 65.09 8 20 80
13 Bismarck, ND 64.65 48 32 4
14 Santa Rosa, CA 64.52 13 22 105
15 Santa Clarita, CA 64.44 15 100 29
16 Oakland, CA 64.35 7 105 87
17 Sioux Falls, SD 64.34 20 74 27
18 Glendale, CA 64.05 31 91 11
19 Scottsdale, AZ 63.78 50 43 6
20 Anaheim, CA 63.72 25 75 33
21 Aurora, IL 63.60 21 144 8
22 Plano, TX 63.33 37 48 24
23 Oxnard, CA 63.29 26 132 10
24 Garden Grove, CA 63.15 24 80 52
25 Chula Vista, CA 63.01 17 113 30
26 Charleston, SC 62.76 53 3 31
27 Raleigh, NC 62.35 23 71 63
28 Honolulu, HI 62.24 44 72 21
29 Cedar Rapids, IA 62.22 38 83 40
30 Austin, TX 62.04 35 5 109
31 Portland, ME 61.96 28 10 150
32 Pearl City, HI 61.78 36 148 22
33 Oceanside, CA 61.72 30 110 53
34 Gilbert, AZ 61.72 55 34 17
35 Lincoln, NE 61.10 27 67 104
36 Boston, MA 61.07 43 15 89
37 South Burlington, VT 60.65 11 56 181
38 Santa Ana, CA 60.62 45 31 86
39 Pembroke Pines, FL 60.59 51 125 15
40 Burlington, VT 60.32 34 9 170
41 Portland, OR 60.31 49 21 88
42 Aurora, CO 60.15 19 154 69
43 Jersey City, NJ 59.74 40 170 20
44 Yonkers, NY 59.69 18 163 102
45 Chandler, AZ 59.62 58 60 38
46 St. Paul, MN 59.54 33 96 121
47 Omaha, NE 59.48 52 79 56
48 Juneau, AK 59.27 32 14 179
49 Sacramento, CA 59.27 64 30 49
50 Cheyenne, WY 59.05 101 47 3
51 Virginia Beach, VA 58.90 62 120 18
52 Peoria, AZ 58.84 72 58 16
53 Tempe, AZ 58.79 71 17 50
54 Los Angeles, CA 58.70 39 85 128
55 Salt Lake City, UT 58.58 57 33 116
56 Chicago, IL 58.43 47 166 46
57 Denver, CO 58.41 16 134 153
58 New York, NY 58.35 46 164 51
59 Anchorage, AK 58.18 60 102 54
60 Long Beach, CA 58.13 41 142 101
61 Nashua, NH 58.11 68 104 35
62 Boise, ID 58.09 59 13 119
63 Cape Coral, FL 58.05 89 45 9
64 Colorado Springs, CO 57.74 63 97 59
65 Pittsburgh, PA 57.72 80 29 41
66 Fort Lauderdale, FL 57.65 67 84 62
67 Charlotte, NC 57.61 61 78 68
68 Bridgeport, CT 57.34 42 165 91
69 Chesapeake, VA 57.32 81 145 7
70 Warwick, RI 57.19 69 62 90
71 Rancho Cucamonga, CA 57.13 83 36 48
72 Rapid City, SD 57.12 76 27 76
73 Missoula, MT 57.12 88 40 28
74 Durham, NC 56.92 54 69 123
75 Miami, FL 56.78 56 52 142
76 Des Moines, IA 56.65 70 68 81
77 Columbia, SC 56.62 108 4 37
78 Reno, NV 56.13 65 37 143
79 Casper, WY 55.76 127 123 1
80 Tampa, FL 55.62 94 38 60
81 West Valley City, UT 55.50 78 82 85
82 Tacoma, WA 55.50 75 98 93
83 Grand Prairie, TX 55.08 98 89 42
84 Vancouver, WA 55.08 73 49 147
85 Washington, DC 55.05 29 57 182
86 Port St. Lucie, FL 55.03 115 65 14
87 Mesa, AZ 55.01 86 77 64
88 Providence, RI 54.84 113 25 47
89 Irving, TX 54.73 85 55 98
90 Manchester, NH 54.66 84 129 57
91 Orlando, FL 54.59 96 19 108
92 Grand Rapids, MI 54.32 104 53 66
93 Atlanta, GA 54.27 79 87 115
94 Hialeah, FL 54.20 66 157 110
95 Tallahassee, FL 54.16 130 8 45
96 Ontario, CA 53.97 119 64 32
97 Garland, TX 53.82 92 108 67
98 Henderson, NV 53.72 87 143 58
99 Fontana, CA 53.44 118 95 34
100 St. Petersburg, FL 53.39 100 35 134
101 Modesto, CA 53.21 112 42 92
102 Moreno Valley, CA 53.11 120 116 26
103 Fort Worth, TX 52.85 97 124 83
104 Riverside, CA 52.84 107 28 125
105 Billings, MT 52.51 122 26 107
106 Spokane, WA 52.17 126 7 129
107 Arlington, TX 52.14 93 122 118
108 Glendale, AZ 51.84 106 112 114
109 Nashville, TN 51.83 117 107 74
110 Worcester, MA 51.69 95 139 126
111 Dallas, TX 51.50 90 93 154
112 Houston, TX 51.41 74 140 164
113 Norfolk, VA 50.85 102 167 96
114 Milwaukee, WI 50.76 103 152 113
115 Laredo, TX 50.64 105 50 165
115 Wilmington, DE 50.64 125 126 77
117 Tucson, AZ 50.60 114 66 148
118 New Haven, CT 50.58 77 115 178
119 Phoenix, AZ 50.39 91 106 169
120 El Paso, TX 50.31 109 130 132
121 Albuquerque, NM 50.31 82 101 176
122 Stockton, CA 50.15 99 150 137
123 Fresno, CA 50.10 123 86 136
124 Nampa, ID 50.06 145 99 39
125 Brownsville, TX 50.05 133 73 122
126 Bakersfield, CA 49.98 132 103 100
127 Jacksonville, FL 49.89 147 109 36
128 Las Cruces, NM 49.74 110 118 156
129 Winston-Salem, NC 49.43 138 94 97
130 San Antonio, TX 49.31 116 88 160
131 Rochester, NY 48.96 131 114 139
132 Newark, NJ 48.75 111 182 73
133 Las Vegas, NV 48.61 124 169 95
134 Columbus, OH 48.28 128 138 145
135 North Las Vegas, NV 48.21 135 175 61
136 Buffalo, NY 48.20 121 136 157
137 Greensboro, NC 48.12 129 70 167
138 Lexington-Fayette, KY 47.90 134 121 144
139 Corpus Christi, TX 47.54 137 62 159
140 Huntsville, AL 46.79 152 119 79
141 Philadelphia, PA 46.78 148 146 75
141 Wichita, KS 46.78 143 127 130
143 Amarillo, TX 46.75 159 76 70
144 Lewiston, ME 46.71 166 12 78
145 Salem, OR 46.39 144 41 175
146 Newport News, VA 46.38 141 174 72
147 New Orleans, LA 46.35 146 111 146
148 Oklahoma City, OK 46.32 155 135 82
149 Baltimore, MD 45.97 142 178 84
150 Richmond, VA 45.97 136 176 133
151 Dover, DE 45.74 151 92 155
152 Kansas City, MO 45.61 140 128 166
153 San Bernardino, CA 45.36 149 137 140
154 Cincinnati, OH 45.15 139 147 163
155 Fort Wayne, IN 45.00 154 149 117
156 Springfield, MO 44.95 167 44 103
157 Lubbock, TX 44.89 157 23 168
158 Baton Rouge, LA 44.37 156 90 152
159 Louisville, KY 44.10 158 151 111
160 Indianapolis, IN 43.70 150 177 131
161 St. Louis, MO 43.68 153 160 149
162 Tulsa, OK 43.35 163 117 138
163 Little Rock, AR 43.25 164 133 106
164 Knoxville, TN 43.10 169 59 94
165 Akron, OH 42.29 162 168 112
166 Chattanooga, TN 42.24 165 141 120
167 Columbus, GA 40.90 177 131 65
168 Fayetteville, NC 40.83 161 155 171
169 Jackson, MS 40.60 160 159 174
170 Birmingham, AL 39.54 168 158 162
171 Toledo, OH 39.17 172 171 127
172 Charleston, WV 39.13 173 81 173
173 Shreveport, LA 39.01 175 173 71
174 Mobile, AL 38.94 171 172 124
175 Fort Smith, AR 37.45 180 61 158
176 Augusta, GA 36.64 178 162 135
177 Cleveland, OH 36.52 170 156 180
178 Montgomery, AL 35.54 174 180 161
179 Huntington, WV 35.53 182 39 141
180 Memphis, TN 34.86 176 181 172
181 Gulfport, MS 34.71 181 153 151
182 Detroit, MI 32.31 179 179 177
Source: WalletHub

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